UMG Reportedly Modifying Artist Agreements to Prevent Taylor Swift-Style Re-Recordings

Taylor Swift donates
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Taylor Swift donates
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Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi / CC by 3.0

Universal Music Group (UMG) has reportedly modified its artist agreements to prevent signed acts from re-recording their work – like Taylor Swift has with updated editions of Fearless and Red.

Taylor Swift’s much-publicized battle with Big Machine Records – through which she released her first six studio albums, ending with Reputation (2017) – took a decidedly interesting turn back in June of 2019, when Ithaca Holdings was revealed as the buyer of the overarching Big Machine Label Group.

The reportedly $300 million buyout included the master recordings from Swift’s aforementioned initial six records, and the “Shake It Off” creator, who didn’t have a say in the sale or an opportunity (sans a contract extension) to acquire the masters herself, promptly described the deal as her “worst case scenario.” August of 2019 saw the Pennsylvania native, having signed with Republic Records in 2018, commit to re-recording her pre-UMG releases.

In brief, a related dispute concerning Swift’s performing her own music live – as well as the April of 2020 release of a Taylor Swift album that the creator didn’t know about or endorse – set the stage for an accelerated re-recording process. Last November, Swift skipped the AMAs as she spearheaded the endeavor, licensing the first re-recorded song in December and announcing the completion of Fearless (Taylor’s Version) in February.

The latter project became available to fans in April while the newer version of Red dropped last week, and both releases have turned in strong commercial performances. Moreover, iHeartMedia yesterday committed to exclusively playing Taylor Swift tracks that the 11-time Grammy winner (and 41-time nominee) has re-recorded – seemingly complicating Shamrock Holdings’ road to monetizing the original masters.

(Ithaca Holdings in November of 2020 cashed out of the Taylor Swift recordings in a reportedly $300 million deal with Shamrock. Then, Scooter Braun and the Carlyle Group in April of 2021 sold Ithaca itself to BTS agency Hybe in a reportedly $1 billion transaction.)

Now, as initially mentioned, Taylor Swift’s highly successful re-recording effort is reportedly prompting Universal Music Group to retool artist contracts to avoid encountering similar situations down the line.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that publicly traded UMG “has been effectively doubling the amount of time that the contracts restrict an artist from rerecording their work.” This “standard rerecording restriction” previously spanned the later of five years from the delivery of the final contracted work or two years from a contract’s expiration.

But the leading label, in a change that could also be adopted by Sony Music and Warner Music, has reportedly upped the periods to seven years and five years, respectively, besides adding on a “‘seven year post period’” to both windows. Said post period prevents artists from re-recording more than two songs, per the same source.

In the coming months and years, it’ll be worth following the impact of the reported pivot within UMG contracts – including in terms of how prospective signees (emerging acts and commercially prominent creators alike) respond to the clause. More immediately, the majors are also facing a number of copyright-recapture requests, from artists such as Dwight Yoakam, Anita Baker, and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

19 Responses

  1. Private Parts

    Oh look – it’s the entire state of Tennessee texting – wow!

  2. Kukla

    Labels would be smart to add in a clause to avoid being sidelined and undercut after things end or turn sour. Their investment in an artist for development, promotion and career advancement is crucial, but they lose out when relationships are cut. Long gone are the days when an artists stays with a label for life.

    • Stay Pressed

      And? Does that matter to her career or person by any chance?

    • Kento

      She isn’t required to like you, too. Taylor is not just doing these for herself; it’s for the new breeds that could be taken advantage of the labels’ hostility to their client’s work.

  3. Idiot Detector

    You’re guessing about everything you’ve stated. She’s sold millions of albums, so obviously many people listen to her music and enjoy it.

    Pull your head out of your ass for some oxygen. Jeez, you’re dumb.

  4. Stay Pressed

    Hmmm idk ask the people who streamed her re-recording of a 10-year old album 120 million times on its first 24 hours.

  5. Stay Pressed

    Puffy Pants, red neck, look at who representing that entire State!

    • Puffy Pants

      Stupid liberal bedwetter thought she could influence a Tennessee Senate seat election. Her candidate got whomped, and surveys show a boatload voted against her candidate because she endorsed him.

      So, yes, Tennessee hates her.

    • Puffy Pants

      Please stay in Portland. There are still more police precincts to burn there.

  6. Matt

    Are you kidding?? This is a music news site you’re reading and you aren’t familiar with Swifts success? Any objective observer would tell you no matter how you look at it its almost unprecedented for modern times the sheer uninterrupted length of commercial success she’s had going back 15 years. She’s the only female & one of only like 4 people to win 3 Album of the Year Grammy’s, including this last year. Im someone who’s a chart nerd, go check out Billboards All Time charts on the best artists of all time in billboards history (which goes back to the 1950’s.. looks at best performing artists of all time), Swift is alone in the top 10 among artists who debuted this century (after 1999), sitting next to giants of the 20th century (like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Madonna & Michael Jackson) who make up the rest of the top 10. Swift already sits ahead of Elvis, Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Prince, the Eagles, the Beach Boys, not to mention literally every other artist that debuted this century (with Drake and Rhianna being Swifts closest fellow 21st century acts, though still well behind her.. Beyonce sits at 37, 29 places behind Swifts number 8 spot).

    Given Swifts youth compared to the rest of the top 10 (many of which don’t make new music anymore & those that do don’t make music that perform near as well as current acts such as Swift) she’s likely to continue rising up that chart with each year.. Just this week Swift is ranking in massive sales & streams for an album thats just a re-recording of a 9 year old album everyone is well familiar with (breaking records for album streams on spotify for a female artist on its 1st day). Upon Billboards confirmation of this album going number one (which it will, no one is even close to it), Swift becomes only the second woman in history to have 10 number 1 albums, after Barbara Streisand. Shes had 5 albums move 500,000 equivalent units or more already this year, including albums that were released years ago. She routinely has 7 albums in the Billboard 200 each week, many of them albums that are years old. 1989, released in 2014 is still usually in the top 100 of the billboard 200. Shes topped Billboards artist 100 chart (which tabulates the weeks most popular artist based on album sales, song sales, streams, radio airplay, etc.) more then any other artist since that chart debuted this last decade, and its not even close, w/ swift topping it 50 times when no one else has even had 40 weeks atop, her closest competitor, Drake, has topped it something like 36 or 37 times.. in other words the statistics can go on and on and on and on but ill stop now.

  7. John k

    How does this fuck up anything? She followed the contract.
    The re-recording restriction should be abolished during the contract and limited to two years after the contract ends and all ownership rights to publishing should revert to the writers upon demand 10 years after the song is released.

  8. Andrew

    I bet your fave artists don’t own the masters to their craft. Foolish of you to say she’s doing all these for clout.