The Taylor Swift effect: Record labels urge artists to limit album re-records

According to top music lawyers, newly-signed artists have been asked to sign that they won’t re-record their albums until between 10 and 30 years after their contract ends

Isobel Lewis
Thursday 02 November 2023 20:12 GMT
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Taylor Swift jokingly mocks Travis Kelce's on-field celebrations with air-punches

Taylor Swift may officially be a billionaire thanks to the success of her re-recorded albums, but record labels are reportedly going to extensive new measures to prevent other artists from copying her.

On Friday (27 October), Swift delighted fans as she released the new version of her 2014 pop album 1989. It’s the latest of Swift’s albums to be re-released since 2019, when she began re-recording her first six albums as a means of regaining control over her music.

As with her other re-recorded albums, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) has proved to be a lucrative endeavour for Swift, who was last week officially declared to be a billionaire.

As this move decreases the value of Swift’s original recordings, record labels are keen to prevent this from happening to their artists. According to reports, the major labels are now going to new measures to keep new artists from following in Swift’s footsteps – in this aspect of their careers, at least.

A number of high-profile music lawyers told Billboard that the major record labels have made changes to contracts for newly signed artists. When it comes to re-recording music, standard contracts have traditionally required artists wait either five to seven years from the release, or two years after their contracts expire, to recreate their albums.

Now, some artists have been asked to agree not to re-record their releases until between 10 and 30 years after leaving their record companies.

Attorney Josh Karp told the publication that he had seen these restrictions on new contracts, and that “the first time I saw it, I tried to get rid of it entirely”. “I was just like, ‘What is this? This is strange. Why would we agree to further restrictions than we’ve agreed to in the past with the same label?’” he said. “It becomes one of a multitude of items you’re fighting.”

Another lawyer, Gandhar Savur, said that he had seen contracts asking for a re-recording restriction as long as three years.

For Swift, re-recording albums has proven to be a smart financial move

Back in 2019, Swift found herself at the centre of an argument about her masters recordings after music manager Scooter Braun purchased Swift’s original record label, Big Machine Records.

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So far, she has re-released updated versions, known as “Taylor’s Versions”, of 2008’s Fearless, 2012’s Red and 2010’s Speak Now. With the release of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) in October, she now owns the majority of her discography.

One of Swift’s earlier pop-inspired albums, 1989 saw the singer work with renowned producers Max Martin and Jack Antonoff, with the record producing three Billboard Hot 100-topping hits in “Shake It Off”, “Black Space” and “Bad Blood”. Martin did not return to work on the re-recorded version of 1989.

According to Bloomberg’s recent report declaring Swift a billionaire, her music catalogue makes up the highest proportion of her fortune at an estimated $400m (£433m) of her $1.1bn (£907m) net worth.

Despite her success, re-recorded albums are currently a rarity. But while Swift is the most notable example, she’s not the only one. In 2018, one year after she left Atlantic, “Leave (Get Out)” singer JoJo released re-recorded versions of her self-titled 2004 debut album and its 2006 follow-up The High Road after the originals were removed from streaming services due to legal issues.

Only Swift’s own self-titled 2006 debut and 2017s Reputation remain to be re-recorded.

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