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Celebrity Slam - Swift-ly business

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We’re not going to sit here and pretend that we really understand the intricacies of the entertainment business. Movies, TV, music – we know that we enjoy these things and enjoy making fun of the people who serve as the stars, but we don’t know how any of it actually works. We lack an understanding of how the sausage is made.

That’s part of what makes this week’s item so intriguing – we know that people are mad and we sort of get why, but not really.

Taylor Swift took to social media last week to decry a massive business deal that went down with her old record label – Big Machine Label Group – and a company called Ithaca Holdings, run by music manager and occasional pop Svengali Scooter Braun. As part of the acquisition – at a cost of north of $300 million – Braun gains ownership of the masters of every record Swift made prior to her switch to Universal Music Group’s Republic Record last year.

Swift took to the internet to decry the move, calling Braun a bully and skewering Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta for a perceived lack of loyalty and an alleged refusal to give Swift the opportunity to obtain the masters herself.

As with literally anything having anything to do with Taylor Swift, this situation has been decidedly polarizing. Some have come down on the side of Swift – fellow recording artists such as Halsey have spoken up and applauded Swift for pointing out the perceived injustice of it all.

However, there are a LOT of Scooter Braun clients out there. And they’re all lining up to support the guy; the general consensus on the part of folks like Justin Bieber is that Braun is a good guy who is being unfairly maligned for what is undeniably a savvy business decision.

Why is it savvy? Let’s talk about master recordings. A master is the original recording of a song; essentially, every other version of the song – streaming file or CD or TV ad or movie soundtrack – is considered a copy of that song. And so, when someone wants to use the song for any commercial purpose, they must pay a licensing fee to the owner of the master recording.

Since one can imagine there being plenty of commercial value to the current entirety of the Taylor Swift catalog, seems like a smart play.

Swift’s claims of bullying by Braun (largely though his clients – we won’t relitigate the whole Kanye controversy from a couple of years ago, but feel free to Google it if you have some time to kill) lead her to basically peg him as the absolute worst possible owner of her music.

She also says that Borchetta would only allow her to get her masters back via one-for-one trades. Basically, she claims that he told her that she could get the masters for one album if she made another brand-new one for Big Label. She could get them back one at a time via new music – or get none of them at all.

Look, we get it – we’d be furious too. The idea of someone that you find personally reprehensible being in charge of (and the primary financial beneficiary of) your creative output is undoubtedly tough to swallow. To have your hard work line the pockets of someone else (well, more so than in the usual music industry fashion, anyway) must really hurt. And it definitely sucks that the head honcho of the label chose his own financial reward over loyalty to you.

But let’s be real here – does any of this surprise you?

It’s gross and it’s exploitive, but this is how all of this works. Ethically and morally, this is a quagmire. Legally? It’s pretty cut and dry. And while we can all appreciate the power of social media here in the 21st century, the reality is that a Tumblr post isn’t going to make anyone give the money back or the music back.

Sorry, T-Swift. We appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but this isn’t going to be a fight that you win. People are still going to want to use your songs, and so Scooter Braun is going to profit. All you can do is make more and better music, music that you can do with what you will.

All you can do is … shake it off.

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