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Taylor Swift Stands to Make Music Business History As a Free Agent

Talk about your blank spaces: Taylor Swift is about to have one in the spot where her label affiliation goes. In less than three months’ time, she’ll be a free agent, as the first anniversary of the release of her sixth album, “Reputation,” marks the official expiration of her obligation to Big Machine Records and its founder/CEO, Scott Borchetta, who signed Swift when she first came to him as a country-pop teenybopper of 15.

Now 28, and among the most successful female artists in modern music history —not to mention a savvy businesswoman in her own right — Swift has already been free to negotiate with rival companies, though she couldn’t sign any new deal before November. Her reps are known to have preliminary discussions with the major label groups, along with talks about returning to Big Machine, the Nashville-based , Universal Music Group-distributed indie that became a powerhouse with Swift as its flagship artist.

She could hardly be in a better position to attract suitors: Swift still sells albums in a post-CD age (prior to the triple platinum “Reputation,” her first five albums were all RIAA-certified for selling between 6 to 10 million copies, a starting streak no other artist can claim). She’s heartily embraced paid streaming, after a standoff in which she was the face of the resistance to free. And Pollstar reports 100 percent of tickets sold in the first 18 cities on her 2018 stadium tour — grossing $5-9 million a night in venues with capacity from 47,000 to 62,000 — providing vindication after some initially suspicious press over the variable pricing model.

But key to the future business of Taylor Swift, Inc. is ownership of her master recordings. Swift will almost certainly keep the rights to her masters in her next deal, but it’s no secret that, like a lot of superstars, she’d like to negotiate to own her previous albums, which currently remain in the hands of Big Machine. The label derives about 80 percent of its revenue from Swift’s music, says a person with knowledge of the business. (Big Machine declined comment, as did Swift’s camp.)

Potential auctions like this don’t come up every year, and the numbers could be historic. Several music business insiders note that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Swift could command $20 million per album.

“There’s no precedent to look to regarding the top-selling artist of the digital era becoming a total free agent,” says The Davis Firm’s Doug Davis, one of the music business’ top lawyers. “Taylor Swift is at an extraordinary point in her career where she can write her own ticket in regards to the commercial terms and deal structure. If she is seeking to break financial records and extend with a major, she could have the biggest artist deal of the century so far. If she wants to be creative and choose an alternative structure for capitalization, she could create her own business model. It’s very exciting.”

Courtesy of Variety
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