By Maddie Curnow
While the struggle between Taylor Swift and her old record label seems to be an issue in its infancy, the reality is a fifteen year manipulation game between a child and a music tycoon. In 2004, a fourteen year old Swift was performing at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, hoping to make her big break just as Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, and Faith Hill had at the same restaurant. Both fortunately and unfortunately for Taylor, a man named Scott Brochetta was sitting in the audience. He approached Taylor after her set, asking if he would want to sign to the record label he had been planning. Taylor agreed, signing on with the promise of being able to write her own music, a priority of her’s as a teenager.
Taylor became the first artist for Big Machine Records, the label that today boasts names like Tim Mcgraw, Lady Antebellum, Florida Georgia Line, Reba Macentire, and other well known country artists. While with the label, Taylor released six albums, four country and two pop. Two of those albums, Fearless and 1989, would win Album of the Year at the Grammys, and her win for Fearless made her the youngest female to do so. In addition to collecting several accolades, Taylor maintained her promise to use little to no cowritters, proving to critics her drive with her album Speak Now, entirely self written. After her sixth album, reputation, Taylor decided to walk away.
It seemed like the label had been a perfect fit, but as her career developed and Taylor grew more successful, she began to understand the severity of the contract she signed to when she was just fourteen. At twenty-eight, the rights to her music was hers, but a large portion of that was Big Machines. Taylor’s discography that she had built from the ground up was never entirely her’s, requiring permission when she wanted to use her own work. When Taylor asked the record label if she could gain more ownership of her work, Scott Brochetta gave a stipulation. She could own the rights to each album, so long as she wrote a new album to earn it back. Given no option to buy back her albums, the twenty-eight year old felt she had no choice but to leave, signing on to Republic Records where she was promised full ownership of her albums.
On June 30, Taylor woke up to find with the rest of the world that the rights to her albums had been sold to a man named Scooter Braun. Scooter Braun was known by Taylor Swift and Scott Brochetta as the man who incited the harassment of Taylor Swift, employing Kayne West and Jusitn Bieber. After West released an offensive song featuring Taylor’s name and edited a video of her approving the song, Bieber took it a step further posting a screenshot of a facetime call with West with the caption “Taylor swift what up.” Even more haunting, the screenshot clearly shows none other than Scooter Braun taking the screenshot. The man who represented these artists and told them to post such horrid things now owned Taylor’s catalog. Even further, he reposted a friend’s congratulations that day on his instagram with the caption, “when your friend buys Taylor Swift.”
Taylor, hurt and confused by the purchase of her masters by a man she had explicitly expressed her disapproval of, was confused. She had not been told in advance of the transaction, never having the opportunity to buy back her albums. Scott Brochetta shot back, saying he texted Taylor the night before. However, she never received the text, and even if she had, she would never have had the opportunity to do anything about it given the timeline. Taylor expressed her shock online, but remained quiet on the issue until August 22. In an interview for Good Morning America, she told Robin Roberts she would “absolutely” be rerecording her old songs.
Everything seemed to be sorted out, until November 14. Taylor made a post, captioning it, “Don’t know what else to do.” In short, Taylor explained that several secrets she had been planning could not be carried out because of a blockade from Big Machine. This included not allowing her to perform her old hits as a part of a mashup to celebrate her win as the first female artist of the decade at the American Music Award and not allowing her to include old songs in a documentary on the singer’s life. Taylor expressed in a letter to her fans that the post had been a last resort, asking for them to reach out to Big Machine after meetings had proven to be unsuccessful.
After several petitions, Taylor was allowed to perform her older songs at the American Music Awards. She symbolically started her performance off with the song “The Man” from her newest album Lover. The song discusses how Taylor’s life would be different given she was a man, suggesting her anger towards Scott Brochetta and Scooter Braun without directly expressing so.
Even more recently, Taylor Swift released a music video for “The Man.” In it, Taylor has undergone an intense makeover process, going through the motions of life as her male counterpart, “Tyler.” Taylor has been known to leave easter eggs throughout her music video and this project was no exception. In one scene, Tyler stands in front of a wall that has her six albums owned by Big Machine spray painted on. The character defaces it and walks away, revealing a sign that is interpreted as no scooters, symbolic of course for Scooter Braun.
It has been a long fight for Taylor, and while it may not end anytime soon, she has made her point. If someone wants to take advantage of the music Swift has spent years crafting, she will not go down without a fight.