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As Taylor’s version of Red is released, FT reports on how Ithaca Holdings went about selling the rights in the original

By | Published on Friday 12 November 2021

Taylor Swift

As Taylor Swift releases her re-recording of 2012 album ‘Red’ today, the FT has reported that, when Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings was selling the rights in the musician’s original master recordings, it told potential buyers that Swift might not actually proceed with her big re-records project. Because what pop star would invest so much effort in going over old ground?

Swift announced that she was planning to re-record her old albums after expressing anger and distress at Braun’s company buying the Big Machine record company in 2019 and – with it – the recording rights in her first six albums. She accused Braun of having bullied her in the past, and said that having the artist manager and music entrepreneur in control of her catalogue was her “worst case scenario”.

Record contracts usually include some restrictions on artists recording new versions of old releases, but those restrictions lift after a number of years. Swift made it clear that she planned to re-record all of her Big Machine records as soon as her past contracts allowed. The first, ‘Taylor’s Version’ of ‘Fearless’, was released in April this year, supported by the musician’s current record company partner Universal Music.

While the six Swift albums were definitely the crown jewels of Braun’s Big Machine acquisition, the backlash that followed from Swift and her fanbase proved too much for Ithaca and its financial backer the Carlyle Group. Which is why they decided to offload the recordings. The buyer was equity fund Shamrock, which paid $300 million for the rights.

Given Swift’s widely known plan to re-record all those albums – and then encourage her fans to only stream the new versions – some wondered how wise that $300 million deal was on Shamrock’s part, even though $50 million of that price tag is subject to the subsequent performance of the recordings.

But, it seems, Ithaca Holdings told potential buyers that Swift might ultimately abandon her re-record plans. Meanwhile, all the controversy around its Big Machine acquisition had just boosted the streaming figures on all those old albums.

In its new report, the FT states: “While shopping the masters around, they told potential acquirers that Swift might not actually follow through on her threats, and the publicity generated by her ire only boosted listening of the old catalogue, according to three people approached to buy the asset”.

One of those sources seemingly claims that “the message was: the controversy has been great for us. Every time she lights us up online, people go listen to those songs”.

“That pitch sounded reasonable enough”, the FT goes on, “after all, what currently charting pop star would bother spending years of their life recreating decades-old work?”

Well, this charting pop star, obviously. The fact that COVID left the always prolific Swift with more time on her hands – with any touring activity off the agenda – definitely increased the chances of her going through with the re-records project. And – it seems – she’s actually really enjoyed the creative side of that project now that it’s underway.

Of course, while Swift’s core fanbase will go out of their way to only listen to the new versions of the records when they become available, plenty of other people will end up streaming the originals, and the marketing around the re-records may well deliver a spike on the original versions too. So, Shamrock’s investment isn’t necessarily a complete dud.

Although, there is also the issue that certain potential big money exploitations of the records – such as high profile sync deals – will require approval from Swift when it comes to the accompanying song rights. And that allows her to force licensees in those scenarios to use her new versions of the records, even if said licensees would otherwise be happy to risk the wrath of her fanbase by licensing the originals.

Certainly, one of the investment funds that passed on the opportunity to buy the Swift rights recognised the risk of such an acquisition. “To extract maximum value from music assets you absolutely need, if not co-operation from the artist, you at least need them to not be actively angry”, they told the FT.