Taylor Swift has confirmed that her Big Machine-released master rights catalogue has been sold for a second time. Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings recently offloaded her first six albums to private equity firm Shamrock Holdings for a reported $300 million.
In an update posted on social media, Swift says that she had only learned of the deal last month – after it had been completed – when Shamrock contacted her. As well as the master rights in the albums, the deal also includes related music videos and album artwork. Shamrock getting in touch was a bit of a surprise, she says, because she was in the process of attempting to buy the catalogue herself.
“This was the second time my music had been sold without my knowledge”, she writes. “The letter told me that they wanted to reach out before the sale to let me know, but that Scooter Braun had required that they make no contact with me or my team, or the deal would be off”.
There is, of course, no love lost between Swift and Braun. When he acquired the Big Machine label in July last year, she announced that the deal was her “worst case scenario”. She said that Braun had a history of bullying her, and that Big Machine’s former owner Scott Borchetta knew this, leading her to suspect that he’d done the deal with Braun to spite her, after she had jumped ship to Universal with her new releases.
Swift has since called on the music industry to rethink how the ownership of master rights is managed, so that they can’t be bought and sold without an artist’s approval.
She has also said that she plans to record new versions of her Big Machine albums, in which she will own the master rights. In her new social media post, she confirms that she has now begun work on that project, having become free of contractual restrictions that previously preventing any re-recording of the songs on the Big Machine records.
Where does that leave Shamrock, however? The investment firm founded by late Disney CEO Roy Disney has a history of making media investments and acquisitions, including many in music. Its letter to Swift apparently offered an olive branch, in the hope that she would work with the company. In her response, also posted to social media, Swift says that she was “THRILLED with the idea of working with people who value art and understand how much my life’s work means to me”.
However, she adds that she subsequently learned that Braun and Ithaca Holdings would continue to profit from the exploitation of the catalogue, despite no longer owning it. “If I support you, as you request”, she writes, “I will be contributing to these future payments to Scooter Braun and Ithaca Holdings. I simply cannot in good conscience bring myself to be involved in benefitting Scooter Braun’s interests directly or indirectly”.
She adds, however, that she would be open to discussions if the firm “is ever completely independent of Scooter Braun and his associates”.
Had Swift managed to acquire the master recordings herself, of course, that would also have resulted in her “benefitting Braun’s interests”. Although doing so would have been a necessary evil if she wanted to own those recordings, which she does. That said, she reckons Braun never seriously entertained the idea of selling the album catalogue to her anyway.
“Scooter’s team wanted me to sign an ironclad NDA stating I would never say another word about Scooter Braun unless it was positive, before we could even look at the financial records of [Big Machine]”, she claims. “So, I would have to sign a document that would silence me forever before I could have a chance to bid on my own work … He would never even quote my team a price. These master recordings were not for sale to me”.
For now, despite the shift in ownership of those master rights to a company apparently more sympathetic to her wishes, she says that her plans to record new versions of her older albums continue.
“I have recently begun re-recording my older music and it has already proven to be both exciting and creatively fulfilling”, she writes. Although there are, of course, big financial reasons for putting out the new recordings too. One of Swift’s aims is to devalue the Big Machine catalogue, which could happen in a number of ways.
In her letter to Shamrock, Swift says that she will encourage fans to stream and buy the new recordings, reducing the revenues going to the older records, in order to regain “the sense of pride I once had when hearing songs from my first six albums and allowing my fans to listen to those albums without feelings of guilt for supporting Scooter”.
She could also – and it seems likely that she will – seek to block sync deals involving the older recordings through her publisher, Sony/ATV, instead favouring the new recordings. Because, of course, for anyone to sync one of the Big Machine tracks, they would also need to agree a deal with Swift and her publisher covering the separate song rights.
Swift confirmed last year that she was now refusing all sync requests on her Big Machine recordings. Sync income accounts for a smaller percentage of record industry revenues overall – compared to music publishing – but for anyone looking to own the catalogue of an artist like Swift it seems likely that deals to place music in TV, films and adverts would be an attractive source of income. Presumably that is one reason why Shamrock would like to be on good terms with her.
Scooter Braun has not yet commented on the deal, or Swift’s reaction to it. His Ithaca Holdings company remains the owner of Big Machine and the rest of its recordings catalogue.