Nov 15, 2019

Taylor Swift escalates battle with ex-record label

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata

Taylor Swift performs during the gala of 2019 Alibaba 11.11 Global Shopping Festival in Shanghai, China. Photo: Zhang Hengwei/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Taylor Swift still can't shake off the sale of her former record label, nor the private equity firm that enabled it.

Background: Ithaca, a media holding company led by Scooter Braun, in June acquired Big Machine, which had released all of Swift's albums up until that point.

  • The $300 million deal was partially financed by the Carlyle Group, which already was a minority investor in Ithaca.
  • Swift claimed to have been blindsided by the deal (there's some dispute on that) and later pledged to re-record her back-catalog once contractually able in late 2020.

What's new: Swift last night claimed that Ithaca is prohibiting her from performing some of her old songs on the upcoming American Music Awards, unless she agrees not to independently re-record her old material. She also says the old music ban extends to a Netflix documentary about Swift, and that she'd need to stop publicly discussing Braun and Big Machine boss Scott Borchetta.

"I'm especially asking for help from The Carlyle Group, who put up money for the sale of my music to these two men."
— Swift said
  • Big Machine claimed, in a reply, that it's shocked by this "false information," adding that it's been in negotiations with Swift's lawyers over "millions of dollars and multiple assets [owed] to our company, which is responsible for 120 hardworking employees who helped build her career."
  • It also claimed that it didn't block Netflix from using old songs, and that it does "not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere."
    • Big Machine doesn't address what songs Swift can perform live — which seems to be the nub of her argument — nor if it's conditioned permissions on her pledging not to re-record.
  • The Carlyle Group isn't making public comments, likely because it remains only a minority investor. Braun didn't return an interview request.

The bottom line: No matter whose side you're on, it's now clear that Ithaca, Carlyle and Big Machine didn't do enough pre-deal work. Even if your most important asset has already walked out the door, it's worth getting her to sign-off so that she doesn't become a major liability.

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