Taylor's Version – Why Is Taylor Swift Re-Recording All Of Her Old Albums?

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Following her departure from Big Machine Records in 2018, Taylor Swift wanted to buy back the copyright in the master recordings of her albums.
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Following her departure from Big Machine Records in 2018, Taylor Swift wanted to buy back the copyright in the master recordings of her albums. Ultimately, Swift instead re-recorded "Taylor's Version" of those albums. Carly Duckett explains why, and how, Swift did it.

In 2005, a then-16-year-old Taylor Swift signed a record deal with Big Machine Records. Swift's original contract with Big Machine reportedly provided that Big Machine would own the copyright in all of the master recordings of Swift's music.

While signed with Big Machine, Swift produced the albums Taylor Swift, Fearless, Red, 1989, and Reputation, some of the best-selling albums of the 2000s and 2010s. During this time, Swift experienced an extraordinary rise to fame through her relatable music, which was often inspired by her lived experiences.

Swift left Big Machine after recording Reputation and signed with Republic Records in 2018. On her departure from Big Machine, she wanted to buy the copyright in her master recordings, but agreeable terms couldn't be met. The rights were then sold to Scooter Braun (who was also incidentally Justin Bieber's manager as he progressed from a street busker in Canada to an international pop star), and from Scooter Braun to Shamrock Holdings for a reported $300m.

Swift has never bought the rights to the master recordings of that music. Instead, she has embarked on a huge project to re-record her own "Taylor's Version" of the albums since around 2021. Swift has been able to do this because she retained the copyright in the music and the lyrics, which gives her the right to re-record the songs.

In any song, there are multiple components which are each, separately, protected by copyright:

  • the lyrics are protected;
  • the music is protected; and
  • the combination of the lyrics and the music (the produced song that you stream or hear on the radio) is protected.

The copyright owner can then decide whether to licence or assign their rights to third parties, and that is often tied up in an artist's recording contract because the company producing the song will want to derive some income from it.

Swift has managed and messaged her re-recording process so effectively that her fans are now exclusively streaming "Taylor's Version" of her tracks, ensuring that she gets the credit and revenue from their streams.

In Swift's original Red album she released "All Too Well", which has reportedly been streamed around 2.86bn times. In Red (Taylor's Version) she released a longer version of the same song, which has been streamed over 476.86bn times – and it's a ten-minute song.

Swift has been able to respond in this way because of her global reputation and the unrivalled engagement that she has with her fanbase. It seems unlikely that other artists will be as successful if they try to take the same steps, so ensuring that artists understand what rights they have and, importantly, what they are signing away at the start of their careers is essential.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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