As you should know by now, Taylor Swift is re-recording her first six albums. As of now, she’s released two re-recorded albums: Red (Taylor’s Version) and Fearless (Taylor’s Version). But why would America’s (arguably) most successful pop star re-record albums she has already made? Well, the answer has to do with very bad men. As per usual, right?
Taylor Swift, at age 14 in 2004, signed to Big Machine Records after being discovered at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Then, the young country star put out her first album “Taylor Swift” in 2006. For years to come, Swift would release album after album, each with its own vibe, style and what fans call an “era.”
After her sixth album, “Reputation,” Swift’s contract with Big Machine was up, and she made the decision to split ways. One important thing to mention is that Big Machine, as part of the contract, owned all six of her albums. In order to own them herself, Big Machine offered her a new contract. In this contract, she’d have to produce one new album for every one she wanted to own. This would mean that Swift would have to produce six more albums under Big Machine Records, something she wasn’t prepared to do.
In fact, Swift instead begged to buy her music from them, sending large offers their way as she made plans to leave. Once she signed to Universal Music Group in 2018, she was prepared to say goodbye to her first six albums. At Universal Music, she’d have the opportunity to own all of her future albums.
That was until Big Machine Records sold her music to Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings, without even offering Swift a chance to own her music. To this, Swift replied on her social media accounts. “For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work … Some fun facts about today’s news: I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world. All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years … Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to … Thankfully, I left my past in Scott’s hands and not my future.”
Since 2018, the original masters have been passed around and sold, but Swift had a plan. In August of 2019, Swift announced she was planning on re-recording her first five albums as early as 2020, and that she would be able to rerecord her sixth in 2022.
In 2019, when Swift wanted to perform a medley of her songs at the American Music Awards, she headed to social media to tell the world she was being blocked from doing so. She also slyly announced her upcoming Netflix documentary and claimed the use of her music within it was also being blocked. She said that in order to use her music, she had to agree not to re-record her music and agree to stop talking about Borchetta and Bruan publicly. “The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.”
To this, Big Machine denied these allegations with a social media post and letter. “We have worked diligently to have a conversation about these matters with Taylor and her team to productively move forward. We started to see progress over the past two weeks and were optimistic as recently as yesterday that this may get resolved. However, despite our persistent efforts to find a private and mutually satisfactory solution, Taylor made a unilateral decision last night to enlist her fanbase in a calculated manner that greatly affects the safety of our employees and their families.”
Beyond the back and forth on social media, Swift moved forward in rerecording her albums.
After two surprise albums, Folklore and Evermore, Swift took to Instagram in February to announce the rerecording of her album, Fearless. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) would have 26 songs in total, including “vault” tracks. These tracks were ones that were originally written for the album but scrapped before release. Some of them were old “unreleased” Swift songs that have been searching the internet for a decade, while others were brand new for fans.
After the debut of Fearless (Taylor’s Version) in April, which broke records and charted beyond imagination, the fans were ready for more. It wasn’t until June that Red (Taylor’s Version) was announced, but wouldn’t be released until November. Red (Taylor’s Version) also had a wide range of vault tracks, including the long-awaited 10-minute version of fan-favorite “All Too Well.”
Swift has four more albums to re-record and fans are waiting to see what her next move will be.
Owning Your Music
This is not the first time Swift has fought for artists. In 2014, she pulled her entire catalog of music from Spotify, in order to fight for artists to get paid more from free streams. In a Wall Street Journal essay, Swift said “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.” In 2015, she also took a stance against Apple Music’s free three-month trial.
On her Tumblr, she wrote, “This is not about me. Thankfully, I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create…”
Apple reached out and agreed to pay artists during the free trial, so Swift put her music back on the platform. Her music did not return to Spotify until 2017, but even then, she delayed its release.
As I was saying, her fight for artists to own their music and fight for artists, in general, is not new. Swift has been one of the most proactive artists for years, always fighting for smaller artists to own more – be paid more – and to stop being taken for granted. This is why her re-recording project is not only important so she can own her own music but she is also advocating for younger and newer artists to understand the contracts they sign. With this understanding, she hopes they are able to strike a deal to always own their own music. While this is not the first time a musician has re-recorded albums, it is being done on such a large scale that it will make waves for decades to come.