For a label to own artists’ masters is fairly common in the record industry, but many argue that it strips artists of control of their own music. Some labels will later offer recording artists the chance to buy their own catalogue back, a practice Big Machine engaged in, according to Swift.
“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in,” Swift wrote on Tumblr. “I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.”
The sale of her masters as part of the deal was irksome to Swift, but adding injury to insult is who now owns them: Braun, with whom Swift has been feuding for years. “I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world,” Swift wrote. “All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years.”
Braun formerly managed Kanye West, who has a rocky history with Swift. He infamously interrupted her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards to announce that she didn’t deserve her award. Years later, he rapped, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that b---- famous.” West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, then publicly released a secretly recorded audio clip in which Swift appears to give the rapper permission for his crass lyric. West also released an accompanying music video for “Famous” that included naked synthetic bodies of various celebrities together in the same bed, including himself and Swift.
Swift directly referenced some of these incidents in her post. “Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients together to bully me online about it,” she wrote. She included an image of an Instagram post from Justin Bieber, which featured him on what appears to be a FaceTime call with Kanye West and Braun from 2016 with the caption, “Taylor swift what up.” The caption has since been deleted. (Bieber posted an apology on Instagram on Sunday for the “hurtful” and “distasteful” post three years prior, but defended Braun, his manager, whose character he said had been defamed. “Scooter has had your back since the days you graciously let me open for you," Bieber wrote.)
“His client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked,” Swift added. “Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.”
In her post, Swift directs her ire at Borchetta in particular for the sale.
“When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter,” she wrote. “Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to. He knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them. In perpetuity. That means forever.”
Braun has not publicly responded to Swift’s post, but his wife, Yael Cohen Braun, posted a statement on Instagram that alluded to Swift being a bully and said that the pop singer did know about the Big Machine sale. “Your dad is a shareholder and was notified, and Borchetta personally told you before this came out. So no, you didn’t find out with the world.”
Borchetta released a statement that also mentioned Swift’s father was a shareholder in Big Machine Records. He claimed he texted Swift the day before the news broke, and that he attempted to negotiate a deal with Swift in which she would gain ownership to her masters, but she chose to leave the label. “Taylor had every chance in the world to own not just her master recordings, but every video, photograph, everything associated to her career," Borchetta wrote. "She chose to leave.”
In recent years, Swift has become something of an activist on behalf of recording artists. She withheld “1989” from Apple Music in 2015, citing dissatisfaction with how the organization compensates artists when customers with trial subscriptions stream music.
“I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service,” she wrote at the time. “I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”
The company quickly responded, changing its policy.
The year before, she had written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that railed against streaming services for not paying artists a fair share.
Swift closed her note Sunday with praise for her new label.
“Thankfully, I am now signed to a label that believes I should own anything I create,” she wrote. “Thankfully, I left my past in Scott’s hands and not my future. And hopefully, young artists or kids with musical dreams will read this and learn about how to better protect themselves in a negotiation. You deserve to own the art you make.”
She signed the note “sad and grossed out” with a broken heart emoji.