Taylor Swift re-recorded old songs to make her music her own after Scooter Braun bought them.
Over the past year, several musicians have made noise by intentionally selling or devaluing their master recordings.
Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks and Neil Young are among the biggest artists who have made headlines for selling out their music catalogs. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Taylor Swift who topped the charts with the release of re-recordings of her old songs as a way to make her music her own.
So what does it mean to own part or all of an artist’s work?
People earn money or music royalties by owning part of the song. To understand this, you have to understand copyright.
When it comes to music, there are two types: There is composition, which deals with the lyrics and melody of the song. Then there is the sound recording, which is the version or recording of the song that the audience hears.
If you own the master song recording – also known as the master – you can authorize third parties to use the song in television, movies, advertisements, etc.
When you think of masters, think of the source material from which copies of any recording are made – this includes streams, vinyls and CDs – remember that?
In Swift’s case, she owns at least some of the songwriting for most of the songs she’s written, but she doesn’t own the masters. She tried to get them, but businessman Scooter Braun bought out the label she was with when she recorded the songs. So she re-recorded them.
Now, let’s be clear: re-releasing new versions of your old songs doesn’t get rid of the original masters. These still exist. But Swift encouraged fans to stream the new recordings — known as the Taylor Versions — over the old ones, and that’s exactly what happened.
“Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” knocked the old version off the Billboard charts and the nation’s largest radio station chain, iHeartRadio, said their stations would only play “Taylor’s Version” songs.
Swift is known as a fairly gifted songwriter, having single songwriter credits for many of her songs, but she lacked some of her masters. So how is it going?
Intellectual rights lawyers say it’s not uncommon for this to be part of negotiations with an artist’s record company. Swift re-recording some of her greatest hits is a way to devalue and, essentially, supplant those originals — and she’s not the first to do so.
Def Leppard, the Chameleons and Electric Light Orchestra have all re-recorded songs to create new masters. And last month, R&B singer Ashanti said she planned to re-record her self-titled debut album.