Taylor Swift recently posted a modest, tasteful, but firm tirade about the monsters in the investment industry who purchased her back-catalogue from another monster, Scooter Braun.
I haven’t been able to locate much real information about this deal through Google but I am pretty sure what happened was this: Taylor Swift, early in her career, was offered a typical music industry contract that offered her fame and riches in exchange for, oh, don’t read the fine print, just sign…. here. Thank you. As the years went by, she, like the Beatles, and Tom Petty, and just about every other musical artist, discovered, to her astonishment, that she had signed away the rights to “her own” masters and the actual mechanical recordings of her albums.
I put “her own” in quotation marks because Swift is obviously a product of the machinery of super-stardom, the system that creates, manipulates, and manufactures celebrities who do something “act”, “sing”, shoot baskets, and then get promoted to death through social media, talk shows, magazines, and so on. Those albums are certainly partly hers, and substantially the product of her “artistic” vision, but they are also certainly partly the product of the “star-maker machinery” (as Joni Mitchell termed it). This is not Bob Dylan walking into the studio and the engineer pressing “record” and putting the result on vinyl.
Swift wrote three of the album’s songs alone and co-wrote the remaining eight with Rose, Robert Ellis Orrall, Brian Maher, and Angelo Petraglia. Wiki
She was signed to Big Machine Records by Scott Borchetta and here’s where the original sin probably happened. Here is where her contract probably specified that BMR owned the master recordings. Here is the deal with the devil: BMR invested in Taylor Swift, bought studio time, paid expenses for engineers and back-up musicians, make-up artists, fashion designers– who knows– and, in return, took ownership of the masters. [BMR would argue that that is only fair– look at how much they invested. They would argue that they made Taylor Swift. I would argue that it’s still exploitive and unfair and if they can’t live with an agreement that requires them to defer ownership of master recordings to the artist, then tough– go screw somebody else.]
Enter Scooter Braun. He arranged the deal. He had his entity purchase Borchetta’s entity (and Borchetta may be the more appropriate target of Swift’s fury) and thus ownership of the masters. It’s a common deal in the industry and Swift, to be fair, does point that out. Fair enough. And fair enough that a young artist in the process of being signed is vulnerable to exploitation and the exploitation here is in persuading them to sign contracts that, if they are successful, benefit the agents and managers far more than the artist.
She discovered that Scooter Braun was a businessman, not an aesthete. Braun got into the business by — I’m not making this up– organizing parties for touring musicians Eminem and Ludacris.
Taylor Swift examined his cv and decided, yes, that’s who I want managing my career. Well, not exactly. But Braun, like so many of the unseemly people who work in the entertainment business, quickly grasped how to leverage himself into bigger and bigger roles within the industry. He got Ludacris to endorse Pontiac. Yes, the car company owned by GM. Then he helped the Atlanta Hawks squeeze more revenue out of their fans. And then he saw Justin Bieber on a Youtube video and he was off to the races.
The point is, Braun is a kind of the madame of an entertainment brothel and it does strike me as a little disingenuous of Taylor Swift to suddenly jump up and scream about who she is working for.
Braun, it is reported, made over $400 million by selling Swift’s catalogue to Shamrock.
In 2022, Braun met with Joe Biden in the White House to discuss the rise in hate crimes against Asians.
And this is delightful:
In 2018, Braun was honored with the Music Biz 2018 Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award for his philanthropic efforts in 2017. He also received the Save the Children’s Humanitarian Award that year. Wiki
You get the complete picture. You’ve seen this character over and over in movies about the industry, the hustler, the glib manager, the guy who snorts cocaine with hip rich party-goers, makes the right noises about the environment and justice and Democratic politics, donates to the right causes, attends or hosts the right fund-raisers. He’s a walking cliche.
He donated to Hilary Clinton and Kamala Harris.
He married a Canadian, Yael Cohen, founder of “Fuck Cancer”, in 2014. Alas: divorced in 2022.
Taylor Swift is also known for her liberal politics. It’s a bit odd to see this clash play out this way.
She is right to be outraged. Not so right to blame it all on sexism. Seriously? She thinks the men in her industry don’t have this problem? She thinks that it’s only the men who perpetuate this arrangement? You think Tom Petty was given a pass because he was male?
Here is my response on Facebook:
I really doubt that male artists in the same predicament are not just as supportive as female artists– it doesn’t need to be made into an issue of sexism, even if that plays well with a certain segment of fandom. I also suspect that Swift signed a contract that gave control of her master recordings to these entities, something young artists find it hard to resist when a prospective glittering career is on the line. But I agree with her 100% that these deals are exploitive and unfair and I have long believed that Congress should regulate such contracts to protect young artists from signing away rights that should absolutely belong to them as artists in perpetuity. I also think a law should prohibit industry producers, arrangers, managers, recording engineers, etc., from claiming co-writing credits for songs on which their contributions were marginal at best. Bravo to Swift for standing up to the creeps.
So, yes, I generally support her, but I almost wanted to rescind my support when I realized that she– probably knowingly– decided to try to exploit the wave of feminist support by blaming institutional exploitive arrangement on men.
One last thing, Ms. Swift. I’m glad to see you on your high horse about principles and integrity and honesty and truth and justice and all that. May I bring up a little item you can do something about?
Perhaps someday we might hear you perform songs from your glorious catalogue in your real honest voice.
One critic says:
Though some of her loyal fans will never admit it, we all know deep in our hearts Taylor is an average singer at best. Taylor Swift is flawed, clumsy, and in many ways, uncool. She’s a flat-chested, pencil-thin, pale and awkward little girl with perpetual neurotic love drama brought on by self-esteem issues.