Taylor Swift might be the most gorgeous person in American life. She experienced nuclear international success at a young age, and went on to have incredible success. Yet her “teen star” did not collapse.
Her success is amazing, but the fact that she stood out as a mature, well-meaning, and happy person is unbelievable.
But that does not mean that she is happy with every decision that she makes.
When Swift was 15 years old, she signed a recording contract with Big Machine Records. As artists who had big dreams and had no influence, it handed over all rights to its recordings, and granted Big Machine Label Group the right to license and control the use and reproduction of any work created under the agreement.
In industry parlance, BMLG has Swift ‘masters’.
Why did Swift expect to move away from its masters? Because she wanted a record deal – and the promotion, distribution, and investment in her career that the record company would provide.
Swift had no way of knowing that she would become one of the best-selling artists of all time. Or, they would achieve a level of success that would make their masters extremely valuable.
In 2019, Ithaca Holdings bought the Big Machine Label Group for about $ 300 million. The acquisition covered all aspects of BMLG’s business, including its Swift catalog which was then valued at approximately $ 140 million. In 2018, Swift refused to sign a new contract with BMLG and instead signed with the Universal Music Group, a deal that includes allowing Swift to own its masters.
But not the Masters on her first six albums, as those were still BMLG owned.
These professors were just sold to an as yet unnamed investment group for an estimated $ 300 million. (According to at least one report, some insiders speculate that the value could be as high as $ 450 million with certain gains taken into account.)
It all seemed to piss Swift off, in part because “this was the second time my music had been sold without my knowledge,” she said.
It is certainly understandable.
While it pales by comparison, in 2018 I published a book by Penguin Random House. I thought about self publishing. A book I published myself a few years ago sold very well. But I wanted distribution, promotion, easy selling of foreign rights, etc. I wanted editorial input.
I wanted what Penguin Random House brought to the table, and I was willing to forgo a certain level of control – the book could have become the next 4-hour work week – for a major breakthrough.
For Penguin Random House, the advance was an investment, as was all of the extra money and time they invested in the project. Getting control over how the book was licensed, used, and reproduced was a payoff for my interview.
The same was true for Swift and BMLG. Think about it: Big Machine has invested in the profession of 15-year-old singer-songwriter. Could they have anticipated that the investment would pay off as well as he did?
of course not. Swift is beyond outliers. Very few standard trades have been able to ” gain ” their progress. Like book publishers, record companies sign a number of different artists in the hope that one’s success will pay more than all failed investments. (This is why few, even hugely successful artists, actually have their masters.)
Granted, Swift status doesn’t seem fair. It’s her songs. Its performance. Her blood, her sweat, and her tears.
But without the BMLG, it likely never made these registrations. Or, if she had signed up with another company willing to let her own masters – and in return received less investment in its development, marketing support, etc. – then her career may not have reached the levels it has reached.
Ultimately, you can only make the best possible deal, for now, with the information available.
Sometimes this means betting on yourself. Like Bill Gates who took a license fee from IBM instead of selling MS-DOS entirely to IBM, and retained the right to license the software to any other manufacturer.
Like Andy Weir self-published The Martian (later sold the copyright to Crown Publishing). Like Mark Zuckerberg turned down $ 1 billion from Yahoo to Facebook in 2006.
And sometimes that doesn’t happen. The stories of entrepreneurs who bet on themselves are not told in vain.
Sometimes a partnership is the right move. Sometimes, deciding on an investor was the right step. Sometimes a little in terms of control and ownership turns into more.
How will you know the right decision? You can not. All you can do is make the best decision you can, at the moment, with the information you have. Then do everything you can to make sure this decision works.
And if not, find ways to ensure that the next time you can make a better decision.
Because the past is just training. It can only identify you, if you allow it.
Swift complains about not being consulted about selling her masters is somewhat similar to my complaining that the person I sold a house to didn’t speak to me before selling it to someone else.