Taylor Swift has posted a message to fans on Twitter in hopes of enlisting their aid in a public brawl with Big Machine Label Group. That corporation changed hands this year and so did Swift who now has a deal with a company that’s part of Universal Music Group. In some ways, this is a wakeup call to aspiring songwriters, and in other ways, it’s a complicated matter that some media are presenting in too simple a manner.
Swift had made plans with her new label to re-record her early hits. It’s not surprising that the company holding rights to her music wouldn’t be thrilled about this. Swift is projecting herself as a sort of damsel in distress, chastising “men who are exercising tyrannical control” over her, and she seems to feel that because the buyer didn’t play a role in her rise to stardom, they owe her something.
First off, without Big Machine, Swift probably wouldn’t be at the pop culture pinnacle she enjoys now. Fans watched her vocals and her performances develop from a starry-eyed, sometimes off key teen to slick Cher-like star. It’s indisputable she made more money than most can ever hope to. It’s also indisputable that she and whoever managed her early on were willing to part with rights in exchange for money and development of her brand.
At present, the indie music scene is bustling with many musicians deciding to retain control over their work. These musicians, my daughters included, have turned down potentially lucrative contracts because retaining rights to their work is the most important factor besides having creative control over their art.
If you read Swift’s Twitter line, it’s obvious some of those fans are so enraptured, they’ll take up her cause. I understand that. I also understand that if you sell someone a product you created, and you hand over rights, and if you’re compensated according to terms you willingly agreed to, you pretty much are acting like a very entitled person to expect the purchaser to meet any demands you make.
From a young age, Swift, with help from her stockbroker dad and her mother who also had a background in marketing, sought the limelight through a record deal. She got what she wanted in droves. It’s hard to understand why she feels entitled to whatever she wants regardless of what she agreed to as she sought fame.
Let this be a wakeup call to artists—sometimes, when you get what you want, maybe it’s not what you wanted at all. Except for those piles of cash of course.
(Kay B. Day/Nov. 15, 2019)