What does the latest twist in the Taylor Swift-Scooter Braun saga mean for the music industry?

Taylor Swift

If you’ve been wondering whether nine months of a global pandemic and a year full of increasingly noisy campaigning for artists’ rights might have had any impact on the row over Scooter Braun’s controversial ownership of Taylor Swift’s masters, then wonder no more.

Because music’s longest-running business feud has exploded into life yet again. The good news for Swift is that Braun – whose Ithaca Holdings company controversially purchased her former label Big Machine back in 2019 – no longer owns Swift’s first six albums. The bad news is, she herself still doesn’t own them.

That’s because Braun – who, according to a post from Swift on social media, refused to enter into negotiations with the singer-songwriter unless she signed a Non Disclosure Agreement – has sold the rights to the album to a private equity company called Shamrock Holdings for a reported $300 million (£226.3m). Again, without consulting Swift, who has always said she was not informed about the initial sale of Big Machine Label Group (BMLG), despite her records being its biggest asset.

“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 BMLG (which is always the first step in a purchase of this nature),” Swift said. “So, I would have to sign a document that would silence me forever before I could even 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.”

Furthermore, despite Shamrock subsequently reaching out to the singer, Swift says Braun will still continue to profit from the deal. That rules Swift out of working with the company and means she’s still actively pursuing her programme of re-recording her previous albums, a process she says is already underway, after her contractual obligations to Big Machine lapsed at the end of October.

“I was hopeful and open to the possibility of a partnership with Shamrock,” she wrote. “But Scooter’s participation is a non-starter for me.

“I have recently begun re-recording my older music and it has already proven to be both exciting and creatively fulfilling. I have plenty of surprises in store.”

So what is coming next? Well, on the face of it, Braun – who has yet to respond to Swift’s post – must have thought he’d pulled off a great deal: he has recouped almost the entire sum he spent on Big Machine, presumably in the hope that he can now move on from the damaging public row with Swift and concentrate on other matters (he manages Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, lest we forget). But now that the manner of the deal is out in the open, that seems rather less likely.

Swift, meanwhile, has to work out the best way to re-record and re-market her stellar back catalogue, while unpicking potentially complex licensing situations with streaming services and others over which recordings of classic songs should be made available on their services. At least the ongoing live music hiatus and global lockdown – which has already seen Swift release the surprise album Folklore, one of the year’s biggest smashes – means she has plenty of time on her hands to do so.

And poor old Shamrock has to ponder whether it’s just wasted $300m.

“Taylor Swift is a transcendent artist with a timeless catalogue,” the firm said in a statement. “We made this investment because we believe in the immense value and opportunity that comes with her work. We fully respect and support her decision and, while we hoped to formally partner, we also knew this was a possible outcome that we considered.

“We appreciate Taylor’s open communication and professionalism with us these last few weeks. We hope to partner with her in new ways moving forward and remain committed to investing with artists in their work.”

And as for where it leaves the artists’ rights campaigns that have sprung up around the Fix Streaming and Broken Record hashtags? Well, plenty of artists will continue to ask the question: if this is how the most successful pop star on the planet gets treated, what chance have the rest of us got?

Stay tuned for more…

* To read our 2019 Taylor Swift cover story, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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