Taylor Swift is one of many musicians who have been screwed over by record labels and people running those businesses. Thanks to Twitter though, she can speak out about it. Something that classic rockers were not able to do. Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta are now under fire because they aren’t allowing her to perform her own songs, that she wrote. You can see her tweet embedded below.
Musicians like Halsey, Azealia Banks, Selena Gomez, and Camila Cabello came out in support of Taylor Swift. I can only expect that many more musicians will stand in solidarity too.
In this blog post, we’ll examine the background of the story and what the issue is.
Background: Who are Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta?
Scooter Braun may sound familiar if you keep up with popular music news. He got into the music industry when he was a 19 year old college student. He organised parties and got his big break when producer and director of So So Def Records Jermaine Dupri offered him a marketing job. He did afterparties for the NBA, Eminem, and Britney Spears.
Some time later, he went on his own to start a marketing business. His first deal was with Ludacris and car manufacturer Pontiac. But his first cash cow was Justin Bieber, a then 12 year old just recording covers and posting them on YouTube. Braun invited Justin Bieber and his mother to move to Atlanta and convinced them to stay permanently. Scooter Braun told Usher and Justin Timberlake about Justin Bieber and they were intrigued, and Justin Bieber recorded early hits “One Time” and “Baby”, the latter featuring Usher. And the rest is history! If you don’t like Justin Bieber, you can blame Scooter Braun for launching his career.
Scooter Braun’s holding company, Ithaca, bought the label Taylor Swift used to be signed to, Big Machine Records, on 30 June 2019.
Scott Borchetta is the owner of Big Machine Records. Working in record labels runs in the family, for him, with his father working for Capitol, RCA, and Mercury Records. When he was 16, his family moved to Nashville so his father could start a record label. Borchetta tried his hand at country music, but it didn’t really go anywhere so he took a job at his dad’s record label’s mailroom and learnt about how the music industry works. He worked as a promoter, then in 2005, he started Big Machine Records.
Big Machine’s Response
Big Machine have made a response, which you can see below:
Big Machine claim that:
- Taylor Swift is lying
- They are honouring her requests to licence her catalogue
- She owes them money
- They tried to talk it over publicly, but Taylor decided to “enlist her fanbase in a calculated manner that greatly affects the safety of our employees and their families”
- They want an honest conversation
- She never accepted an invitation to chat with them about this
What is the problem?
According to Statista, Taylor Swift is the top earning musician of 2019. Surpassing Kanye West, Ed Sheeran, The Eagles, Elton John, Beyonce, Rihanna, BTS, Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, and The Rolling Stones.
To put it in a meme (I can’t format this right, but you get the idea):
The Rolling Stones:—
So it makes sense why everyone wants a slice of that pie. Record labels are notorious for leeching off of musicians and taking the bulk of album sales, so that is why musicians tour, that’s how they make the big bucks.
That’s why you’ll see so many classic rockers say “This is the farewell tour! Last chance to see me!” and then “LOL JK We’re doing another tour, and this will really be the last one!”, rinse and repeat.
In order to tour, you need to have songs to perform, right? Can’t just stand there and look pretty. People come to see you sing.
Record labels historically have been important, especially in a pre-internet music scene where you couldn’t make it on your own, but even now they’re still important because they’re still the ones with the connections, the marketing budget, and look after the musicians.
You can’t do everything on your own. If you’re doing everything, you’re spread too thin and then your work suffers. So you have to hire people to look after the non-music stuff so you can focus on what you do best.
Sure, you can upload your music on YouTube and Spotify, but it’s not going to go anywhere if you don’t market it and you need a PR person to do it. The YouTube and Spotify algorithm will probably not favour you if you’re totally independent.
It is possible to be a successful musician signed to an independent label, but the independent label will not have the clout that a big label will. However, if a musician makes it big, it is possible that they might leave their contract once it’s over and start their own label to release music independently and do everything on their own terms.
If you have a big following, the label needs you more than you need the label.
Truth is the music industry is more than just the musician. They’re the stars of the show, but there is a whole business and of course the people on the business side of it need to be paid. However, if it weren’t for the musicians, the record label would have no one to promote and therefore, no money.
Taylor Swift wrote those songs. Without her, they wouldn’t exist and the record label wouldn’t have a product to promote. The record label are being capitalist pigs (sorry pigs! I know you’re innocent 🐷). They’re acting like abusive exes, by having Taylor Swift and her music under their thumb. Scooter Braun, who had nothing to do with Taylor Swift’s success owns her old music, which makes no sense!
The deal Scott Borchetta is giving Taylor Swift, by giving her rights back, but under restrictive conditions like not re-recording her old songs and an injunction where she can’t speak about him or Scooter Braun. It reminds me of what the Israeli government did to Rashida Tlaib – granting her permission to enter the country to see her family, but under such restrictive and oppressive conditions. It’s about the principle!
Taylor Swift is doing the right thing by telling her story. It’s a cautionary tale about the dark side of the music industry. We hear all about the fun side of it: the touring, fame, fortune, but not the scamming, backstabbing, and snake behaviour.
What do you think?
What she did by speaking out on social media and her posts going viral, reminds me a lot of the scene from Bohemian Rhapsody, where the band tell Ray Foster that they’ll leave the label if they don’t release “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single and Jim “Miami” Beach said the band don’t have a case in the courts, but in the court of public opinion they would because people know Queen and not Ray Foster. The difference is Queen didn’t have that option when Norman Sheffield screwed them over.
Put sunshine on that shady behaviour and show what it really is. In the court of public opinion, we have a winner and that is Taylor Swift. Nobody wants bad PR. Even multimillionaires don’t want bad PR.
Of course she wins. Everyone knows who Taylor Swift is. So she may have been written off as this crazy girl who writes songs about her exes, but people will set that aside. She’s grown and evolved in her decade plus long career. People will side with her because people like musicians and what they give to this world. Musicians make music that make us happy, entertain us, and comfort us when we’re down.
As for Big Machine’s claims, of course Taylor Swift is going to utilise social media if she’s being screwed over. Her fans are siding with her and that puts pressure on the label. She never told anyone to go after the record label’s employees and didn’t name anyone except for Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta. Fans of course will be flooding the contact emails and social media because they care about their favourite musicians. If they are threatening anyone, that is wrong and I know that Taylor Swift would call that out.
I guess it’s very important for anyone who’s about to get famous to get a lawyer and read those contracts super carefully. Go through it with a fine toothed comb and negotiate. Contracts are hard to read and aren’t written in plain, easy to understand language. It’s a lot of boring legal jargon.
What do you think? Are you Team Taylor Swift? Have your say in the comments section!
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