Taylor Swift is feeling bullied. Again.
On Sunday, Swift wrote on Tumblr that she is feeling “grossed out” after the news broke that music executive Scooter Braun, purchased her master recordings from her time at Big Machine Records. That includes every piece of music Swift recorded as a solo artist up to her upcoming seventh album Lover, which is scheduled for release on August 23.
This recent feud has a lot of people asking: What exactly is a master recording? Is it that serious that Scooter Braun (or anyone else for that matter) owns Taylor Swift’s music?
A master recording is the original recording of a song. “By definition, that makes it the most authentic superior sonic account of the song. Everything else is a copy, and after that, in the digital world, a copy of a copy,” Inquirer music critic Dan DeLuca wrote while reporting on the massive Universal fire that destroyed the masters of hundreds of artists, including Philadelphia’s the Roots and Patti LaBelle.
In Swift’s case, she signed a record deal with Big Machine Records when she was only 15, subsequently creating countless hit songs and albums including Fearless, Red, 1989 and reputation over the course of 12 years. That means that Big Machine owns the rights to all of those songs.
Robert Weitzner, a longtime music executive and now assistant professor at Drexel University’s Westphal College Media and Design, says this type of deal is not unusual for any new artist and there’s “nothing evil” about it. “Historically, the record company seeks ownership of the music they are producing, in exchange for the resources they are giving the artist,” he says.
Weitzner says the bigger question is how long a record label should own those master recordings.
In November 2018, Swift left Big Machine Label Group for Universal Music Group, leaving her master recordings behind. “For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in,” Swift wrote on Tumblr. “I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, [Big Machine Records owner] Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.”
Braun is an music executive who got his start managing a young Justin Bieber. His clients include Bieber, Ariana Grande, Kanye West and Cheltenham-born rapper Lil Dicky.
Flash forward to Sunday morning, the news broke that Braun bought Big Machine Records, and therefore owns Swift’s master recordings and the rights to her work.
Swift isn’t happy: “Never in my worst nightmare did I imagine the buyer to be Scooter. Anytime time Scott Borchetta has heard the name ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips it was either because I was crying or trying not to.”
Weitzner says that what makes this situation interesting is not the deal itself, but the personal history between the two. Throughout the Tumblr post, Swift made claims that over the years, especially at the height of her feud with Kim Kardashian and West, Braun had been nothing but a bully toward her.
“Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it,” Swift wrote.