Why would one of the biggest names in music — who is already fairly busy releasing multiple albums over the last year and a half — re-record songs from a decade ago? It’s because the pop star doesn’t own the master recordings of the songs on “Red,” which includes hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Swift doesn’t own the masters of any songs on albums she recorded prior to 2019’s “Lover.”
By re-recording her hits, Swift will have to begin again on songs her fans know all too well so she can reclaim control over her masters. That’s a tedious process, but also a savvy business move: It not only boosts Swift’s streams and sales, but it also gives her control over her work — or at least the new “Taylor’s Version” of them.
Swift didn’t own her masters in the first place because, when a recording artist signs with a label, the standard legal arrangement grants the record company ownership of the copyrights of the recordings. This is commonly known as a “master.”
An artist like Swift gets a certain chunk of the revenue made by the recording but usually doesn’t control the recording.
Having ownership of her work is also deeply personal to Swift. When she first recorded “Red” it was done under different contractual and legal agreements. Since then, everything has changed for Swift.
For most of her career, Swift had a deal with Big Machine Records. When that ended in 2018, the singer signed a new agreement with Universal Music Group, which granted her ownership of her master recordings going forward.
Her previous catalog at Big Machine was sold to a company owned by music manager Scooter Braun. Braun’s Ithaca Holdings acquired Big Machine Label Group as part of a reported $300 million deal in 2019.
Swift said this was a “worst-case scenario,” alleging that she was bullied by Braun for years.
“This is what happens when you sign a deal at 15 to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept,” Swift wrote on Tumblr in 2019. “And when that man says ‘music has value,’ he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it.”
“Red” marks the second re-release Swift has put out, and it won’t be the last. Swift re-released “Fearless” — her most successful record, with more than seven million albums sold — in April, and she has plans to release the “Taylor’s Version” of other albums as well.
Swift can’t erase her old songs or stop anyone from listening to the original versions. But she can offer the “Taylor’s Version” albums as an alternative.
Because Swift has a very loyal fan base of “Swifties” who closely follow her professional and personal life (and also come up with some pretty wild theories about her songs and albums), she can use her voice to push fans toward the new songs she now controls.
Swift spoke to those fans about returning to “Red” in a Twitter post on Friday.
“It never would have been possible to go back & remake my previous work, uncovering lost art & forgotten gems along the way if you hadn’t emboldened me,” she wrote. “‘Red’ is about to be mine again, but it has always been ours.”