Why Taylor Swift is rerecording her songs

A new recording of "Love Story," one of Taylor Swift's biggest hits, has been released ahead of a rerecorded version of her hit album "Fearless."

Posted: Feb 13, 2021 4:31 AM
Updated: Feb 13, 2021 4:31 AM

Taylor Swift announced on Good Morning America Thursday that a rerecording of one of her first albums, "Fearless," will be released on April 9.

But why is one of the biggest artists in music spending her time rerecording an album she released 13 years ago?

"Fearless" — for those of you who don't live and breathe Taylor Swift news — is her most successful record, with more than 7 million albums sold. But the pop star doesn't own the master recordings of the songs on that album, or any songs on albums she recorded prior to 2019's "Lover." That includes such major hits as "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," "Mine" and "Shake It Off."

By rerecording her hits, Swift can reclaim control over her recordings, or at least the new "Taylor's Version" of them. Another way to think about it is that Swift is declaring of the masters, "you belong with me."

"The recordings she made originally were made at a different time and under different contractual and legal objections. She's not happy about this," Serona Elton, director of the music business program at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, told CNN Business. "She's in complete control of the recordings now, even though this doesn't change the control of the old recordings."

When a recording artist signs with a label, the typical legal arrangement grants the record company ownership of the copyrights of the recordings. This is commonly known as a "master."

"The artist gets paid a percentage of the revenue generated by the recording, but they're not in control," Elton added. "Now Taylor is making these recordings and putting them out. What happens to them is really entirely up to her."

Rerecording her songs is a "great strategy" for Swift, according to Elton.

"Taylor has a very dedicated and loyal fan base, and her voice is powerful enough to persuade her fans to abandon her old recordings and listen to these new ones that she now owns," she said.

Owning the masters to such hits as "Love Story" — the rerecording of which debuts at midnight on Friday — will likely net Swift a cash windfall. But ownership of her recordings runs deeper than just dollars and cents.

For the majority of her career, Swift had a deal with Big Machine Records. When that ended in 2018, the singer signed a new agreement with Universal Music Group, which granted her ownership of her master recordings going forward.

Her previous catalog at Big Machine was sold to a company owned by music manager Scooter Braun. Braun's Ithaca Holdings acquired Big Machine Label Group as part of a reported $300 million deal in 2019.

Swift said this was a "worst case scenario," since she claimed that she was bullied by Braun for years.

"This is what happens when you sign a deal at 15 to someone for whom the term 'loyalty' is clearly just a contractual concept," Swift wrote on Tumblr in 2019. "And when that man says 'music has value', he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it."

After Thursday's announcement of "Fearless (Taylor's Version)", Swift detailed why she was rerecording her songs.

"I've spoken a lot about why I'm remaking my first six albums, but the way I've chosen to do this will hopefully help illuminate where I'm coming from," Swift wrote on Instagram. "Artists should own their own work for so many reasons, but the most screamingly obvious one is that the artist is the only one who really knows that body of work."

For Swift, rerecording "Fearless" adds to an already prolific year. She has released two albums during the coronavirus quarantine — "Folklore" and "Evermore," which have topped the charts.

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