Under her initial contract for Big Machine, Swift could rewrite all of its old masters earlier this month. Promising “many surprises to be saved”, Swift says she has recently begun the process. But assuming it follows, what can we expect? It doesn’t matter that the 30-year-old megastar will no longer sound like the hungry and empathetic teenager she was when she first sang “15” (Although today’s Taylor Swift may do a better job of imitating, say, 1989-era Taylor Swift.) How will it get listeners to broadcast new versions of their songs when classics like “Blank Space” from 2014 have garnered nearly 2.7 billion views on YouTube and more than 436 million plays on Spotify? While her passionate fans have pledged to support her here (“We̵
Swift will need his powerful label, owned by Universal Music Group Republic Records, to aggressively offer his new recordings through advertising, social media and search engine optimization. When a Spotify user or even one of Spotify’s own curators adds a Swift hit to a playlist, she will want them to select the new record, not one owned by Shamrock; when a music fan looks for “Fearless”, she will want the new record to lead the results, not the 12-year-old original; when someone asks Alexa to play “Speak Now”, she will want the new version to come out, not the original from 2010.
The people of the Republic were able to do all these things. But there is a catch. A different division of Universal continues to distribute Big Machine records, even under the new ownership of Shamrock, and among them is the early Swift catalog. This creates competition within the same company: One country that is potentially working to ensure 2010 Speak Now is Alexa’s choice, and another is trying to change the default setting of the new transcript. Who will win? The short answer: Universal. The label will continue to benefit from almost everything, including Taylor Swift, including publishing. The more nuanced answer is that the executive director of the republic, Monte Lipmanand its boss, CEO of UMG Lucian Graingewill probably combine with everything the best-selling star wants to do.
And yet, if all this happens, the result will be … confusing. Artists, including Def Leppard, Squeeze, Blue Oyster Cult and JoJo, have re-recorded their originals over the years, and while some of JoJo’s newer material has generated major streaming numbers, none of these re-recordings have been a major hit. On the other hand, none of these acts are the world’s biggest pop stars, and they have not come close to Swift’s ability to generate sales, flow and attention.
The new owners of Swift’s main recordings seem discouraged by the singer’s long-held goal of undermining her early catalog with new material they don’t have. They know that she despises the man who still has a stake in them: Brown, who rules Justin Bieber, and Ariana Grande and once represented her enemy, Kanye West. Braun’s company bought Swift’s first label, Big Machine, last June and took ownership of those early records. This week, Brown sold them to Shamrock, who offered Swift a partnership. But because “under their conditions [Braun] will continue to profit from my old music catalog for many years, the idea was “non-starter”, she tweeted.
“Although we were hoping to formally partner,” Shamrock said in a statement, “we also knew it was a possible outcome that we were considering.”
Ultimately, Shamrock bets that the original Swift records will always be more valuable than any re-recordings. They may be right. No matter how scary Taylor Swift is in 2020 and her team, no matter how righteous her cause is, no matter how kindly and authentically she recreates her original songs in the studio, it will be difficult to overcome the power of clicking on the original “You belong to me ”from 2008 Taylor Swift. But again, if Swift can cause a big enough headache or reduce the value of these early masters, she may be in a better position to make the deal she’s looking for all the time.