The battle between Taylor Swift and her ex-label, Big Machine, continues.
Earlier this year, Swift was involved in a high-profile dispute when Big Machine was sold to Ithaca Holdings LLC, the media holding company run by big-name music businessman Scooter Braun. When Swift signed to Big Machine as a teenager, she also signed away the rights to her masters—a.k.a. original recordings of her songs. These masters, spanning all the way from her 2006 debut to 2017's Reputation, are now owned by Braun, who Swift claims has bullied her relentlessly throughout her career. Masters ownership disputes are as old as record labels themselves, but when a star as omnipresent and indelible as Swift voices her own "worst-case scenario" experience, it's hard not to criticize how the music industry functions financially.
Another layer to this feud arose publicly yesterday, when Swift published a lengthy post to her social media explaining that Braun and Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta are allegedly preventing her from performing material from her first six albums on television (for those catching up, that's everything predating August's Lover). Swift is going to be named the Artist of the Decade at this month's American Music Awards, and she was planning on celebrating the honor by performing a medley of her career-spanning hits. Swift said Braun and Borchetta consider this "re-recording" those old songs, something she's apparently not allowed to do until next year.
In her post, Swift also spilled the beans about a documentary Netflix has in the works about her. She alleged that Braun and Borchetta were refusing the use of her older music in the film, although she claims the documentary doesn't mention the two men or Big Machine. "Scott Borchetta told my team that they'll allow me to use my music only if I do these things: If I agree to not re-record copycat versions of my songs next year (which is something I'm both legally allowed to do and looking forward to) and also told my team that I need to stop talking about him and Scooter Braun," Swift wrote. "The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you'll be punished."
Big Machine published a response to Swift's post, saying "at no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special." Well, neither did Swift. She never implied that she wasn't allowed to perform on the AMAs or be featured in the documentary: all she's asking for is the rights to the music she's been writing since she was a teenager. They dodged the specificities of Swift's concerns, claiming that they had been cooperative in the process but that Swift owed millions of dollars to the company. The statement never explicitly denies Swift's accusations. Her publicist, Tree Paine, also tweeted that "an independent, professional auditor has determined that Big Machine owes Taylor $7.9 million of unpaid royalties over several years."
"Taylor, the narrative you have created does not exist," Big Machine wrote. "There is nothing but respect, kindness and support waiting for you on the other side. To date, not one of the invitations to speak with us and work through this has been accepted. Rumors fester in the absence of communication. Let's not have that continue here. We share the collective goal of giving your fans the entertainment they both want and deserve."
Sure, part of Swift's personal brand as a public figure has included the tendency to be a little overdramatic, but she's also one of the most successful artists of all time; Is it too much to ask that she be allowed to perform the music she wrote without jumping through legal hoops? If Big Machine has truly "continued to honor all of her requests to license her catalog to third parties" as they claim in their statement, wouldn't they be able to find a way to let Swift perform her old music during an awards ceremony specifically honoring her success over the past decade? There's clearly a discord here that should raise apprehension in all artists and labels moving forward: Let the people who write music own that music. It's incredibly disheartening when the pursuit of profit, in a creative industry especially, becomes more important than morals and integrity.