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Taylor Swift's re-recorded albums have made labels tighten contracts

Typical waiting periods to re-record would range from five to seven years. Now some labels are asking for as long as 30 years.
Taylor Swift's re-recorded albums have made labels tighten contracts
Posted at 4:32 PM, Oct 31, 2023

Record labels don’t want any more “Taylor’s Version” albums. After the massive success of Taylor Swift’s re-recorded albums, major record labels like Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group are introducing stricter recording contracts to prohibit artists from re-recording their material for at least 10 years, according to Billboard

Typically waiting periods to re-record would range from five to seven years after the release date of the original music, or two years after the label contract expires, but have now been extended to 10, 15 even 30 years. 

In the case of Swift, the triumph of her four re-recorded albums — most recently “1989” — ended up devaluing the master recordings of her songs, Billboard explained. That’s why labels are imposing these new restrictions. 

Swift also capitalized on the cultural moment of releasing the re-recorded albums. When Scooter Braun acquired her original label, Big Machine Music Group, in 2019, the catalog of her initial six albums was included in the deal. 

But Swift claimed Braun resorted to “incessant, manipulative bullying” when he took over the group, which ultimately led to her re-recording each album. She then encouraged her massive fanbase and radio programmers to exclusively listen to “Taylor’s Versions.” 

Until then, Billboard said there was minimal commercial success in the practice of re-releasing music. 

Some artists and their attorneys are pushing back against these new restrictions.

“The first time I saw it, I tried to get rid of it entirely,” Josh Karp, a veteran attorney who has seen the new restrictions in Universal Music Group’s contracts, said to Billboard. “I was just like, ‘What is this? This is strange. Why would we agree to further restrictions than we’ve agreed to in the past with the same label?’” 

One way artists and their attorneys are responding to the new restrictions is by moving towards licensing deals to retain ownership of their master recordings rather than a traditional contract that allows the label to own everything, Billboard said. 

Some music attorneys told Billboard a case like Swift’s is rare and most artists will never need to exercise their re-recording rights. 

A Universal Music Group spokesperson told Billboard it does not comment on legal agreements but pointed to a Wall Street Journal article reporting the company made the changes to contracts before Swift’s re-recordings. Warner and Sony did not respond to Billboard’s requests for comment.  

SEE MORE: Taylor Swift is now a billionaire, releases '1989 (Taylor's Version)'

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