Ownership in the Music Industry: A Recap of the Bad Blood Between Scooter Braun & Taylor Swift

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

Playlist curated by Stevie Terando

It seems like just yesterday Taylor Swift was getting interrupted by Kanye West at the VMAs, and yet here we are, another story about T. Swift getting wronged by men in the music industry. For the past year (for those of you who live under a rock), Swift has been in a battle for ownership of her masters with her original label, Big Machine Records. The “masters” in question are basically her entire original discography, including cult-faves like Speak Now, Fearless, and her original self-titled album that came out in 2006. If you are lost, or want to know the full scoop, keep reading.


In June of last year, Scooter Braun (manager of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande respectively) purchased Swift’s first six studio albums from Big Machine for $300 million. Swift claims she found out about the sale at the same time the public did, and was definitely rattled, taking to Tumblr to express her emotions. In short, Swift was very distraught over the sale, specifically pointing to the drama Scooter has orchestrated throughout her career, and how she was extremely upset at this sale that took place without her consent. One of the most poignant quotes from the Tumblr post was, “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. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future.” (Scott Borchetta is the CEO of Big Machine records). After this, there was silence on both sides, and all seemed to be okay, until November 14.


On November 14th, Swift penned an open letter describing her inability to perform a medley of her old songs at the American Music Awards, and subsequently a documentary for Netflix, because Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta had denied her this right. At this point, you can feel and see her outrage at being told when and how she can perform her own music, by two men who only care about the financial gains behind it, rather than her artistic integrity and happiness. Taylor called on her fans to express their outrage, and #IStandWithTaylor trended on Twitter. This feud was now extremely public, and fans were very angry. Many celebrities also tweeted out their support for Swift.


Over the next few days, Scott Borchetta, Scooter Braun, and Big Machine all put out statements denying Swift’s claims, and even went so far as to say they reached an agreement with the AMA’s for Swift to perform her older songs, which the AMA’s says never happened. Big Machine had said they were “close” to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, but that Taylor negated that progress by making the “unilateral decision last night to enlist her fanbase in a calculated manner that greatly affects the safety of our employees and their families.” Scooter took to Instagram to share that he and his family had been receiving death threats, and begged Swift to participate in an “open and honest discussion” with him to resolve the feud. He seemed angry too, saying that it seemed as though Swift had “no interest in a resolution.” Well Mr. Braun, maybe if you hadn’t bought her work without her consent after making her life a living hell over years and years of pointless drama, she would want to engage in a discussion with you.


It seemed as if the conversation surrounding Swift’s masters ended there. She released her next album, Lover, which is the first album she has full ownership of, and was planning on having a Lover festival until the pandemic hit. However, just a few short weeks ago, we got another update. Scooter Braun sold Swift’s masters to Shamrock Holdings, a private investment firm; AGAIN, Taylor was not informed of the sale. Swift released another statement, saying she had entered into negotiations with Scooter over the past year, but that his team required her to sign an NDA in order to bar her from criticizing him publicly ever again. In her own words: “So I would have to sign a document that would silence me forever before I could even have a chance to bid on my own work… My legal team said that this is absolutely NOT normal, and they've never seen an NDA like this presented unless it was to silence an assault accuser by paying them off. He would never even quote my team a price. These master recordings were not for sale to me.” Swift was handed a big fat NDA to silence her, before even getting to bid on her own work. She goes on to say Shamrock Holdings reached out to her and her team, against the advice of Scooter Braun, to try and create a partnership with her. However, she learned that Scooter would still be profiting off of her masters for years under their deal, and broke off communications with them, as Scooter’s participation is a “non-starter.”


Taylor Swift has not backed down, and is beginning to re-record her first six albums, and seems to be having a lot of fun doing so, even releasing a sneak peek of “Love Story” recently. In conclusion, I am fed up, and I hope you dear readers are too. Taylor Swift is a music giant, with the capital to be able to own her masters, something many artists do not have, yet was not even given the chance to bid on or purchase her work. Instead, the men in power dangled her masters over her head, and continued to make a profit off of it, while Swift became increasingly upset. The cherry on top is the way these men refer to Swift in their statements, almost as if she is some crazy lady out for blood, almost like she is an assault victim just looking to stir up negative publicity, which Swift herself even referenced when describing the NDA she was made to sign if she agreed to Scooter’s deal. It is amazing to me that these men believe what they are doing is remotely acceptable. They are taking advantage of a woman, a woman who was once a very young girl who was taken advantage of from the beginning when she signed her first contract with Big Machine. This story is not new, and will be repeated time and time again, until labels stop trying to own every part of their artists and their work. It is almost like a chess game, with the artists being the pawns, and the label heads and CEOs moving them around without regard for their best interest. The main difference in this story is that Taylor Swift is one of the most well known people in music. She is extremely successful and yet still cannot be fairly sold her masters back. If Swift is given the short end of the stick, what is to come of every artist just trying to make it? Artists are not given a choice most of the time; it’s either you sign away all of your rights or you won’t be successful. I am aware there are far worse injustices in the world than losing the rights to your creative works, but if we let our creative rights be sold so freely, it just gives people more of a chance to take advantage in other ways. Look at Megan Thee Stallion, a woman who has taken over the music industry this year. Megan sued her own label for a large list of offenses, but the underlying sentiment was that they duped her into signing an unfair deal when she was too naive to know better. It’s time to stop letting men, in all industries, places and times, make women feel inferior, or like they do not have a choice in their own destiny. Taylor and Megan have chosen to take their stories public, and hopefully many young artists will learn from them as a result. As Megan herself said, “Fuck bein' good, I'm a bad bitch, I'm sick of motherfuckers tryna tell me how to live!” We could not agree more.

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