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Scooter Braun says Taylor Swift resisting Big Machine resolution, as her fans send his family death threats

By | Published on Monday 25 November 2019

Scooter Braun

Having said in an interview last week that he didn’t want to take part in a public debate with Taylor Swift on social media about her ongoing dispute with the Big Machine label, Scooter Braun has posted a lengthy statement onto Instagram. He says he was motivated to do so because of concern for the safety of his family and colleagues after Swift rallied her fanbase to campaign on her behalf in the latest phase of her Big Machine beef.

Swift’s falling out with her former label went public earlier this year, of course, after Braun’s Ithaca Holdings bought the record company. At the time Swift said that the deal, which included the recording rights in all but her most recent album, was her “worst case scenario”, because Braun had a history of bullying her. Since then she has spoken about re-recording her early albums as soon as her old record contract allows such a thing, so to devalue the masters that Braun and Big Machine control.

The most recent phase of the dispute saw Swift accuse Big Machine of threatening to screw up some of her current projects unless she agreed to not re-record her old albums. That included withholding the required permissions for the broadcast of her performance at the American Music Awards and the inclusion of archive music and footage in a new Netflix documentary. In a post on social media Swift urged her fans, as well as Braun’s artist clients and investment partners, to call on Big Machine to back down in the dispute.

Braun spoke for the first time about the whole debacle during a conference in Hollywood last week. He didn’t deal with any of Swift’s specific allegations during that interview, but insisted that he believed a compromise could be reached if both sides were willing to better communicate. He then argued that social media was not the right place for such communication, because it resulted in those working for Big Machine or Braun’s other companies being threatened by the pop star’s fans.

However, it was such threats, Braun said in his Instagram post, that motivated him to subsequently post his statement on the social platform, despite the past insistence that it was the wrong forum for Swift and her business partners to be airing their grievances.

“This morning I spoke out publicly for the first time saying I wouldn’t participate in a social media war”, he writes in that Instagram post. “However, I came home tonight to find my wife had received a phone call threatening the safety of our children”. These were not the first such threats, he then adds.

“I assume this was not your intention”, he goes on, “but it is important that you understand that your words carry a tremendous amount of weight and that your message can be interpreted by some in different ways”. He then makes his first direct criticism of the pop star, saying “while disappointed that you have remained silent after being notified by your attorney four days ago of these ongoing threats, I’m still hopeful we can fix this”.

Unlike in his interview last week, Braun’s statement then delves into the various comments made by Swift since his company bought Big Machine back in June. “To be frank”, he writes, “I was shocked and disheartened to hear that my presence in the Big Machine deal caused you so much pain as the handful of times we have actually met I have always remembered them to be pleasant and respectful”.

Further criticising Swift, he insists that he has tried to meet with her directly on multiple occasions to discuss her grievances, but that there has been resistance on her side regarding participating in such a meeting. “It almost feels as if you have no interest in ever resolving the conflict”, he then states. “At this point, with safety becoming a concern, I have no choice other than to publicly ask for us to come together and try to find a resolution”

Like Big Machine, Braun then insists that she can “perform” whatever songs she wants at the AMAs, and that neither he nor her ex-label ever said otherwise or, indeed, could veto any such performance. Although, also like Big Machine, he doesn’t specifically say that neither he nor the label ever tried to stop the broadcast or subsequent streaming of said performance, which is where a record company might have a contractual right to interfere.

His Instagram post concludes: “Moving forward I would like to find a resolution. I will make myself available whenever works for you. Many have told me that a meeting will never happen as this is not about truth or resolution but instead a narrative for you. I am hopeful that is not the case. I’m right here, ready to speak directly and respectfully”.

“But if you would prefer to make large public statements while refusing to work towards resolving things amicably then I just pray that nobody gets seriously hurt in the process. I continue to wish you the best and hope we can resolve this”.

As the back and forth between Swift, Big Machine and Braun has continued to fill the music and entertainment press – most recently sparking opinion pieces on the responsibilities of pop stars leveraging their fanbases – the financial media have been putting the spotlight somewhere else. Their focus is the impact the dispute might have within the investment community, where there has been renewed interest in acquiring music rights in recent years as the streaming boom has put the record industry back into growth.

Private equity firm The Carlyle Group backed Ithaca’s Big Machine purchase. Which is something Swift noted in her most recent missive, meaning it too has been on the receiving end of the pop star’s fan-led backlash. It also enabled those in Washington seeking more regulation of private equity – including Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – to utilise a pop music story to gain support for their political agenda.

According to the Financial Times: “This has left Carlyle employees nervous and questioning internally how they got involved in the spat”.

Although Swift is particularly vocal on key issues in the music business – and enjoys the power that comes with being one of the music industry’s biggest stars – the fallout of her Big Machine beef might encourage investment types to put extra considerations into the due diligence process when considering a music rights deal. Which is to say, if there are works created by some big name influential artists as part of any transaction, do you need to ensure those artists are onboard, even if contractually their opinions have no impact?

Certainly it feels like Swift v Big Machine and Braun is the pop beef of the year. But rarely have pop beefs instigated so many side debates.

Listen to more discussion about the dispute between Taylor Swift and Big Machine in this week’s edition of CMU’s Setlist podcast.