As we’ve discussed a few times in the last few weeks, one of the biggest issues in the music business, maybe the biggest issue in the music business, has been the Free Agency of Taylor Swift. Taylor’s deal with Big Machine Label Group just expired. And everyone’s been waiting to see whether or not she’d re-sign with BMLG or go to a new label. It was well-known that her priority was ownership of her master recordings. Her master recordings are BMLG’s major value. And BMLG head Scott Borchetta has been looking to sell the company. It was recently reported that Universal Music Group was one of the two remaining players in the auction. And Taylor just announced this morning that she has signed with UMG and Republic Records as her label partner in the US. Her statement is the second image in the carousel below:
“I’ll own all of my master recordings that I make from now on.”
As Prince once said, controversially at the time (in the 90s), “If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you”. Many of today’s artists have benefited from his protest and Taylor’s insistence on having ownership of her masters is in direct relationship with Prince’s agitation of the industry 25 years ago.
But the key words here are “from now on”. Because BMLG still owns everything Taylor’s released up to this point, up to and including reputation. That said, as Billboard reported back in October, her new label, Universal, could acquire BMLG. And if those negotiations go through, I wonder what behind-the-scenes conversations are happening between Taylor and Universal for her to eventually, and hopefully, own ALL of her masters.
And there’s more – per Variety:
While terms of the deal were not announced, a source close to the situation tells Variety that a key element of the deal was a guarantee that UMG will share with artists the proceeds from the expected sale of its Spotify equity next year, and make them non-recoupable against the artists’ earnings, as Sony Music has done.
“In the same vein as her Apple letter [in 2015], Taylor Swift negotiated a history-making record deal that positively affects artists,” the source said. “She knew she had an incredible amount of leverage and could have used that to get her own previous masters back, or to merely focus on getting the biggest cash advance for herself but instead, the most important thing to her was to negotiate a better deal regarding Spotify payments for Universal artists and make them non-recoupable.” In 2015, Swift wrote a letter to Apple slamming the company for not paying artist royalties during its free-trial period; the following day, the company changed that policy. Further details about Swift’s new Universal deal were not immediately available, although UMG Chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge nodded to the company’s stance on Spotify equity in his statement.
“Few artists in history approach Taylor Swift’s combination of massive global hits and creative brilliance,” Grainge said. “She is so multi-talented, she can achieve anything. I have such enormous respect for Taylor, in particular for her use of her hard-earned influence to promote positive change. Because of her commitment to her fellow artists, not only did she want to partner with a company that understood her creative vision and had the resources and expertise to execute globally on her behalf, she also sought a partner whose approach to artists was aligned with hers. With these shared beliefs, there is so much we can accomplish together, and all of us at UMG are enormously proud to be embarking on the next chapter of her career alongside her.”
This has always been Taylor’s strongest, sexiest attribute: how she shows her work, how she works her business, how she, to borrow Duana’s expression, spends her capital. She is flexing. She flexed – not only to leverage the best deal for herself, obviously, but to set an industry precedent for other artists as streaming services are rapidly and unpredictably changing how music is consumed and, therefore, how artists are compensated and/or not compensated.
How many other major artists are spending the afternoon today on calls with their agents, looking through their own deals, and planning their own future deals? How many of them are saying “I want what she has”? More to come, no doubt, in the coming days about Taylor’s big moves.
Guess this means she hasn’t started shooting Cats yet?