T Swift’s rerecording crusade paves the way for artists, but threatens major labels

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 by Robinhood Snacks |
“Trouble, trouble, trouble” for record labels [Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment via Getty Images]

“Trouble, trouble, trouble” for record labels [Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment via Getty Images]

"You belong with me"... Taylor Swift to her own music. This weekend, T Swift dropped “Red (Taylor’s Version),” a rerecorded album of her hit 2012 breakup anthems, plus never-released tracks. Some background: Taylor doesn't own the "masters" (aka: original recordings) from her first six albums. When she was 15, those were signed over to record label Big Machine, later sold to Scooter Braun (Kanye’s ex-manager).

  • In 2018, Taylor signed a new deal with Universal Music, which gave her ownership of her new masters. But she couldn’t buy back her first six albums.
  • Taylor has bad blood with Braun. Even more, she’s passionate about artists owning their music. So she started rerecording.
  • Last year, private-equity fund Shamrock paid $300M for Taylor's old tunes, but Braun still got a cut of the deal. Then Taylor announced she would rerecord all the albums they’d bought.

I knew you were trouble... Many fans are choosing Taylor's version over the OGs, which could undercut earnings for Shamrock. Earlier this year, Taylor released a rerecorded version of her album "Fearless.” It's racked up 3X as many streams as the 2008 original. The “Red” rerecording is also outperforming the OG, and was #1 this week on Spotify and Apple.

  • Taylor is profiting: As the owner, Taylor is scoring lucrative licensing deals for her music (think: movies, ads, TikToks).
  • She’s also getting paid more streaming $$, which makes up the bulk of revenue for labels like Universal, Warner, and Sony. Artists can keep more than 80% of streaming revenue for masters they own, compared to 20% if the label owns them.
  • Ctrl + Swift: Now Universal, the world’s largest label, is scrambling to protect its rights with other artists who might want to rerecord too.

The "T Swift Clause" is a threat to labels… because it lets artists keep more control and more money. That’s why Universal is reportedly doubling the amount of time that artists are restricted from rerecording. But as streaming platforms and social apps make it easier for artists to distribute music, leverage is shifting in creators’ favor. Labels including Universal are also making concessions, like increasing royalty payments.