Taylor Swift has signed a global recording agreement with Universal Music Group the company announced today. Under the multi-year agreement, UMG will serve as the exclusive worldwide recorded music partner for Swift and UMG’s Republic Records will serve as her label partner in the U.S.
According to the announcement, the multi-album agreement, effective immediately, deepens the relationship between Swift and UMG and builds upon the enormous success she achieved with Big Machine Records—the label whose long-term strategic alliance with Republic Records first brought Swift into the UMG family. A ten-time Grammy winner distinguished as the youngest-ever recipient of the Grammy for Album of the Year—and the first female solo artist to win the award twice—is the only artist in history with four albums with sales of more than one million copies in their first week of release (2010’s “Speak Now,” 2012’s “Red,” 2014’s “1989” and 2017’s “Reputation”), respectively.
While terms of the deal were not announced, a source close to the situation tells Variety that it makes Spotify payments non-recoupable. “In the same vein as her Apple letter, Taylor Swift negotiated a history-making record deal that positively affects artists. She knew she had an incredible amount of leverage and could have used that to get her own previous masters back, or to merely focus on getting the biggest cash advance for herself but instead, the most important thing to her was to negotiate a better deal regarding Spotify payments for Universal artists and make them non-recoupable.” Further details were not immediately available.
A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on Nov 19, 2018 at 7:37am PST
In making the announcement, Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, said, “Few artists in history approach Taylor Swift’s combination of massive global hits and creative brilliance. She is so multi-talented, she can achieve anything. I have such enormous respect for Taylor, in particular for her use of her hard-earned influence to promote positive change. Because of her commitment to her fellow artists, not only did she want to partner with a company that understood her creative vision and had the resources and expertise to execute globally on her behalf, she also sought a partner whose approach to artists was aligned with hers. With these shared beliefs, there is so much we can accomplish together, and all of us at UMG are enormously proud to be embarking on the next chapter of her career alongside her.”
Monte Lipman, founder and CEO, of Republic Records said, “Taylor has not only captured the imagination of an entire generation, but has also redefined the paradigm of the modern music industry. Her commitment to songwriting and performing has earned her the respect of her peers and millions of adoring fans around the world. I can only imagine what Taylor is capable of achieving in the years to come, both culturally and creatively. I’m beyond thrilled to create an alliance with Republic Records and the incomparable Taylor Swift.”
The pop superstar became the music industry’s most eligible bachelorette on Nov. 10, when the one-year anniversary of the release of “Reputation” freed her from her contract with Big Machine Records. For months beforehand, as previously reported by Variety, industry attention had swirled around which suitors had the best shot at getting on her dance card. Reupping with Big Machine looked less likely as time went on and label chief Scott Borchetta showed little interest in giving her ownership of the master recordings of previous albums, which was believed to be a condition of her sticking around.
It seemed likelier that she might sign directly with the Universal Music Group, which distributed and promoted her Big Machine recordings, which would have maintained some already established relationships while eliminating the Big Machine middle man. Other major label groups would have paid a significant price to land her; some observers thought it was distinctly possible that she could command a $20-million-per-album deal. But Swift doesn’t need the money and clearly signaled that she’s more interested in control than paydays.
For months, top music players have all but salivated over the idea that Swift might become the change agent who could prove that going it alone is viable for a superstar in the late 2010s. “There’s no precedent to look to regarding the top-selling artist of the digital era becoming a total free agent,” the Davis Firm’s Doug Davis, one of the music business’ top lawyers, told Variety in August. “If she wants to be creative and choose an alternative structure for capitalization, she could create her own business model. It’s very exciting.”
That’s exactly what she’s setting out to do. And many of the functions of a major label are already handled in-house at Swift’s management, although she’ll have to contract out for others. One highly recognizable former major label chief told Variety a few months ago that there were few reasons for her to stick with the old model: ““Really, what the labels do anymore is radio and international, and the rest is all bullshit, if they’re not developing an artist,” he said. “She could do a great distribution deal anywhere, hire a few more people, and pay for some services that the streaming platforms will have soon but don’t have yet.”
What does it mean for Big Machine? Borchetta has been reported to be putting the company up for sale again in recent months, with a starting asking price well into the nine-figure range. The label group has some of the biggest stars in country, including Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett — and, of course, the valuable catalog of Swift’s that they didn’t want to give up. Their opportunities to exploit that catalog are limited in areas that require a sign-off from Swift’s publishing company as well. The rumored auction of Big Machine at least offers another big mystery for the business to speculate about, now that the one about Swift’s intentions has been solved.
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