With Taylor Swift clearly unhappy about the deal Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta has struck to sell the Big Machine Label Group to Scooter Braun's Ithaca Holdings for upwards of $300 million, things can get sticky going forward when marketing her six-album catalog. But Big Machine will still be able to capitalize on her music, even if she doesn't cooperate, industry executives say.
"It's preferable to work with the artist," says one catalog executive. "But if you can't work with the artist, you can still do marketing and promotion for their records, the same way you can still do it for the music of an artist that's died."
In general, it makes things easier to work a catalog if the artist is willing to work with the label, says another catalog executive. In light of that, those catalog execs suggest that Borchetta shouldn't have responded to Swift when she expressed unhappiness and frustration about the Ithaca deal; or as one of those executives put it, he should have "taken the beating and just moved on."
But if anything, the blow-up between Swift, Braun and Borchetta "might have a positive impact because it is bringing more attention to her music," points out music and entertainment industry lawyer Lisa Alter of the law firm Alter, Kendrick & Baron. "There is an expression that there is no such thing as bad publicity."
While Big Machine can still market her catalog, knowledgeable sources in the past have told Billboard her contract still calls for a greatest hits/best of compilation. Since Big Machine apparently has the right to put out such a release, does the label or the artist have packaging rights -- i.e. control over an album's artwork -- the first catalog executive wonders.
Meanwhile, since Swift has already issued at least most, if not all of the songs that would be on the record, the label could use a compulsory mechanical license to issue the songs so it doesn't need her approval on the publishing. But the question also remains, does that contract call for the compilation to come with an unreleased song or two -- already recorded or new -- a favorite tactic in marketing a greatest hits compilation. If so, does the label have that music already, or does Swift still have it; or need to record it? What about the publishing for that song? It likely would need a license from her publisher, if it hasn't already been published; and nowadays Swift likely owns her publishing, or at the very least has a co-publishing deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
While a standard greatest hits without anything new might be issued, what the contract says and what the artist wants -- or will do -- may make for a complicated imbroglio, those execs say.
When things are amiable between an artist and their former record company, the label would work with the artist on selecting the tracks for the album. "[The artist] would also help promote the album, like maybe agree to do a couple of interviews," says a marketing executive. Besides, often there can be an incentive for the artist to work on a compilation package, "it could trigger some kind of advance," that exec adds.
Another benefit is that when Swift’s next album comes out on her new label, Universal Music Group’s Republic, Big Machine will likely market the catalog which will help promote sales of that release, while Republic’s efforts will also echo and help Big Machine’s catalog sales -- to the benefit of both Swift and Big Machine.
So leaving things as they now stand may be a long-term mistake for both sides. A Big Machine spokesman declined to comment for this story, while representatives for Ithaca and Swift didn't respond to a request for comment by press time.
"The risk you take with the way things have been left is that she has so many followers, she may retaliate to her own detriment; and tell her fans, 'please don't buy my records,'" the marketing exec says. "If I am Scott and Scooter, this is where I would reach out to a peacekeeper to help all parties come to the table and work it out. They need to sit down at the table like big girls and boys and air it all out."