Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Private equity now owns Taylor Swift's back catalog — and she isn't happy about it.
The state of play: Ithaca, a media holding company led by Scooter Braun, announced that it has acquired Big Machine Label Group, which has released each of her albums thus far. Under terms of the deal, which was partially financed by The Carlyle Group and is said to be valued north of $300 million, Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta will continue to run the label, hold a minority stake in Ithaca, and join its board.
- Big Machine was not one of the labels in which Ithaca already had a stake, per a source familiar with the situation.
- 2017: Carlyle invests in Ithaca, best known for managing such artists as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Kanye West. It also quietly held minority stakes in many of the country's largest music management companies.
- 2018: Swift decides to leave Big Machine, whose other artists include Florida Georgia Line and Rascal Flatts, to sign with Universal Music Group. Big Machine's final offer to keep her apparently included a reversion of Swift's master recordings to her.
After news of the deal broke, Swift put everyone involved on blast.
- She wrote on Tumblr that she learned of the deal via the public announcement, and that she believed Braun has "bullied" her in the past.
"When I left my masters in Scott's hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words 'Scooter Braun' escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to. He knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them."
The other side: Braun didn't return a request for comment, and thus far has kept quiet outside of retweeting someone (unrelated) who wrote that "context is everything." Braun's wife, however, did reply via Instagram. So did Bieber. Both of them claim Swift has some of her facts wrong.
- Borchetta writes that he texted Swift about the deal on Saturday night as a heads-up, and that her father should — or at least could — have been aware weeks earlier as a Big Machine shareholder. He also disputed Swift's depiction of the masters reversion proposal and negotiations, including some document photos and email conversations.
The bottom line: Yesterday morning, this was an interesting music industry deal, furthering the power and influence of a PE-backed holding company that most music-lovers have never heard of. Today, it's a PR debacle and, in music management, relationships are everything. In other words, don't be surprised to eventually see an amicable resolution.