Taylor Swift has made quite a few waves in the recent years of her career, and for good reason. However, this has left many wondering what record label Swift is actually signed to in 2023.
Since 2018, Taylor has released her music under her own name, with her parent label being Republic Records. Be sure to read on if you want to understand what led to Taylor’s move, and why she has been so outspokenly defiant about certain music industry issues.
What Was Taylor Swift’s First Record Label?
In order to best explain the chronicle of Taylor Swift’s career, it might be best to start at the beginning. Because the law surrounding recorded music is fairly complicated, this saga will be supplemented with explanations throughout.
Taylor Swift began her career at the ridiculously young age of 13, eventually signing with RCA Records and Sony/ATV for publishing in 2005 when she was only 15. For the record, RCA is owned by Sony.
Later that year, Taylor left her agreement and eventually teamed up with Scott Borchetta, who had worked at DreamWorks prior to its dissolution.
Scott was planning to start his own record label called Big Machine Records, which he did in September 2005. Taylor became the first artist on the label’s roster after she signed a contract spanning 13 years.
One of the stipulations that came to bite Taylor’s behind later was a small matter regarding her recording masters. Her first 6 albums would be entirely owned by the label as a trade-off for a cash advance upon the contract being signed.
Well, you know how the story goes from here, as Taylor essentially took over the world from 2006 and beyond. Her first 6 albums have essentially made her one of the most legendary artists of all time, with a following that is unmatched, selling more than 260 million albums to date.
Like all contracts, Taylor’s contract came up for renewal in 2018, and Taylor had expressed a desire to purchase the master recordings back from the label if at all possible.
Big Machine’s response was that the label was only willing to sell Taylor her masters if she was willing to agree to a contract renewal. Unfortunately, both parties were willing to come to a solution that they could both live with.
From there, Taylor went on to sign with Republic Records. However, this time around, she made sure that her contract granted her ownership of both the publishing rights and the master recordings.
Having the resources of a major label while retaining complete ownership of her art is a milestone that all modern-day artists could aspire to.
It isn’t all that uncommon for recording artists to change record labels once their contracts have expired. However, something was about to happen in 2019 that would ignite Taylor on a personal mission.
Why Is Taylor Swift Re-Recording Albums?
Imagine turning on the TV or getting on the internet and learning about information that directly involves the fate of your life’s work. This very thing is what Taylor Swift woke up to discover in June 2019.
Big Machine had reportedly been for sale for a number of years before Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings, LLC purchased the record label. Scooter Braun is well-known in the industry for working with some of the biggest artists in commercial pop music.
Everything that Big Machine had was now Ithaca Holdings, LLC’s, including Taylor’s master recordings. Taylor was not happy about this agreement, especially because she claimed she was unaware that the deal was going to happen.
However, there is one little loophole that Taylor realized regarding her catalog of songs. Because she is the primary songwriter and owns the publishing rights, she could profit from re-recordings of her songs.
That’s just what Taylor has done, and since 2021, has released versions of Fearless; Red; Speak Now; and 1989. Everything that she has re-recorded has a denotation of “(Taylor’s Version)” in their titles.
What Is The Importance Of Owning Master Recordings?
If you’re unfamiliar with music law (most people are), you might be confused by the significance of what Taylor is doing. Since the beginning of record distribution, the recording industry has operated with a few guidelines.
Songwriters own the intellectual property of their song, meaning the composition and lyrics themselves. However, the actual recording of that song can either be owned by the artist or their record label.
These recordings, known as master recordings, are the original recordings used for an album’s release. In other words, they are the exact original version of what everyone hears when they buy or stream an album.
For the most part, major labels typically own the master recordings because they are the ones who finance the album’s production. Their ownership is a direct result of the investment they are willing to risk on an artist.
Back in the golden days of the recording industry, owning master recordings was a big deal. Having ownership over these recordings essentially means you can distribute them as you please.
In fact, there’s a famous instance of this from the 1960s involving Johnny Cash and a man named Shelby Singleton. At the end of the decade, Cash had 2 major hits with his live albums, both recorded in prisons.
Singleton had just purchased Sun Records and was sitting on a massive catalog of old recordings. This included a song called Get Rhythm, which Cash had released back in 1956 through Sun Records.
Singleton essentially took the song, added the sounds of a live audience, and re-released the song. It would go on to chart, with Cash’s fanbase being duped into thinking that Cash had anything to do with the song’s release (he didn’t).
Where this relates to Taylor Swift is that, while she had publishing rights, she did not own her masters. This meant that, while she still earned royalties on her work, she didn’t retain complete ownership over the entire body of work she released with Big Machine.
What Are The Differences Between Taylor Swift’s Versions And The Originals?
Most artists would not take the time to re-record their back catalog to stick it to the man (so to speak). Some might wonder what the difference is between these albums, and which one they should be listening to.
Well, most people have agreed that Taylor’s newer versions actually sound better than the originals. In some instances, she has reinvented different aspects to keep things fresh but still true to form.
Taylor has reportedly always been listening to what her fans wish she would have done with different songs. She’s taken that information and applied it to her creative process to deliver something that every fan will cherish.
Furthermore, Taylor’s age has allowed her to approach each song from a different perspective. This is something that seems to show itself in subtle tangibles that can’t be so easily defined.
Taylor even had the majority of the same musicians who recorded her past albums on these newer renditions. Even in cases where the instrumentation remains the same, the songs just sound better and more full of life.
Ironically, the re-recording of these albums has allowed Taylor’s back catalog to reach the top of the charts yet again. However, this time, it’s Taylor making most of the profits.
Wondering how these songs compare to the originals? Let’s take a closer look, using the hit song, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together as an example.
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together Version Comparison
One thing you’ll notice right away is that the newer Taylor’s Version of this hit song sounds much fuller and more present. The reverse effect on the guitar intro even has subtle differences.
You’ll also notice a difference in the way that the kick drum sounds in Taylor’s Version. Rather than being somewhat muted like in the original, it has more prominence in the mix with highlights on its digital-sounding character.
Considering that almost a decade had passed since the original recording of the Red album, Taylor’s voice even sounds more present and a bit more mature.
Most of the differences here are subtle, from having less of the clapping sound to having more bass in the mix. In a way, the mixes seem more modern without the flatness in sound that most commercial pop music tends to have.
What Is The Importance Of Taylor Swift’s Record Label Dispute?
Musicians have to give credit where credit is due, and Taylor’s business problems highlight just how fundamentally broken the music industry’s condition really is.
In a sense, the industry has not evolved alongside the rapid growth that technology has provided. Instead, all artists are subject to antiquated flow charts that exist within the current structure of the big record labels.
Taylor Swift isn’t the only artist that has had this happen to their catalog of music. In fact, Michael Jackson had actually shocked Paul McCartney by outbidding him for the rights to The Beatles’ music catalog back in the mid-1980s.
If nothing else, Taylor’s valiant effort illuminates the need for all artists to strive for better agreements in the music industry. Musicians are already getting compensated poorly and unfairly in both the streaming world and in the performance world.
It takes someone like Taylor Swift to enact a massive change because her fanbase can either make or break certain conditions. No other living artist currently has the amount of fans that Taylor has, and they’ve already demonstrated a willingness to follow through with her various calls to action over the years.
Who Is Taylor Swift Signed To, Final Thoughts
Taylor’s journey regarding her record label is inspiring as she continually proves herself in unexpected ways. Many would be content to rest on their laurels if they had the same success, but the fact that she has such an endless tenacity to make a point speaks volumes.
It’s also telling that she understands that she has one of the biggest fanbases in the world, and uses that wisely. Her fanbase allows her the leverage to speak out and demand changes when they are needed most.