The singer claims that Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun ‘are exercising tyrannical control over someone who just wants to play the music she wrote’
“Guys,” Taylor Swift wrote on Tumblr last night. “It’s been announced recently that the American Music Awards will be honoring me with the Artist of the Decade Award at this year’s ceremony. I’ve been planning to perform a medley of my hits throughout the decade on the show. Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun have now said that I’m not allowed to perform my old songs on television because they claim that would be re-recording my music before I’m allowed to next year. Additionally – and this isn’t the way I had planned on telling you this news – Netflix has created a documentary about my life for the past few years. Scott and Scooter have declined the use of my older music or performance footage for this project, even though there is no mention of either of them or Big Machine Records anywhere in the film.”
Swift claims that Borchetta and Braun said they’d let her use the music on two conditions: to not re-record “copycat” versions of her songs, and if she stops talking about him and Braun.
If you hadn’t been keeping up any this so far, the post may seem bewildering. Who are Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun? Why is Swift planning to re-record her music? And why can’t she perform her old songs – they’re hers after all, right?
To answer these questions, you need to examine the murky world of the record business, and the grim legal situations that musicians can often find themselves in.
Don’t know what else to do pic.twitter.com/1uBrXwviTS— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) November 14, 2019
WHO ARE SCOTT BORCHETTA AND SCOOTER BRAUN?
Scott Borchetta is the CEO of Big Machine Label Group, the label that Swift signed to when she was just 15 years old. Scooter Braun is the bigwig manager who has been involved with the likes of Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Ariana Grande, and Carly Rae Jepsen in the past. Basically, they’re two very powerful people within the record industry. They’re important to this story as individuals, but don’t kid yourself into thinking they’re unique here – plenty of other music industry shitheads wield this sort of power, and you’ve probably never heard of them.
WHY CAN’T TAYLOR SWIFT PERFORM HER OWN SONGS?
In June this year, Braun bought Big Machine, which owned the rights to Swift’s old master recordings, for $300 million. Swift has previously said that she “pleaded for a chance to own my work” for years, but the Big Machine deal meant that Braun was now the owner of her master recordings. “I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world,” Swift said at the time. “All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years... Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.” (Borchetta has disputed some of Swift’s claims.) Swift now says that they are using their ownership of her rights to prevent her from performing her old songs, although she hasn’t specified how this would be enforced.
WHY IS TAYLOR SWIFT RE-RECORDING HER OLD SONGS?
In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning earlier this year, Swift said that if she can’t own the master recordings to her old songs, then she would “absolutely” re-record them instead. In her Tumblr post last night, she reaffirmed her commitment to his, saying that she would be “legally allowed” to make new versions in 2020, and that she was also “looking forward” to doing so. If, as Swift alleges, Borchetta and Braun are pressuring her to drop this idea, the reason is fairly clear: if you own Swift’s old recordings and plan to make a profit off them in future, then it’s not exactly good business to have “copycat” versions out there from the star herself.
Jade started this petition after two music executives, Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta, told Taylor Swift they would refuse to give her access to her older songs. Now thousands are standing with @taylorswift13#IStandWithTaylor@taylornation13https://t.co/lDgzCQYOsR— Change.org (@Change) November 15, 2019
WHAT ELSE DID SHE SAY?
Swift previously said that Braun owning her masters was her “worst case scenario”, and that he had previously directed clients like Kanye West to bully her (see, for example, the creepy nude waxwork made of Swift for the “Famous” video). She now says that Braun and Borchetta are “men who are exercising tyrannical control over someone who just wants to play the music she wrote”. Controversially, she asked her fans to “please let Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun know how you feel about this”, as well as The Carlyle Group, “who put up money for the sale of my music to these two men” – something that has led to Braun being doxxed.
WHY IS SWIFT SHARING THIS PUBLICLY?
Explaining why she wanted to put this out publicly, Swift said, “I just want to be able to perform MY OWN music. That’s it. I’ve tried to work this out privately through my team but have not been able to resolve anything. Right now my performance at the AMA’s, the Netflix documentary and any other recorded events I am planning to play until November of 2020 are a question mark. I love you guys and I thought you should know what’s been going on.”
She also said that she wanted to raise awareness of these situations. “I feel very strongly that sharing what is happening to me could change the awareness level for other artists and potentially help them avoid a similar fate. The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished. This is WRONG. Neither of these men had a hand in the writing of those songs.” Some 50,000 fans have now signed a petition asking for Swift to be able to perform her songs.
Whether you like Taylor Swift or not, the situation highlights what happens when musicians lose control of their creativity and their labour due to exploitative contracts that they signed without fully understanding what they were getting themselves into. In Swift’s case, it’s grotesque – yet, bafflingly, legal – that she was just 15 at the time she signed her record deal. At the end of the day, if a global megastar with millions of fans can experience these problems, then just think of how many musicians without a platform are having their lives ruined by opaque record industry practises.