Record executive Scooter Braun accused of bullying following label buyout
Artists’ ownership over their songs has long been a contested issue in the music industry. It has led to countless arguments, punch-ups, lawsuits and, now, social media firestorms. However, when Taylor Swift stands at the centre of controversy, it’s likely there’s more than meets the eye.
In a post on Pinterest, Swift called Scooter Braun an “incessant, manipulative bully” following his acquisition of Big Machine Label Group - which owns the rights to her music. Braun is credited with taking Justin Bieber from YouTube sensation to global megastar. The 38-year-old music mogul also counts Demi Lovato and Ty Dolla Sign within his roster of clients.
However, on Sunday, it was announced that Big Machine Label Group, the record label which owns all the master recordings from Swift’s albums, has been bought by Ithaca Holdings LLC - Braun’s company. The argument has escalated to the extent that the biggest names in music are now taking sides and slinging mud. So what did Braun do to Taylor Swift?
It largely comes down to the feud between Taylor Swift and Kayne West following his line about her in the song Famous. “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex,” he raps. “Why? I made that bitch famous.” While West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, later released a secretly-recorded video call in which Swift agrees to being mentioned in the song, Taylor Swift fans were quick to point out that the word “bitch” wasn’t mentioned.
Swift was also one of the celebrities whose likeness was depicted using waxworks in the music video for the same song. While some saw this as a thought-provoking, boundary-pushing piece of art, in her recent post, Swift dubbed this a “revenge porn music video which strips my body naked”. Nonetheless, at the time, the court of public opinion ruled in Kim and Kanye’s favour, with the hashtag #KimExposedTaylorParty trending on social media.
Referring to Braun’s purchase of Big Machine as her “worst case scenario”, Swift adds: “Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.”
However, she is also unhappy with Scott Borchetta - the owner of Big Machine before it was sold to Ithaca Holdings. An independent label, Big Machine’s primary focus was country artists. As a genre-defying pop sensation, Swift was quite the anomaly among his clients. In fact, Swift’s catalogue drove 80 per cent of Big Machine’s revenues last year, according to Variety.
“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work,” Swift explains. “Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future.”
As with many record deals, Taylor effectively signed away the rights to her master recordings (the original studio recordings from which all finished works are creatively and legally derived) to the record label she was signing with. In exchange for studio time, distribution and promotion, intellectual property rights are often handed over indefinitely.
In the impassioned post, the 29-year-old wrote: “I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.”
She also accuses Borchetta of not letting her know about the sale of the label until it was too late. While Borchetta’s response to the post has highlighted some discrepancies (he contends that he texted her to let her know and that her father - a Big Machine shareholder - had been notified), the basis of what Swift claims remains uncontested. The decision had been made without her.
The image which accompanied Swift’s open letter is a 2016 post from Justin Bieber’s Instagram account. Bieber’s post is a screenshot of a video call involving Kanye West, Scooter Braun and Justin Bieber. The caption is “Taylor swift what up”. To the photo, Taylor has added, “This is Scooter Braun, bullying me on social media when I was at my lowest point He’s about to own all the music I’ve ever made”. However, Justin Bieber has responded.
“First of all i would like to apologize for posting that hurtful instagram post, at the time i thought it was funny but looking back it was distasteful and insensitive,” the pop star explains. “It was my captions” he explains, before adding that “he didnt have anything to do with it and it wasnt even a part of the conversation in all actuality he was the person who told me not to joke like that”.
“Both scooter and i love you,” Bieber states, before somewhat changing tact and adding: “I usually don’t rebuttal things like this but when you try and deface someone i loves character thats crossing a line.”
Meanwhile, Swift’s allies have also given their two cents. “Telling someone about a deal days before it’s public means the deal was already done & she never had the opportunity to even make a bid to own her own work,” stated Iggy Azalea. “These deals take months to negotiate in long form.”
“He is an evil person who’s [sic] only concern is his wealth and feeding his disgusting ego,” YouTube star Todrick Hall said of Braun to whom he is a former client. “I believe he is homophobic & I know from his own mouth that he is not a Swift fan.”
Halsey added: “She deserves to own the painstaking labor of her heart.” A war of words, the internet is on fire with responses to the situation. In fact, there are so many different allegiances that pop culture journalist Courtney Soliday created this useful graphic.
Scott Borchetta, the former owner of Big Machine, has since responded in a blog post where he explained that he was largely unaware of Swift’s feeling’s towards Braun and that he gave her every opportunity to earn back her masters. However, as Swift explained, this would have been a lengthy process.
In many cases, it comes down to his word against hers. “Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to,” Swift explains. “He knew what he was doing; they both did.”
Sadly, it’s all too common for record labels to hang onto artists’ masters to earn money from potential future use of the music (such as in adverts) and as collateral. This time, the court of public opinion appears to be weighing in Taylor Swift’s favour - for highlighting an exploitative aspect of the music industry most people had never thought about.