Taylor Swift shared that she’s ‘very excited’ about re-recording some of her earlier hits, because she thinks ‘artists deserve to own their own work.’ An entertainment lawyer explains the hurdles she could have, to HL.
UPDATE, 8/22/19, 11:43am ET: Taylor Swift confirmed on the August 22 episode of Good Morning America, right before taking the stage for a concert in Central Park, that she will be re-recording her first five albums, which are now owned by Scooter Braun. As she told GMA host Robin Roberts, “One thing about this (new) album (Lover) that’s really special to me is that it’s the first one that I will own, of my work.” The response of the watching audience was immediate — applause and roaring cheers. Taylor responded by gesturing to her fans: “It’s a concept that they’re very supportive of.” She told Roberts that she’s thrilled because “my contract says that starting November 2020 — so next year — I can record albums 1-5 all over again. I’m very excited about it, because I think that artists deserve to own their work. I just feel very passionately about that. It’s next year! It’s right around the corner. I’m going to be really busy; I’m really excited.”
ORIGINAL: Taylor Swift, 29, may not own her original master recordings, but she’s devised the ultimate power move to try and take back ownership of her original songs from music manager Scooter Braun who bought them from the Big Machine Label Group, which he bought. When asked about plans to potentially re-record her past songs as a way to take back control, the “ME!” singer confirmed “Yeah, absolutely,” in a preview of an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, airing this coming Sunday, August 25. Scooter, 35, was publicly called out by Taylor in a headline-making Tumblr post after Braun’s company acquired the Big Machine Label Group — Taylor’s record label from 2006 to 2018 — for a whopping $300 million. The sale included all of Big Machine’s assets, including the Grammy winner’s master recordings from her first six albums (Taylor’s upcoming seventh album, Lover, is the first release under her agreement with her new label, Universal — which states that she now owns all of her master recordings going forward).
While re-recording her masters seems like a simple process, LA entertainment lawyer Gary Stiffelman from Greenberg Traurig, LLP — who represents some of the top musical acts in the world — tells HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY that a re-record clause in her original contract could make things tricky. “Typically recording contracts [say] that the artist cannot rerecord any of the songs that they recorded and delivered to their record label, for a certain period of time…like five years from the time the album came out, but no sooner than two years after the end of their contract term.” A quick math check puts Taylor’s first four albums — Taylor Swift (2006), Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010) and Red (2012) out of the five year range (1989 isn’t far behind, as it will have its five-year anniversary on October 27, 2019), but none of them would be out of the two-year mark of her Big Machine contract, which only ended in 2018 — so, about a year ago. Stiffelman clarifies, however, that “every contract has it’s own nuance. Nobody knows what Taylor Swift’s contract says unless they’ve read it…And there are contracts that have 10-year or 15-year rerecording restrictions. It’s a matter of negotiations, it’s not a matter of law.”
As a songwriter, Taylor is in a unique position versus other artists — leading fans to wonder why any of this is an issue at all, considering that, as a writer, she would own her music. “Since Taylor wrote her own songs, she owns her own publishing (rights)…There are two copyrights in any recording: the copyright in the underlying musical composition, and the copyright for the recording,” Stiffelman explains. Owning her publishing rights still gives Taylor a leg up, as it would prevent Scooter from simply allowing other entities — like movies, commercials or television shows — to use Taylor’s music without her explicit permission. “If somebody wants to use one of her songs in a movie or commercial they would have to make a deal with Taylor, as the publisher of the song. Taylor could say to them that if they want a license from her to use that piece of music, then she could demand that they take her new recording of it. So as a negotiation [tactic] of using [her song], she can say ‘use my new recording or forget it.’”
There’s also the question of what a re-recording would look like: would Taylor simply go into the studio and sing “Love Story” exactly like it sounded in 2008 — or would the song have to sound different? “If the contract has a clause that says [a song] can’t be overly similar to the production that you did before, that’s a contractual limitation,” Stiffelman explains. “But I have been in the studio with artists who have recorded a very similar version.” While Taylor hasn’t explicitly stated how and when she would approach re-records, Stiffelman says he “suspects that an artist like Taylor Swift is not going to want to simply duplicate the original production.”
In the CBS News interview, Taylor also re-confirms that she found out about the Big Machine Label Group sale “when it was online” — something that was widely disputed after her emotional Tumblr post. At the time, Taylor stated that she was “grossed out” and labelled Scooter, “a bully.” Now that Taylor has revealed that she plans to re-record in 2020, Swifties can start counting down those days, especially after her new album, Lover, drops on August 23.