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Music business faculty discuss ethics, law and Taylor Swift

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

Not many people get to listen to their favorite song for the first time all over again, but Taylor Swift’s decision to re-record her early albums give fans that rare opportunity.

Belmont’s Student Center for Public Trust hosted Thursday’s “Ethics, Law and Taylor Swift” WELL Core event. A three-person panel addressed the ethics and controversy of Swift’s creative independence.

Assistant professor of music business and entertainment lawyer Mary Lauren Teague, school of music adjunct professor Mark Thress and music publisher and manager Sheriden Gates all shared their insight about the storied songwriter and the phases of her career.

Kicking off the event with a showing of Swift’s “All Too Well: The Short Film,” students entered a state of grace as they discussed Swift and her re-records – a Belmont Swiftie’s wildest dream.

“Whether you agree or disagree with how she went about it, I do think it was great that she brought light to make sure you read your contracts, make sure you own your masters, all of that that a lot of artists aren’t aware of until she did that,” said Gates.

Swift was aware that the Big Machine Records contract she signed as a minor in 2005 granted the label the original recordings of her music in exchange for a plethora of resources.

But bad blood started in June 2019 when Swift was denied the opportunity to purchase her master recordings after they were put up for sale following the end of her contract.

It was later announced that music manager and entrepreneur Scooter Braun, “bullied” Swift, the artist said. He purchased Big Machine Records and with it, the masters of her first six studio albums.

That’s when she decided to take control of her art as soon as her contract would allow her to do so.

Traditional recording contracts usually require some kind of exchange of ownership and many have re-recording restrictions, too, said Teague.

But what makes Swift different is she is one of few artists who turned around to actually re-record their masters, along with other artists like Def Leppard and The Everly Brothers.

“If she’s releasing masters that she’s re-recorded and she’s releasing them as ‘Taylor’s Version’ and they are very close-sounding to the prior masters, ultimately what that’s going to do is take money out of the people’s pocket that own her old masters,” said Teague.

By shifting her fans’ focus to the re-records, she showed Music Row who was really in charge.

“She commands her career in the direction she’s going,” said Teague. “Take ownership. Take the driver’s seat … Take the time to read your contracts.”

“Don’t think you have to have a law degree to understand it.”

PHOTO: From left to right, junior Grace Glass of Belmont’s Student Center for Public Trust, Mary Lauren Teague, Mark Thress and Sheriden Gates at Thursday’s WELL Core. Emma Halloran / Belmont Vision

This article was written by Emma Halloran and Kailee Doherty.

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