PopFinance – E02 – Taylor Swift Loses Her Music Rights


[0:00:00.8] FA: Welcome to Just Curious Media, this is Pop Finance. I’m Francois Aure, I’m a forex analyst and author and US markets contributor for CCM markets.

[0:00:09.5] SH: I’m Sarah Helms. I am an attorney and also a pop culture guru. So, welcome.


[0:00:14.1] FA: Welcome, thank you Sarah and today, we will be talking about the controversy that is raging around Taylor Swift’s rights to her music and her loss of said rights to the master recordings of her albums.

[0:00:28.5] SH: It was quite a week for Taylor Swift, you know, she was doing so well, she had just extended an olive branch to Katy Perry and then this happened. It was quite shocking, really. I think we should just jump right into it because I have a lot to say today. For those of you who don’t know, how everyone found out about it, I’m sure you read the long, the very long and the very, very personal Tumblr post that Taylor Swift posted.

[0:00:52.9] FA: It certainly was long.

[0:00:54.6] SH: It certainly was long and it was very well written but essentially, what it told the world was that Taylor Swift’s entire catalog of music, that’s the last six albums? Seven albums?

[0:01:05.6] FA: Something like that, I haven’t been counting.

[0:01:08.6] SH: I believe this will be number seven coming out in august is six. We’re on with big machine records which was owned by a man by the name of Scott Borchetta and Scott Borchetta sold his entire company to Scooter Braun and no, I’m not making these names up, I know that they sound crazy but no, it’s Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun.

[0:01:26.6] FA: When we talk about this, I can’t help but think about do I – when he buys the car of Andy in The Office and he says, he’s a man has sold a smart capable man has purchased a car from a lesser male and I feel like that’s what this feels like for me when you talk about it.

[0:01:42.4] SH: Yeah, it’s an interesting one, just because they’re these two guys, very big in the music in dusty. Yeah, essentially, Taylor Swift’s entire catalog of music now belongs to a man by the name of Scooter Braun. It was very big deal because obviously, Taylor Swift is a huge fan of making sure that every singer has equal rights in the industry and ensuring you know, for example, she was for a long time saying she wouldn’t allow her music to be played for free on apps like Spotify and Apple Music and things like that.

It shocked everyone because essentially she no longer has rights to her music. It’s an interesting question really, the big question today is, is it right? Is it fair and should we allow people from a financial perspective to have the rights of their music in this circumstance?

[0:02:27.9] FA: Well, I think – well, there’s a couple of sides to this story. Number one is, this would be from the record company’s perspective. Number one, that Taylor Swift wouldn’t exist without Big Machine producing — Taylor Swift is actually I believe, I could be wrong, fairly hands on with her music, she does – she is involved with the lyric, she is involved with the music but there is a huge team of people that goes into producing and behind the scenes marketing and when you sign up, the record label does take a gamble on you and one of the things I think it’s fairly standard that you sign away the rights to the master recording and you get an advance on that.

So, while not many people may know that, this is actually pretty standard practice, she’s creating a lot of outrage but it’s pretty standard, I mean, even Paul McCartney of Beatles fame is still struggling to get back the rights to his master recordings which he sold to Michael Jackson.

[0:03:26.0] SH: Yes, but.

[0:03:26.0] FA: And that’s Paul McCartney.

[0:03:26.9] SH: She’s not Paul McCartney yet. No disrespect to Mr. McCartney — but my issue is, there’s this distinction here and again, we don’t know all the sides yet, not all of the information has come out. The distinction here is that Taylor Swift’s contention and at this point it is just a contention. We do not know if it’s true because all the details have not come out.

Is that she asked Scott Borchetta to purchase her entire catalog of music for a sum of money and he would not sell them to her. Instead, he tried to bulldoze her into staying with Big Machine by saying, okay, for every album you generate, I’ll give you one album back and that according to Taylor and probably according to the world is not an offer to purchase your music outright.

She wasn’t really given that offer and instead, it was sold to someone else. Is that fair?

[0:04:15.7] FA: Well, the terms — the problem is, once you’ve signed it away, it’s not in their interest to do anything but give you a terrible deal. The most valuable aspect of her music is the master recording. If you already own the master recording and you have no intention of giving up the master recording unless you get an absolutely incredible deal and get more master recordings out of it or get Taylor Swift for longer than you thought you might. There’s no reason for them to give up anything.

[0:04:41.8] SH: Except for the fact that Big Machine Label is nothing without Taylor. The biggest artist they have in their catalog is Taylor Swift.

[0:04:49.6] FA: But she’s no longer – she’s gone.

[0:04:51.9] SH: Yeah.

[0:04:52.5] FA: To go public, I believe.

[0:04:53.3] SH: Yeah, why wouldn’t you try and set – you want to keep this artist in your corner.

[0:04:56.9] FA: I think they did have negotiations but those negotiations broke down probably for the reasons you just outlined.

[0:05:02.3] SH: But it’s bizarre to me that as you are the opposite of being, I don’t know, I’m trying to think of an example of you are the Prius of – although I know you like Prius.

[0:05:11.5] FA: The Prius.

[0:05:12.5] SH: You are the Prius.

[0:05:14.1] FA: You’re going to insult Prius’ now?

[0:05:15.1] SH: No, I’m not. I’m just thinking of you know.

[0:05:16.0] FA: I do like Prius’

[0:05:17.3] SH: You’re dependable, you’re good, you have good mileage, whatever. But you’re certainly no Mercedes Benz, what have you. In terms of – 

[0:05:25.3] FA: Apologies Prius owners.

[0:05:27.0] SH: No, I’m just trying to draw a comparison here. Big machine is not – 

[0:05:30.0] FA: I don’t see many Prius on this side of the road broken down. I see a lot of Mercedes on this side of the road.

[0:05:34.6] SH: My point is simply that they aren’t the biggest name in the industry, right? They have Taylor Swift, they have this big name and Taylor Swift has stayed with them because she was born with them and she has loyalty. Taylor Swift’s a very loyal person. I know from my no experience but loyal fans, exactly.

I feel like I know her, even though I’ve literally never met her in my life but I feel like she’s a loyal person, okay? She stuck with this company for years and years, because this company made her and she made this company. You show zero respect for her and what she’s done for your company because you just sell out her music right out from underneath her. When she wanted to buy it, she expressed interest in buying it, she has the money certainly to buy it and you say no.

[0:06:17.0] FA: Which takes us – 

[0:06:17.8] SH: That seems inherently wrong to me.

[0:06:19.0] FA: Which takes us to the next point which is following on from what you’ve just said that are they making and is the Scooter Braun is now the new owner of Big Machine and the owner of these master recordings. It is a big mistake if you own the master recordings and you hope to one day make the greatest hits album or you may want to Re-release. Massive mistake to fall out with the artist.

Particularly if they have as passionate of support base as Taylor Swift. Because she can come out and she can say, don’t buy my greatest hits album because in all the proceeds are going to go to Scooter Braun and she can do that and you can do – she can sort of stage a mini coup against you.

So it’s absolutely in their interest and inherent, it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship at this point.

[0:07:08.9] SH: It is, absolutely.

[0:07:10.0] FA: They need to both sit down and they will, and I think that’s what Taylor Swift’s doing here with this Tumblr post. She’s flexing her social media muscle. She’s saying I can come out and look at how much press and look how much bad feeling I can generate towards you and this is just a taste.

So let’s sit down and let’s talk about this because I can make things a lot worse for you.

[0:07:32.2] SH: That’s the next question. The next biggest question that I think only time will tell. Is he going to go back on it? Because now, there‘s been this entire sequence of events. All of the press are just trying to destroy Scooter Braun who really, I mean, as far as I’m aware, just a fairly nice man, he manages a lot of people in the industry. I have not heard too many terrible things about him.

[0:07:52.4] FA: Certainly successful. Can’t comment on how nice he is.

[0:07:53.2] SH: Yeah, true, don’t know. But I haven’t heard anything outright crazy about him, except the one allegation Taylor Swift made which was that he bullied her at some point in her life but everyone according to Taylor Swift’s bullied her at some point in her life. It’s neither here nor there. But I think the point here is, is the outcry from Taylor Swift fans, from the industry, from the message Taylor’s trying to say which is artist should have the rights to their music. Is it going to make him change his mind? Is he going to go back on the deal or alternatively, although more likely scenario, is he going to offer her an outright monetary amount for her masters and what do you think?

[0:08:25.3] FA: I think he is going to have to – well, to be honest, he hasn’t said anything. I think as far as he’s concerned, this is just business as usual and if she wants to negotiate and she wants to sit down, he’ll probably sit down with her in the same way that Big Machine sat down with her and they didn’t come to terms. Except for the fact that I believe there are some bad blood historically with Justin Bieber or something bullying her, is that what you were saying? There’s some bad blood historically.

[0:08:53.0] SH: Yes, it really isn’t a nice play on the –I’m very impressed, bad blood is yes, a Taylor Swift song.

[0:08:58.8] FA: That was an Easter egg for the Taylor Swift fans out there.

[0:09:02.6] SH: She does love her Easter eggs. Yeah, no — essentially what occurred is that she alleged that in her very long post, that Scooter Braun has never been nice to her, that the man that’s bullied her for years now owns the rights to her music. The only evidence of any bullying that she produced to everyone eagerly waiting was a picture of Justin Bieber on face time with Scooter Braun saying something like I think Justin captioned it something like, “Yeah, Taylor, get it Taylor,” kind of thing.

[0:09:33.2] FA: I just can’t imagine anyone ever being bullied by Justin Bieber.

[0:09:38.1] SH: I have a hard time with that too but it wasn’t Justin, it was supposed to be like Scooter Braun is participating in this massive look at us, we’re part of the Scooter Braun team and you’re not. Yeah, she took that as bullying. Again, I have to make this clear, I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan but I have never been one to admit, you know, not admit that she can be a bit – a bit rash.

Is this which again, this is I think one of the biggest criticisms she’s had about this whole incident is the way she went about it, this long post, just throwing people under the bus, this flashback to that she made a brief reference to Kanye and Kim which come on, are we not over this by now, this was five years ago.

Are we seeing this old Taylor, this crazy reputation Taylor, you know, that put out this album all about – all the stars in the industry being terrible to her, are we seeing her come back and you know, did she go about this the right way? Is she going to get what she wants?

[0:10:31.8] FA: Probably a little possibly yes and possibly no. She’ll get something. I think she’ll get some kind of deal but as we said about Paul McCartney, it’s a very, very long fight. Once you’ve given something away, it’s hard to get it back. The thing for anyone to really learn when they’re getting into the music industry is that this can be a big deal if you become a big star but if you’re not a big star and you’re thinking, well, either I sign this away and make the album and get a bit of money or I don’t and I don’t make the album and I don’t become a star.

That’s where more the power of independent artist being able to go independent and stream their music independently has given them some power in this regard because if you own your own recordings and you already have a viewership or a listenership but you know, generally speaking, you have to give it away and this is just – 

[0:11:22.4] SH: Just business?

[0:11:23.2] FA: Just the price of – it’s the price of entry in the music industry

[0:11:26.6] SH: As torts professor used to say, life in the big city?

[0:11:29.8] FA: Life in the big city, yeah.

[0:11:30.6] SH: You know, I think it really boils down to speaking of law professors. Where was Taylor Swift’s lawyer at when she signed this – 

[0:11:38.3] FA: It was just standard.

[0:11:38.8] SH: Horribly – 

[0:11:40.6] FA: How can it be.

[0:11:41.2] SH: At some point though, maybe this is something that will be released with time. At some point, her contract was – she just had this one contract when she was 15 years old, she’s nearly 30, the contract at some point had to have been renegotiated and at that point, where are your lawyers saying- 

[0:11:56.7] FA: But you’ve already signed it away.

[0:11:57.2] SH: Not predicting this. Yeah, but I mean, at some point, there wasn’t room for negotiations — if that’s true, you should have a very good lawyer.

[0:11:58.6] FA: I can guarantee the one aspect of it, that wasn’t up for renegotiation.

[0:12:08.8] SH: The masters?

[0:12:08.9] FA: The master recording. Because that’s where all the royalties come from, that’s what sustains these businesses, these music business over time is royalties and they do actually sign a lot of artist who don’t’ make it and they spend a lot of money on artist that don’t make it. They have to protect their interest when they do actually have someone that they back and support and market and put all their resources towards.

They are looking to benefit as much as she is from this. I know they’re the big – they’re the big, evil corporation and they are but they also, if they didn’t exist, maybe the quality of the music wouldn’t be so good. Or their fabulous producers and marketers and people that work really hard behind the scenes to make her music sound fantastic?

[0:12:50.0] SH: Yeah, but Taylor Swift made Big Machine Label.

[0:12:51.5] FA: I don’t think she writes a lot of those chord progressions and you know.

[0:12:54.4] SH: I disagree.

[0:12:55.5] FA: Big – sits down and does all those big flashy kind of techno auto tuning and stuff that she’s into at the moment.

[0:13:01.4] SH: Yeah, I get the whole argument. I totally get the whole we are taking a chance on you so we should get it if you’re successful but surely that was the case with album number one but there’s been no question of Taylor Swift’s success from her very first lovely, lovely — I just love it to this day, her very first album at 15, 16 years old. I mean it was clear this girl was going to be a huge, huge, huge megastar. I mean her first album alone was incredible. 

[0:13:23.9] FA: Right, thanks to the efforts of the good people at Big Machine. 

[0:13:26.8] SH: Yeah but then as she progressed, as she became this independent artists she was writing everything. Everything was her own sweat and blood and tears and I mean she says this in her post, “I wrote these songs on my bedroom floor and you get to go and gallop off in the distance with them, where are my rights?” And she is right to a certain sense. I mean that’s just my only point is I totally get that there is a contract. I totally get, trust me, contracts are binding. I get it, I get it, contract, contract but surely there is some sort of relief here. 

[0:13:54.7] FA: I think it would be interesting to hear what a Taylor Swift song that she takes to a producer or sound engineer when she goes into the studio and says, “Here is my song,” because I have heard that some songs that when you have a world class producer, you would not believe how basic a song that you can take in to a music studio and they will make it sound incredible. You can have the most basic nursery rhyme and you align that with a world class sound engineer and you can make it sound like for example, think of all the Chainsmokers songs. They are 99% production at about 1% inspiration – 

[0:14:29.6] SH: I have to cut you off because you are so wrong here. You are so wrong here because Taylor Swift is not the Chainsmokers. Taylor Swift is famous for her lyrics and she writes those herself. Taylor Swift is famous because she takes a simple song that doesn’t even matter how it sounds in the background but she puts beautiful profound words that tear at young teenage and young adults and all ages of heartbreak and she puts that into a song. It doesn’t matter what the producers do with it, she writes the core lyrics. 

[0:14:57.0] FA: The old Taylor can’t come to the phone, why? 

[0:14:59.3] SH: Okay that. 

[0:14:59.5] FA: She’s dead. 

[0:15:00.7] SH: Reputation was not her best work.

[0:15:02.7] FA: Look at what you made me do. Repeat 90 times. 

[0:15:04.9] SH: Yes, okay, Reputation was not her best work. We know that is the case. I have been candid with you about that for a long time but every album before Reputation was genius and you and I both know that. Genius. Red was the single best piece of musical, is it musical literature. I don’t even – I think I am going to call it musical literature here because she literally – she wrote it out of her own beautiful, beautiful brain came these words. 

[0:15:28.0] FA: Right aside from your passion for Taylor Swift, pulling it back to the financial aspect of it for a second, what is Taylor Swift going to do moving forward with Republic? 

[0:15:43.2] SH: She says and this is part of her post is that, “You know I am leaving my past behind with Scooter Braun, as sad as that might be and I am looking forward to this future with Republic.” 

[0:15:53.1] FA: I think it Republic Records. 

[0:15:54.6] SH: Yeah, she is coming out with an album in August. I believe August 16th, 18th one of the teens, she is coming out with it. It is called Love, it is very beautiful cover, she looks beautiful as always and first two songs in the album not fabulous. I have admitted that to you but I have big hopes and dreams for her. Taylor Swift will always be lovely and wonderful so it doesn’t really matter, she will always be fine. 

[0:16:18.2] FA: She is still going to be successful. There is always the danger with artists and I think Bob Dylan has talked about this where people say, “Bob, how do you think you could write all those great songs and can you still write great songs?” And he says, “No, I can’t do it anymore the magic isn’t there.” It happened a little bit to Prince. Prince put out a lot of albums later in his career that you could tell he wasn’t as happy with and I think there is a real danger. 

When you lose the masters to your core works and then you can’t quite do it anymore. You must feel like you have no – you have lost your best work. It is like taking away Tiger Woods’s majors and saying, “You can just have the PGA Tour wins but we’ve got all the trophies for the majors.” I mean what if she can’t do it again? 

[0:17:03.1] SH: Okay that is a bold – well what makes you think she can never do it again? For the last 10, 12 years she has been blessing us with album after album of premium content and you are telling me that just because you think she had one or two bad songs on this first album that she is not going to have anymore? Have you heard the album yet? Because I don’t think anybody has. 

[0:17:19.4] FA: I was suggesting that if you’re Scooter Braun and you are looking at this from a financial perspective, you’re looking at Big Machine and you are thinking I can purchase and get the rights to some of the most popular pop music from the last – I don’t know, five years but he can get those and then if he thinks she is peaked because all pop stars peak no matter how famous – 

[0:17:39.9] SH: This has gone very downhill. She is not peaked. 

[0:17:41.8] FA: No matter how famous that a pop star might feel at their peak, sometimes that’s exactly the moment that they’re at their peak and although their fame might seem impenetrable like it will never dip, I think this is an incredibly shrewd move from Scooter Braun. I think he can get rights to what is going to be Taylor Swift’s greatest hits and I think he senses that the greatest hits have been written and I think he is going to get those masters cheap and I think she’s gone on to Republic and I think Republic probably have got the worst end of this deal. 

[0:18:13.3] SH: I think you are going to absolutely eat your words. When this album comes out in August and the rest of it is pure gold. It is going to be hysterical to me. The world is going to blow up like it always does about every Taylor Swift album ever because even her worst album, cough Reputation, we all know it’s true. Even that album is so cleverly written, it is so well-produced, it is so well done when you just sit through and listen to it and that is her worst album — like ever.

I just think you are being way too cynical with respect to the industry generally and with the magicalness that is Taylor Swift like give her a chance here. I know you think it is a smart move or what have you but I think it is a very, very poor move and you do not – this is my advice to everyone, do not make an enemy of Taylor Swift. Just don’t do it and actually I did want to say this at the very beginning and it reminded me of your comment reminded me of it. 

You made a big fuss about this whole thing but I think it is a little bit misleading because correct me if I am wrong but the whole entire Big Machine Records was purchased correct? So it wasn’t just Taylor Swift’s – 

[0:19:23.6] FA: Yeah, I think everyone else on the label. 

[0:19:25.3] SH: Yeah so I think that is why it does take away from her point a little bit because it is like, “Well the entire…” I mean everyone who signed to Big Machine is not with Scooter Braun. It is not just you. You were targeted, which I totally get. 

[0:19:36.9] FA: She just knows she is the shining jewel for that purchase but it is not just her. 

[0:19:43.5] SH: I get it and that is a lot of disrespect to Florida Georgia Line and Luke Holmes who are also great artist and I think they’re with Big Machine so I totally get that but she is the shining, which is nice and cool. 

[0:19:52.8] FA: Which is by Big Machine, will be thinking that they deserve the master recordings because they have a lot of people on there you haven’t been as bigger stars as her. Taking a moment to look at the album sales, which obviously the most important thing if you are Scooter Braun or Big Machine or Republic or anyone in the music industry – 

[0:20:10.4] SH: How dare you look at real data.

[0:20:11.5] FA: If you take a look at her last six albums, every album sold more moving up until Reputation, which actually sold less than 1989, which preceded it, which although you might say, “Oh it is a one off, it is an anomaly.” If you’re Big Machine and your most valuable asset has gone and you have her masters and all of a sudden you’re thinking is she about to become less of a star? Is this possibly the start of a decline because they will know how quickly pop stars fame and record sales can decline. 

And it can happen pretty fast, this was an incredibly shrewd business move by them because they are basically trying to sell at their peak her six albums are probably never going to be worth more than they are worth now, the masters. So they’re just cashing out their most valuable asset has gone. They are cashing out on these recordings and it is extremely smart move and I think Taylor Swift’s father is on the board of Big Machine. 

[0:21:06.8] SH: He was a shareholder actually I believe. Don’t quote us on that Mr. Swift we apologize if this incorrect. 

[0:21:09.5] FA: So he is a shareholder. So he owns the business. I think he is but he owns the slice of Big Machine. So if your dad who is I believe actually a very shrewd businessman because I think he does work in finance as well, if your dad is thinking, you know what? I think this is probably a good deal. We don’t know if he voted yes but he was definitely preview to the conversations. He is probably going to be thinking maybe Taylor is exaggerating the situation that she’s in because she must have known that this was going to happen. 

[0:21:38.6] SH: Yeah I mean that was her big thing is that she didn’t know. 

[0:21:40.0] FA: She didn’t wake up one morning and think, “Oh they’ve sold Big Machine. My masters.” She must have been tracking every single conversation. You don’t just sell a business like this overnight. You don’t just wake up, you know these people don’t just go out, “Hey, it’s Scooter Braun. I think I am going to buy your company.” “All right, how much?” “I don’t know, a few hundred million.” “Oh yeah that will do just sign the papers and send it over.” There will be long protracted drawn out talks and negotiations, attorneys would be involved also – 

[0:22:07.4] SH: You are making a lot of assumptions because we have nothing to contradict this except the statements of the wife, I believe her name is Yale but I could be saying that wrong of Scooter Braun’s wife who did contradict Taylor but Taylor states that she had no knowledge of the sale that she literally, funny that you said wake up one morning because she literally wrote, “I woke up this morning to find out that my pride and joy, all of my blood, sweat and tears have been sold to a man that I hate.” 

I mean that was the theme of her entire post was that she did not know that this was a thief in the night kind of sale that she had no knowledge I mean and yeah, we can say that her father was a shareholder. That’s fine but we don’t know if he knew the intricacies of this deal. We don’t know the extent of his knowledge. You are making a lot of assumptions. What you are also making an assumption about of even bigger assumption is her decline. 

Because yes, she did leave for Republic Records in November 2018. Yes, maybe lost that they did not even maybe did lose their biggest asset but they lost something even bigger, which is potentially if this album is huge in August they have lost potentially this big, big selling album and so they have made an enemy. She is never going to return ever. If she continues to be this big pop star that she’s always been, she is never returning to them. They have forever sealed their fate as a Taylor Swift no go zone. She will not go back. 

[0:23:20.5] FA: I don’t think she is ever intending to go back. 

[0:23:22.7] SH: You never know and they have lost that. 

[0:23:25.2] FA: They have lost that. It is off the table but they will as they discussed earlier, there will need to be a reconciliation. Like I said, she is almost certainly just showing them the amount of bad feeling. She is throwing a temper tantrum but she is also making a pretty calculated business move to put pressure on them but she is also what all these artists have to do. They have to create a certain amount of public awareness because people just don’t know about these topics. 

People just assume Taylor Swift wrote it. They look at Elton John making millions and million in royalties every year and they assume, “Oh no one but Elton John can possibly have any rights to any of his music except for maybe Bernie Tolkien but actually when you go behind the scenes there is a huge amount of people with their hands in the pot who some deserve at least. Some perhaps less deservedly and I think what Taylor is just trying to make people aware. 

That just because you’re an artist and people know that you sang a song that it doesn’t necessarily mean you have absolute rights to that song and obviously artists would like to change that, which is why they want the public opinion because they want to start shifting the balance of power. 

[0:24:29.0] SH: This is just a sad day for Taylor, a sad day for Scott Borchetta. I always want to call him Scott – what is the appetizer? Bruschetta. 

[0:24:36.2] FA: Bruschetta. I think you have been saying bruschetta this whole time. 

[0:24:40.2] SH: Is that Mr. Scott Borchetta, is that how you say his name. Someone tell us. 

[0:24:44.3] FA: If it is not bruschetta it is now. 

[0:24:46.1] SH: It is now. You are now Scott Bruschetta. 

[0:24:48.7] FA: A terrible day for them and probably a fantastic day for Scooter Braun, which takes us to the end of our discussion and we’d like to thank you very much for listening. Please subscribe to us on iTunes and any other platform where you might get your podcast. 

[0:25:03.1] SH: And feel free to leave us a review, we love to hear all of your wonderful feedback.


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