Taylor Swift freaks over label deal, warns aspiring musicians

Pop star Taylor Swift is freaking over a deal Big Machine Label Group made with pop media superpower Ithaca Holdings. Media are reporting Ithaca, whose chairman is Scooter Braun, acquired BMLG for more than $300 million.  After Swift placed a critical post on her Tumblr page, BMLG founder Scott Borchetta fired back in a post of his own at the BMLG website. Lessons are here, and aspiring musicians should take note.

Scooter Braun (Ithaca Holdings chairman). (Photo: derivative work by Angr)
Scooter Braun (Ithaca Holdings chairman). (Photo: derivative work by Angr; creative commons license)

Swift wanted to own rights to her work. The problem is that she signed those rights over willingly, and there is no doubt she has benefited immensely. She said, in a lengthy Tumblr post on June 30:

“This is my worst case scenario. This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says ‘Music has value’, he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it. […]

And hopefully, young artists or kids with musical dreams will read this and learn about how to better protect themselves in a negotiation. You deserve to own the art you make.”

Swift had been with BMLG for a decade before signing a new deal with a Universal Music Group partner in 2018.

Once Swift’s post drew attention from her legions of fans, Borchetta posted his own take on the deal.

In “So it’s time for some truth,” Borchetta addressed each of Swift’s claims, and he provided proof she knew about the deal before she claimed to. Swift’s Tumblr post included this: “I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world.”

Swift’s claims drew critical remarks too. It is hard for many Americans to feel sorry for someone whose personal fortune far exceeds the average income.

This is the world of big music, and once Swift voluntarily agreed to a contract in exchange for the return she and her advisers negotiated, it was a done deal. If you want to be a mega-pop star, you will definitely have to do tradeoffs.

It is interesting that she is warning aspiring musicians to “better protect themselves,” though. I’ve personally warned any number of creatives, including my daughters. Multiple contracts from a variety of quarters have come their way, and those contracts all had one thing in common. Two little words: “In perpetuity.”

Never sign away any rights “in perpetuity.” You may one day come to regret it as Swift apparently does.

Then again, when she signed away her rights, she benefited on a level beyond the wildest dreams of most of us.

Swift parlayed her way into pop tart legend by first marketing herself as a country brand.

(Kay B. Day/July 1, 2019)

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