August 28, 2019
Taylor Swift, the last streaming holdout among major musical artists, embraced the technology by releasing her seventh studio album, “Lover,” on Spotify and other streaming services. She had pulled her music from Spotify in 2014, and, in 2017, withheld her sixth album, “Redemption,” from streaming services for three weeks. According to Nielsen, in that year, streaming accounted for about 60 percent of all U.S. music consumption; this year it’s up to 80 percent. Spotify is making the most of Swift’s move with a very visible marketing campaign. Meanwhile, Swift has also helped launch an industry-wide conversation about copyright.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, prior to the album’s release, Swift encouraged her fans via social media to “pre-add, pre-save, pre-order” it on Spotify.” “Holding out from streaming now is really like cutting off 80 percent of your face,” said Nielsen Music analyst David Bakula. “The business has gotten to that level where it’s not just important to be there, it’s important to be very prominent there.”
Album sales in the U.S. “are less than half of what they were when Swift released her last album … [while] weekly streams have risen by two-thirds.” Swift also released the album in a deluxe set with CD, lyric book, and audio memos from songwriting sessions, available for purchase at Target.
When Swift pulled out of Spotify, she said it was because she wanted her music to be available only to paid subscribers. She returned to the service in June 2017, just ahead of the release of “Reputation.” Swift also performed for Amazon’s Prime Day promotion in July; since then, the platform has been promoting her new music in ads and on some of its Prime shipping boxes.
The New York Times reports that earlier this summer Swift “kick-started an industry-wide conversation about master recordings and artists’ rights.” She stated that, after years of “incessant, manipulative bullying,” a $300 million deal left her master recordings in the possession of Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings.
With the release of “Lover,” she declared that she “could rerecord her old music and release new versions that she would own.” She first raised that possibility in a pre-taped interview with “CBS Sunday Morning,” where she confirmed that doing so was definitely a plan.
NYT notes that the owner of the master recordings and associated copyright can “sell songs and albums, as well as license the recordings to movies, television and video games.” But there are separate rights for the composition, “usually split among the songwriters.”
Because Swift is credited as a lead writer for almost her entire catalog, “she could essentially give herself permission to record ‘cover versions’ of her own compositions without having to touch the masters.” That would be expensive and require Swift to make them competitive with the originals.
Swift’s past contracts could include language that forbids “artists from releasing rerecorded work for three to five years or more.” On “Good Morning America,” however, she stated that her contract will allow her to record her first five albums beginning in November 2020. “It’s next year, it’s right around the corner,” she said. “I’m going to be busy, I’m excited.”