Sometime in the new year, Taylor Swift will belt out, “She wears short skirts/ I wear T-shirts/ She’s cheer captain/ And I’m on the bleachers.” She won’t be doing this in front of thousands of adoring fans, though. Instead, she’ll be in a studio with just a few other people, rerecording a song she recorded 11 years ago for her second album.
Swift, like many artists, doesn’t own the master recordings to her older albums. Now, in a bold and unusual move, the pop star said she will rerecord at least five of the six albums she recorded under Big Machine Records, her former label, to create a second set of masters that she’ll have control over.
So, why doesn’t Swift already own her own music?
When a teenage Swift originally signed with Big Machine, which released her first six records, she signed away the copyright to her master recordings. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” said Susan H. Hilderley, music attorney and instructor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, calling it the “kind of terms … you would expect for somebody who was an unknown artist when she signed.”
Regardless, Swift feels cheated, and she believes artists should retain the full rights to their recordings — though she’ll have to wait a spell. Experts said most standard music contracts have a clause disallowing an artist from rerecording their own songs for a set period of time. According to Swift, that period will end next fall for her first five albums.
“My contract says that starting November 2020, so next year, I can record albums one through five all over again. I’m very excited about it,” Swift said Thursday on “Good Morning America.” “I just think that artists deserve to own their work. I just feel very passionately about that.”
Is this a common thing for musicians to do?
Swift might become the most high-profile artist to rerecord her own records, but she won’t be the first. At the end of 2018, singer Joanna “JoJo” Levesque released new versions of her first two albums, “JoJo” (2004) and “The High Road” (2006) after a long legal battle with her former label, Blackground Records, which owned the masters of both albums. The label had removed them from streaming services, and JoJo felt they were being held hostage.
“I wanted to see if there was something that could be done to get these first two albums in the hands of my fans,” she wrote. “My lawyer said we’d reached the end of the statute of limitations on my rerecord clause, so I was within my rights to ‘cover’ my old songs. It seemed like I was going to have absolutely no chance of seeing eye-to-eye with my former label and getting to an agreement, so my only option was going to be to get into the studio. I had to recreate new masters of these songs. We had to completely redo everything.”
Though such a drastic move remains unusual, Hilderley said it could potentially become more common in the streaming age. “If she does rerecord ‘Shake it Off,' and someone goes on Spotify to listen to it, they might play the version she rerecorded. And that’s where the money goes,” Hilderley said, pointing out that most fans would be unlikely to go to a record store to purchase a new version of an old album. But “when you’re just talking about songs on a playlist, it’s certainly possible she could rerecord her hits and take away some revenue [from Big Machine].'”
For now, her newest album, “Lover,” will be released on Friday through Universal Music Group, marking her first record unaffiliated with Big Machine.
You can listen to her new album here:
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