What connects the famous line in Rudyard Kiplings’ poem and Taylor Swift? What happens when you are in a situation which is ostensibly outside of your control?
A well publicised dispute
If you Google ‘Taylor Swift Scooter Braun’ you’ll find myriad articles across a wide spectrum of media detailing what happened between the two of them. At the heart of it is a dispute between the music industry and a recording artist.
Taylor Swift as we all know is a well-known musician who rose to prominence having been signed as an ‘unknown’ talent at the age of 17 to the Big Machine record label (owned by Scott Borchetta). Scooter Braun is probably best known as manager for Ariane Grande and Justin Bieber. Swift, Braun and Big Machine/Borchetta are the key actors in the story.
Essentially as part of an industry ‘standard’ recording contract with Big Machine, the label owned the master recordings of the six albums that Swift recorded with them. At this point it constituted almost the entirety of her recorded works. Noting this was standard practice – the label advances the artist money to kick-start their career with the artist relinquishing control of the masters in return. Given Swifts subsequent commercial success, these became quite a valuable asset. Control of the master recordings entitles the owners to future revenue streams and how the music is used.
In 2019 Borchetta sold Big Machine to Braun. Swift was very unhappy at control of her master recordings being acquired by Braun, ostensibly without her knowledge and a huge war of words between the parties erupted on social media. What is certain is that knowingly or unknowingly to Swift, control of her recordings had transferred to someone with whom she had a lot of difficult history. It got ugly very quickly, with the BBC reporting Swifts perspective, at the time, that Braun was trying to “dismantle” her musical legacy.
It is fair to say that there are two sides to any dispute and there are valid questions posed to both sides about motivations and who knew what, that remain unanswered.
An end in sight…?
In November 2020, Braun sold the master recordings to Swifts first six albums to a US based investment fund for $300m. This was optimistically reported as potentially being an end to the dispute between Swift and Braun, however Swift, writing on Twitter said it was:
“the second time my music had been sold without my knowledge”.
Taylor Swift, Twitter
Whilst Swift appeared open to a partnership with the new owners, she discovered that under the deal, Braun would continue to profit from the recordings for some time. Again, Swift took to social media to state that she couldn’t be involved in a deal where this was the case.
Sensibly the investors had considered this outcome and report that this doesn’t materially affect their decision to invest.
The bottom line
From Swifts perspective it appeared to be about two things, the imbalance of power — at the heart of which is, who owns the artists work?— and societal issues like sexism with a man having control over a woman’s work.
There is also some speculation that this issue was a useful stalking horse for Swift to address the issues she had come across as a young, female, singer-songwriter.
There are also some shades of the court case that involved George Michael in the 1990’s which was also about contractual controls on an artists work.
Where does Kipling come in?
We probably all know the start to Kiplings Poem IF:
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs…
Rudyard Kipling, IF (1910)
This is precisely what Swift appeared to do. As copyright owner she has some control over how her material is used. For example, in a comment to Billboard magazine last year, she said she had turned down “dozens of requests” for the use of one of her well known songs, ‘Shake It Off’ every week since Braun had bought her back catalogue.
Further, it is well publicised that she is re-recording her first six albums and will subesequently fully own the master recordings of these. Sensibly its not a case of simply re-recording old work, Swift acknowledges that she has grown as an artist, so the end result will be different. She will also include additional songs that’s he wrote which the label wouldn’t allow her to put on these albums. Hence she will also give her fan base something new.
That is where Swift may have a little of the last laugh. Many of the requests for her songs come from film and television, where copyright permission is required. Once she has re-recorded her material, she’ll be able to withhold use of the Big Machine masters in these instances and suggest they use her ‘new’ material instead. This will have quite a lot of impact upon the value of her original back catalogue.
You have to admire how Swift has kept her head and played her hand.
There are some useful lessons here…
You often have more control in a situation than you realise (even if all you can choose is your thoughts about it).
Allow yourself an emotional reaction, but recognise that until you start responding with higher order thinking, you may not be able to move forward. This is the main lesson from Swifts action – focus on what you can do rather than focusing on a whole load of things that you can’t. Complaining about these sorts of situations rarely gets you anywhere, getting on with it often does…
No one has done anything wrong, Swift and Braun were both entitled to do what they have done. However it does benefit to pay attention to the detail when you face significant issues like this. It also pays to do your due diligence on what you are getting in to.
Undoubtedly Music companies will respond with contractual restrictions like time restrictions upon when artist can re-record material. However new artists aren’t entirely helpless. Many now develop large fan bases through the likes of social media channels like Tik Tok, so they are less likely to have much more power in negotiations going forward…
The last point is quite prescient for Swift, she has a loyal fan base and over 150 million followers on Instagram…
Do you need to start keeping your head and taking control, instead of losing it like everyone else..? If you are finding this a challenge why not give us a call? Coaching can often make a huge difference… why not get in touch?