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Scooter Braun acquires Big Machine in Taylor Swift’s “worst case scenario”

By | Published on Monday 1 July 2019

Taylor Swift

Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings has acquired Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine record label in a transaction worth a reported $300 million. The big deal between two of the modern music industry’s highest profile entrepreneurs is, of course, the “worst case scenario”. Not my words, people. The words of Taylor Swift.

The holding company of artist manager extraordinaire Braun announced it had bought the Big Machine business yesterday. Backed by private equity outfit the Carlyle Group, the deal brings both Borchetta and his Big Machine into Braun’s ever-expanding music business empire. An empire that also includes the recently acquired Atlas Music Publishing, the recently launched investment arm Raised In Space Enterprises, and a number of other music and media partnerships, in addition to its founder’s management and label businesses.

There has been frequent speculation that Borchetta would sell the Big Machine record company he founded in 2005, especially since his most famous signing, ie Swift, became a global pop phenomenon. All sorts of music, media, tech, private equity and other entities have been mooted as possible buyers over the years.

Confirming that the time had now finally come to sell – and that Braun was the guy to sell to – Borchetta said in a statement yesterday: “Scooter and I have been aligned with ‘big vision brings big results’ from the very first time we met in 2010. Since then I have watched him build an incredible and diverse company that is a perfect complement to the Big Machine Label Group. Our artist-first spirit and combined roster of talent, executives and assets is now a global force to be reckoned with. This is a very special day and the beginning of what is sure to be a fantastic partnership and historic run”.

Braun said that “the idea of Scott and I working together is nothing new, we’ve been talking about it since the beginning of our friendship”. He went on: “I reached out to him when I saw an opportunity and, after many conversations, realised our visions were aligned. He’s built a brilliant company full of iconic songs and artists. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? By joining together, we will create more opportunities for artists than ever before, by giving them the support and tools to go after whatever dreams they wish to pursue”.

Many in the industry will have opinions to share about Borchetta allying with Braun, about Big Machine becoming a core division of the increasingly acquisitive Ithaca group, and about the ongoing creation of a new music industry powerhouse to compete with the legacy players, albeit one that has long had close ties to Universal Music. But fuck all those opinions! Who the fuck cares? Not I! Because pop stars have spoken and that’s all that really matters.

The big deal includes the Taylor Swift catalogue, which Big Machine retained after its biggest star jumped ship last year and signing directly to Universal. The major label had partnered with the indie for years and helped turn the one-time country singer into a worldwide pop star. That all her recorded music to date would now belong to a business led by Braun was, Swift said in an angry blog post, “my worst case scenario”.

“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work”, Swift said in her speedily constructed post. “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. 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”.

As for the Ithaca acquisition of her recordings catalogue, Swift alleged that she had only heard about the deal when it was reported in the news media. And she was mortified that her recordings were now in the control of a man who she only really knew for “the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years”.

The beef with Braun mainly relates to his time managing Kanye West and the latter’s track ‘Famous’, with its Swift-referencing lyric and slightly controversial video, and the fall out over a leaked phone call in which West and Swift spoke about song. Oh, and an Instagram post another Braun client – that pesky Justin Bieber – put online at around the same time.

Referencing how the ‘Famous’ video featured a naked look-a-like of herself (and many others), Swift’s post on the Big Machine deal went on: “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”.

Turning the fire back onto Borchetta, she went on: “This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept … 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”.

“Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips”, she concluded, “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”.

With the narrative around his big deal almost immediately becoming entirely about Swift’s rage, Borchetta quickly wrote his own blog post to fight back. Swift had misrepresented, he said, the talks that took place when he tried to re-sign her to his label. He had, in fact, made a very generous offer that would have allowed her to reclaim ownership of her recordings to date, an offer she declined in order to sign with Universal. “Taylor had every chance in the world to own not just her master recordings, but every video, photograph, everything associated to her career”, he argued. “She chose to leave”.

He also disputed Swift’s claim that she only found out about the Ithaca deal once it was public knowledge. He’d personally given her a pre-announcement heads-up he said. Albeit by text message on Saturday night. Though, he added, slightly more convincingly, Swift’s dad was a shareholder in Big Machine and his legal reps had been consulted as the deal came together. Maybe her father failed to pass the message on, he mused, but “I truly doubt that she ‘woke up to the news when everyone else did'”.

“As to her comments about ‘being in tears or close to it’ anytime my new partner Scooter Braun’s name was brought up”, Borchetta went on, “I certainly never experienced that. Was I aware of some prior issues between Taylor and Justin Bieber? Yes. But there were also times where Taylor knew that I was close to Scooter and that Scooter was a very good source of information for upcoming album releases, tours, etc, and I’d reach out to him for information on our behalf. Scooter was never anything but positive about Taylor”.

Also standing up for the Scooty man yesterday was that there mentioned Bieber. He conceded that his Instagram-style intervention during the Swift/West falling out of 2016 was unwise. But – he added – Braun had actually stuck up for Swift at the time.

Returning to Instagram yesterday, Bieber wrote: “[Braun] didn’t have anything to do with [the 2016 post] … he was the person who told me not to joke like that. Scooter has had your back since the days you graciously let me open up for you! As the years have passed we haven’t crossed paths and gotten to communicate our differences, hurts or frustrations. So for you to take it to social media and get people to hate on Scooter isn’t fair”.

“What were you trying to accomplish by posting that blog?” Bieber then wondered. After all, he reckoned, his fellow pop star must have known that “in posting that your fans would go and bully Scooter”. But worry not, both Bieber and Braun still love Swifty, he confirmed.

“I feel like the only way to resolve conflict is through communication”. But not communication via the socials. “To banter back and forth online I don’t believe solves anything”, said the wise one. “I’m sure Scooter and I would love to talk to you and resolve any conflict, pain or any feelings that need to be addressed”.

So there you have it. She said, he said, he said, she said (oh yeah, I almost forgot, Braun’s wife butted in too). Who to trust? Who to believe? With whom do we place the fragile faith that originates from deep within each of our precious souls, the loving life force that makes us human, each and every one? Shall we just agree that they’re all a bunch of belligerent bastards and get on with our lives? Yeah, good plan. Oh, and let’s not forget, because this is really important: someone bought a record label yesterday. Over and out.

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