How Taylor Swift Did Her Label Mates a Major Favor By Simply Signing a New Contract
Earlier this month, it was announced that Taylor Swift was signing an exclusive deal with Universal Music Group, effective immediately. The contract deepened the “Look What You Made Me Do” singer’s relationship with the music production company, which is the parent to Republic Records — who her former (and only) label, Big Machine Records, had a long-term partnership with. (Swift will be under the Republic umbrella and therefore UMG going forward.)
Buried among the tedious legalese of Swift’s agreement, there’s a clause that will have a major positive effect not just on Swift’s career, but for her music industry peers — and one whose importance she may not have realized when she negotiated her terms.
The ask seems simple enough: As part of Swift’s Universal contract, she has requested that when the company eventually divests its assets in the music streaming service Spotify, she, along with all of her label mates, receive a portion of the profit Universal will make, essentially helping artists recoup some of the money that they are losing from having their music distributed via streaming services.
UMG, along with Sony Entertainment and Warner Music, got stock in Spotify when the fledgling company first started streaming a decade ago, in 2008. Sony and Warner sold, respectively, half and all of their Spotify stocks earlier this year, and offered their talent payouts in turn. UMG has been the holdout among major labels to hang onto its own five percent stake in the company.
What makes Swift’s contract surprising for a major artist, however, is that while both Sony and Warner paid out musicians of their own choice, Swift’s contract demand not only guarantees the payouts, but also includes a no-strings-attached clause that financially protects smaller artists (who may owe their labels money for marketing or studio time).
Of course, this isn’t the first time the 29-year-old has gone toe-to-toe with the streaming service. Back in 2014, she pulled all her music off Spotify, citing their business model as one that devalues the labor of working musicians, although her music reappeared on the streaming service in 2017.
In 2015, in a now-deleted Tumblr post, Swift also called out Apple Music when, during its three-free-months initial offering, the company said it was not planning on paying royalties to artists whose music was streamed on the platform.
“This is not about me,” she wrote. “This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.”
As David Turner points out in Slate, the music industry is one where collective labor doesn’t really exist, and most of the people in the industry are working tirelessly, sometimes thanklessly, and often for little to no financial gain, for their work. Echoing those who (somewhat jokingly) call Swift a “labor radical,” Turner argues that Swift’s demand is the singer’s attempt at creating favorable working conditions for those who struggle to make ends meet while entertaining the masses.
“Perhaps Universal Music Group already thought about giving its Spotify money back to artists and Swift’s demand was just good PR,” he questions, but with a caveat: “Even if that was the case, though, Swift again showed musicians, who might be more distrustful of management than any other American workforce, that it’s never too late to ask for better treatment.”
(Photo by Samir Hussein/Redferns)