Taylor Swift’s struggles should not be reproduced. Artists must control their masters.


The opinions expressed in the opinion columns are those of the author.

Taylor Swift has taken the music industry by storm with the release of her new album, Red (Taylor version), a re-recording of his 2012 album Red. Maybe you’re like some of my friends – the avid “Swifties” – who enjoyed hearing remastered versions of some of their favorite songs. Maybe you’re like me and (somehow) never got attached to Swift, but after hearing the critically acclaimed album, you are a new fan.

It was so easy to get carried away by the excitement of re-releasing this album that it just became just as easy to forget Why it had to happen.

Taylor Swift signed a contract with Large machine disks in 2005, just as she was starting her path to stardom. This contract was due to expire in 2018, and since Rumor has it that Big Machine is for sale, Swift has made public his intentions to find a new label. But, before she could do so, the label – and its masters, or the original recordings and creative licenses for her first six albums – were sold to Scooter Braun, a man she is accused of. “Incessant and manipulative harassment”.

To sum up, Taylor Swift found herself without control of her defining albums, that control being sold to a man who had hurt her multiple times in the industry. This left him with the choice to accept defeat or to re-record and re-edit his old songs to reclaim his masters; she chose the latter.

The Swift experiment acts as an unfortunately common example of how the music industry manipulates and takes advantage of its megastars. When young, vulnerable artists are forced to cede the masters of their music in entry-level contracts, they are kept tied to abusive and ever-changing management. It is time to eradicate this practice – both socially and legally – from the music industry.

When an artist loses control of his masters, he loses control of his life’s work. In Swift’s case, that meant she was not allowed to perform songs of her first six albums – even though she wrote them – because her original label feared it would constitute a “re-recording” of her own music. Swift should go on and sign a new contract with Republic Records in order to get his work back. Until that happens, however, Swift hasn’t been able to capitalize on the songs that made her famous, and more importantly, she is expected to disappoint her fans due to a legal clause of operation.

These labels are also known to physically control their artists. Pop singer JoJo re-recorded his first two albums after its initial label, Blackground folders, had it injecting supplements in order to lose weight, and withheld her music until she conformed to it. This practice left her with psychological damage, which she still struggles with today. These music labels force artists to make a choice between their career and their overall well-being, a choice no one should ever have to make.

Perhaps the worst part about this “choice” is that it often happens when artists are vulnerable. Swift and JoJo were both very young when they signed these contracts that deprived themselves of their artistic agency, a choice that touched them decades later.

How is it fair that a record company can have so much control over an artist’s creative agency?

Being at the start of their careers, these artists didn’t have much influence in their negotiations, but that’s where the bottom line lies: they shouldn’t need leverage to be respected when these are legal arrangements.

Perhaps the contracts could see artists giving more of their income to the label early in their careers, or larger buyout clauses for artists looking to leave a specific label. Legal action might even be needed to prevent these record companies from taking advantage of more young artists – who are often women.

But the most imperative point, however, is that artists never lose the rights over their own masters. An artist’s creative agency is arguably the most important tool they should use for their careers, and depriving them of it is unethical at best and despicable at worst. Without control over their own music and life’s work, artists run the risk of being pawns in a larger corporate game, which completely strips them of the originality and uniqueness that draw artists to music in the first place.

Not all artists have the courage of JoJo and the popularity of Swift to reclaim and re-record their older works in the face of corporate exploitation. Therefore, I will continue to broadcast Red (Taylor version), and I hope this is “The last time” every artist has to go through this. While this may sound “treacherous”, it is imperative that record companies are held accountable and stop depriving artists of their masters in their entry-level contracts. Hope this re-recording of Red is “The Lucky One” which encourages structural adjustment, so that one day we can come back to this once exploitative industry and say “Everything has changed.”

Anthony Liberatori is a junior specialized in environmental sciences and economics. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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