|Swift and Borchetta in happier times|
Before digital distribution, record companies held effective monopolies over the distribution of records, tapes and CDs, limiting the value to artists of owning their masters, which would still require the involvement of a record label. The explosion of online options has made it more attractive to artists to own their material, given the wide array of avenues to release their music.
“Historically artists were made to give away these rights, and it got to a point where people wouldn’t have second thoughts because there were limited options on distribution,” said Jordan Bromley, a music lawyer at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP.
“Now there are dozens of ways to distribute music and countless ways fans discover it outside of a major label or any label marketing regime,” Bromley said.
Swift voiced dismay over the deal in a Tumblr post Sunday, saying she had pleaded for a chance to own her work, and that Braun’s purchase of her masters was “my worst case scenario.” Mr. Braun’s management clients include Justin Bieber and, formerly, Kanye West, both of whom have publicly feuded with the pop star.
Swift, whose recording contract with Big Machine ended last year, said she was offered the opportunity to earn back the rights to one album at a time if she re-signed with the label.
Instead she signed a new, long-term deal with Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group in which she owns new recordings, leaving her older material in the hands of her former label.
In most traditional record deals an artist signs away ownership of their master recordings, in exchange for an upfront payment and royalties from future sales. Superstars have sometimes been able to use contract renegotiations to gain ownership of their masters, as the recordings are called.