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Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift/Scooter Braun

Taylor Swift (Jamie Lamor Thompson /
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She should have bought the label.

My inbox is filling up with today’s story about Scooter Braun’s purchase of Big Machine and Taylor Swift’s reaction thereto.

It’s always dangerous commenting about Taylor Swift, after she wrote that song about me, but she’s an iconic performer, arguably the biggest in the world, and therefore what happens to her is not only about her, but the business in general.

Which has got to change.

The artists should own their work, especially after they’ve paid for it. At least they should have reversion clauses, like deals used to contain because companies thought the old material would be worthless, which it turned out not to be.

Recoupment/going into profits more than pays for recording costs. And associated marketing. This is an ancient paradigm, like packaging costs and breakage, that have no place in today’s digital world.

Which is why artists are incentivized to go outside the major label system. It’s incidents like this, along with the success of Chance the Rapper, that direct acts in this direction, especially in today’s streaming world. Hell, Lil Nas X got a big check from Columbia, but a one hit wonder this big will generate dollars forever… Ever heard of “The Monster Mash”? Then again, that plays every Halloween, but we also continue to hear “I’m Too Sexy” and “The Macarena” and so many of the hits of the sixties. But acts are advised by scoundrels wanting their percentage. The acts come and go, the labels and the managers and agents are forever! You are not necessary, it only matters that somebody hits, and there’s always a lineup of others. George Michael fought Sony to his detriment, it ended his recording career. Meanwhile, the business did not go out of business.

And then there’s the story of U2. Chris Blackwell gave the band a percentage of Island in exchange for them re-signing. Island was not considered the best label in the business, but by making this deal the band got a huge check when Island was sold.

What kind of advice did Taylor Swift get?

I get that she signed a bad deal, any deal, when she was starting out. That was the paradigm back then. Just getting into the arena was hard enough, today you can get into the arena but it sits millions and you’re lost in the shuffle. Scott Borchetta made Taylor Swift into a superstar, no one else believed, no one else was willing to take a chance. So Scott deserves to be compensated. Furthermore, the one true asset of Big Machine, the dominating force in his catalog, was Taylor Swift’s work. Therefore, unlike Chris Blackwell, he was wary of making a deal wherein he coughed up her catalog, ergo the offer to have Taylor earn back her albums one by one. But everything’s a negotiation, and as referenced regarding Lil Nas X above, it’s about long term vision as opposed to short term money. Taylor Swift could have afforded $300 million. And she could have sold off the other assets and signed with Monty at Republic anyway.

And there’s more history than U2. None other than Paul McCartney, who wanted to buy the Beatles’ songs but was beaten out by Michael Jackson after telling Jackson to invest in publishing. Hell, Jackson’s estate was saved by this asset. Like I said, Swift should have bought her work.

As for it being purchased by Scooter Braun… The disses by Kim and Kanye, et al, are trifles, especially compared to the way Jackson ripped-off McCartney. She’ll get over it.

Then again, where is Scooter Braun getting $300 million? Maybe Swift’s letter will jawbone investors/bankers to put a kibosh on the deal, or carve out her work. It’s possible, but unlikely. But that’s how you fight back today, in the court of public opinion, isn’t that how Trump does it?

As for the deal itself… Everyone knew Big Machine was for sale, and it’s too expensive for Scooter to do it for spite. Furthermore, he’s not that kind of guy, at least in my dealings with him.

I was shocked when Taylor signed with Republic. I knew she was leaving her masters behind, didn’t she? She made a choice, to her detriment. And Borchetta and Big Machine not only made her a star, they continued to keep her in the public eye. Hell, the tracks released by Republic have been huge disappointments, there’s no doubt Big Machine could have done as good a job. Meanwhile, despite not being on Warner or Columbia, Island continued to deliver for U2.

Maybe the last chapter has been written, maybe not. Taylor should try to kill the deal or buy her assets back, although she’ll pay more than she would have in the beginning.

Meanwhile, despite her myopia, her lack of understanding of both the public and the business, Swift is doing a service for all artists. She stood up against free goods with Apple upon its launch, she stood up against Trump, and now she’s standing up against an archaic business in which the artists are the grease, indispensable, but treated like chattel.

Change happens slowly, but it wins out. This is why if you’ve got some leverage, have shown your impact online and on the stage, you can make a better record deal than any new act ever. Those who fail to change are left behind. This is the problem with the major labels, and the rockers, and the alta kachers, they think the past will always rule, but the truth is it’s just prologue. Meanwhile, doesn’t this demonstrate the vision and power of Scooter Braun? One of the majors didn’t make this deal. Independent outfits have bought publishing, but not masters, not masters of this significance.

In other words, this could be the first step in Braun unseating the majors. After all, indies are always hampered by having no catalog, now Braun possesses one.

Michael Cohl was trying to transform the recording landscape by making those huge all-encompassing deals at Artist Nation.

But then Cohl was killed by Rapino and it didn’t happen. Rapino only wanted to be in the live business.

So Taylor Swift is a visionary and a rube. Furthermore, she thinks she’s still a country artist and her fame and impact will be forever. But she’s now pop. And pop lives and dies on the hit. And not even Madonna can ride all the change.

Swift’s gotten a good ride. If she continues to follow this route of standing up for artists and fairness she could have a bigger impact than her recordings in the future.

Taylor Swift believes it’s her world and we just live in it.

Today she learned she’s just a cog in the big machine like the rest of us.

Borchetta Responds

And Justin Bieber too:

Scott Borchetta. Courtesy Image.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

You’ve got to control the narrative.

Yokels don’t care about Scott Borchetta or Scooter Braun. And fans get mad at athletes asking for more money even though the owners of the teams are usually billionaires, profiting quite handsomely.

In other words, Taylor should have thought twice before airing her dirty laundry in public.

But this is what she has done again and again, played the poor little rich girl and the tide has turned against her, only her true fans follow her into the wilderness, everybody else shrugs. It’s kind of like Madonna, but no one ever said Madonna was unsophisticated when it comes to business.

Maybe that’s what happens when you grow up on stage and don’t go to college.

Word on the street is Taylor Swift makes all the decisions. So I don’t think we can blame her attorney, but how about her father/management, were they asleep at the wheel? It looks like Taylor made a bad choice and now wants a do-over. But there’s no crying in the music business. It’s all about the cold hard cash.

And forget the cash, everybody thinks Taylor already has enough. And like Michael Jackson lost the plot when he started calling himself “The King of Pop,” Taylor made a mistake by spreading the story how much she made via slow ticketing on her last tour. Hell, the audience felt ripped-off. Which is why acts that are fan dependent, as opposed to hit dependent, always try to keep prices low. Can you say Metallica? Can you say Bruce Springsteen? It’s truly about your fans, they’re the ones who keep you in business, the label will drop your ass as soon as you stop earning them coin.

Sure, Swift can now respond to Borchetta, but there’s no upside, the tide has turned. What kind of bizarre world do we live in where fans take the side of the man instead of the artist? One in which you portray yourself as a victim when it’s your own damn fault.

Of course, more details will come out. Then again, if Taylor Swift were smart, she’d shut up, let this kerfuffle pass, as they all do. And in time no on will even remember. Do you really think that Metallica is hurt by its anti-Napster stance today? No way!

Then again, Lars was out of his depth. Sure, no one would want people to invade their house and steal their couch, but a couch is physical, not digital. Would you really mind if people came to steal your couch by the millions if it was replaceable for free? Of course not! Because this is how you build a fan base. Meanwhile, hip-hop acts put out free mixtapes, post to Soundcloud to drive interest for their projects when they’re released on paid services, they’re bonding their audience to them.

Taylor’s missteps are legion. From the feuds and the songs about them, to the faux friends, to the overmarketing, to the sudden LGBTQ stance. You could say she’s using people, but the truth is she’s myopic, in her own bubble, she has no knowledge of the world outside her window. If she were smart, she’d do a mea culpa and travel like the hoi polloi for a year or two. Hell, isn’t this how Joni Mitchell ended up writing “Blue”?

That’s right, Taylor Swift has an album called “Red,” and that would have never happened if we didn’t have that phone conversation wherein I told her to listen to “Blue,” which she’d never heard of.

Maybe Taylor’s got a different take. Who cares?

But I did care about Taylor’s first two albums, they were brilliant. They channeled the ethos and angst of teen life better than anybody, especially awkward teen life, with its anxieties and crushes and goofs and…

But then Swift needed to be the biggest act in the world. She canned Liz Rose and then worked with the hitmakers du jour and was vulnerable to the same blowback as any other pop act/celebrity. Carrie Underwood does not get excoriated to this degree, because she stays in country and is a nincompoop.

No one will argue with the fact that Taylor Swift is smart. But she just does not seem to be educated. The truth is, no one cares about the disses and the feuds, it’s all about selling ads online. Isn’t this how the Kardashians made all that money? Which they most certainly did, but unlike Swift they’re completely vapid, there’s no there there.

Meaning, no one cared about the knives thrown at Swift until she kept responding to them, then it became theatre of the absurd and we all couldn’t stop watching the movie. Everybody knows that Kanye is certifiably insane, just let it roll off of you!

The truth is today people only care about themselves. Ergo Snapchat and Instagram. Everybody wants to be famous, everybody wants to be an influencer and rich. Meanwhile, musicians want to sell out the same way, tying up with the same corporations. Music used to be the other, that was its magic. Music was about soul, not cash. And the man who wrote “Mr. Soul” competes with no one. That’s right, there’s room for you if you’re unique, like Neil Young, like Taylor Swift used to be.

And just before her new album comes out?

I’m sure it will be the biggest and baddest marketing plan of all time. But we know it will underperform. Because that’s what happened with the last album. Today it’s about evanescent crap like Lil Nas X, and pop has a hard time competing with hip-hop, which is why Katy Perry hasn’t had a hit in a long while.

But Katy Perry is all flash. And, when she gets it right, Taylor Swift is all soul.

“Nebraska” didn’t sell prodigiously when it was released, and there were no hits, but it burnished Bruce Springsteen’s image, it still pays dividends today. Like Brian Wilson’s “Pet Sounds.” An utter stiff upon release, it’s a legend today, not only considered the Beach Boys’ best work, but in the pantheon with “Sgt. Pepper.”

You can recover from missteps. Maybe like all those actresses, Taylor Swift should go back to college. Sure, she’ll need a bodyguard at first, but anybody who’s hung with celebrities knows the stares wear off very quickly, people stop treating you as special.

But Taylor’s too old, she’s thirty.

But she must get out of her shell.

Joni Mitchell drove cross-country and came up with “Hejira,” which may not have been a huge commercial success, but is loved by her fans.

Sure, Joni traveled in a Mercedes, but she did it.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be separate and then part of the fabric whenever you choose. You can be one or the other. But separate with mystery ended with the rise of the internet, everybody knows everybody’s every move, their dirty laundry, assuming they care.

You don’t want to be Madonna, getting plastic surgery to appear young, trying to appeal to teens and twentysomethings when they see her as their grandma. Did you notice that E. Jean Carroll got no plastic surgery, never mind an eyepatch, and it adds to her credibility?

So Taylor Swift stepped into it. And I’m telling her the world moves so fast she should just shut up and forget about it. But before she posts again, she’d better think twice. Who are you? A geek who’s one of the people, or an untouchable superstar? You’ve got to choose.

Taylor, choose freedom, your own. It’s a long game, don’t get caught up in the minutiae. At this point you’d be better off to underplay, for the good of your career. Because your hit days may be over.

But people still want to hear what Neil Young has to say.

They don’t want to hear from Young MC.

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