Taylor Swift has started to re-record her own music all the way back to her first few albums with record label Big Machine. This comes after “music mogul” Scooter Braun bought Big Machine and got the rights to Swift’s music with it. There is no clear answer as to what was stated in her contract and why she is unable to buy her own catalogue back. Taylor’s solution? To re-record all of those old albums and add “Taylor’s version” to the album titles.
This is not the first time that this has happened. Many big artists throughout decades have struggled with this problem between them and their record labels. The original recording of a song is called a master. Most artists who sign with labels do not own their masters, as they often sign away their rights when signing a contract with a label for distribution purposes. Many artists are okay with this, until the situation gets messy. For The Beatles, their catalogue got sold away and they struggled to obtain their masters. This has also happened to Prince, Iggy Azalea and many others.
I believe that contracts should not take over the rights to an artist’s master recordings. It is extremely important for the artists to own the art. It’s their work, their art — that’s why they’re called artists. Especially now with the new ways of recording and online distribution, many artists can upload their recordings and music themselves. So why should they sell their rights away to a record label?
Unfortunately, for the larger record companies, the best deal a new artist can receive includes temporarily signing away ownership of your masters for a few years until you make enough money without any financial backing. For labels, owning masters is the core of their deal because it helps ensure that they can make money. These types of deals are extremely rare, and many artists are not lucky enough to obtain a deal where they will eventually get their records back — most permanently sign away their rights.
Artists go through so much work to record their music, only for them to not be able to lose choice in what happens to it. As it is their material, they should be able to decide what happens with their creations. Unfortunately, they are seen as some sort of song-making machine rather than a creative individual. The whole music industry itself is like a machine who uses artists to turn a profit. This is why new-age artists use streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Soundcloud to release their music as individuals, rather as part of a contract.
Another option that some artists have taken is making their own record labels to help other artists create their music their own way. A lot of these companies are a lot more fair to artists and help artists stay creative.
Independent artists and artist-owned record labels show that it is possible to make money and release music while having control over your own art. This revelation points out the critical flaws in the music industry system. It’s not all about money anymore — artists will find a way around to own the rights to their music. They will leave labels, work independently, or, in Swift’s case, remake all their music just to have some creative control of their work. If labels do not find new ways to respect their artists, they will start turning away. Artists no longer need big-name labels to help distribute their music.
Creative control is important for artists to have so they do not burn out quickly. Many artists want to make music because it is fun and a creative outlet, but it becomes impossible to enjoy your job when the label makes it impossible for an artist to control when they make their music, or if they can even own their own songs.
Imagine putting in hours of work into a song you are proud of only to have it taken away, only to get just a percentage of the earnings and not even having a say on if Netflix wants to use it in a movie. You will never get to hear those original recordings, because they were sold to some random millionaire who likes to collect music like prizes. This cycle repeats for every song and album you write. This would be exhausting.
It is only fair for artists to have the rights to their masters. They should be able to own the art that they make. If they want to sell their catalogue, then that is their decision. Artists should have some sort of say in what happens with their music after it is recorded.
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Andrea (she/her) is a freshman law major. She likes to listen to audio books and game in her free time.