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The Student News Site of Northwood High School

The Northwood Howler

Artists deserve more autonomy over their music

SWIFT SUCCESS: Taylor Swift announces 1989 (Taylor’s Version) in true Swift fashion on 8/9, the final stop on the first leg of the US tour. Photo courtesy of Kevin Winter/TAS23 via Getty Images.

Taylor Swift is infamous for her re-recordings. After her rights to her music were sold without her knowledge, Swift decided to re-release her initial six albums, with the release of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) scheduled for Oct. 27. While the re-recordings presented Swift with major commercial opportunities, the contracts that forced her to do so still plague the music industry today. Artists deserve to be able to hold the rights to the music they so passionately produced.

Swift’s case originated with a contract signed when she was a minor, which allowed for Big Machine Records to hold the rights to her masters—or the physical recordings of her music—a standard practice for labels who sign a new artist.  While artists often acquire the rights to the melodies and the lyrics, the label profits from any streaming or physical sales of the songs themselves. 

This is a fair bargain in the short term, but when these deals exist in perpetuity, the label has full control over what to do with those rights. For Swift, that meant Scooter Braun, a man that she has despised for being a “bully” in the music industry, ultimately held the fate of her music in his hands.

Taylor Swift’s contract controversy is hardly unique. Prince, who famously changed his name during a contract dispute with Warner Bros. Record in 1993, also did not own the masters to his discography, going as far as to claim “if you don’t own your masters, your masters own you” in a 1996 Rolling Stone interview. While only one of his albums ended up actually being re-recorded, he was finally able to acquire the rights to his masters in 2014 after pressuring Warner Records into the deal. 

Record labels and artists alike need to develop fairer standards when it comes to the rights of music. Record labels must develop contracts that allow for their artists to have control of their music and artists must reject music industry conventions by releasing music independently without the tyrannical authority of a recording label.

As the concept of intellectual property evolves in today’s world, artists’ autonomy is key to the future of creative works. For thousands of smaller artists with less influence than Swift, they will have no choice but to put up with the abusive nature of the recording industry. As students who often consume all sorts of music, we must be aware of these existing discrepancies within the music industry and educate ourselves on the impact that has on the media we consume in our day to day lives.

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About the Contributor
Aishwarya Ramasubramanian is a junior and THO editor of The Northwood Howler. With an iced pumpkin spice chai latte in one hand and an Apple pencil in the other, she is likely the top user of Goodnotes at Northwood High School. 

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