Taylor Swift Inks New Deal With UMG After Closing Out Her Big Machine Contract
August of 2018 marked the end of an era for global superstar Taylor Swift. Ever since 2006, when Swift was 14 years old and readying her self-titled country debut, she has been signed to the Nashville-based Big Machine Records. Over a decade, six studio albums and one massively successful transition from the country format into the pop realm later, however, that partnership has come to an end.
Swift's 2017 Reputation was her last studio album under contract with Big Machine, and in November, the singer had the option to renew her deal or seek out a new contract with a different label. She chose the latter, according to All Access, signing a new exclusive contract with Universal Music Group and Republic Records.
Big Machine lobbied hard to renew their contract with the superstar earlier in the year, according to an August 2018 article in Billboard, and no wonder: The label has had a relationship with Swift for nearly as long as they have been in existence. Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta signed the singer the year after creating the company, and its rise to power -- the label is now home to Reba McEntire, Florida Georgia Line, Rascal Flatts and Thomas Rhett, among other country giants -- parallels Swift's own. The partnership had deep emotional ties, to say nothing of its extensive history of financial success.
Billboard reports that Swift's year-to-date sales and streaming for 2018 make up 34.6 percent of Big Machine's market share -- a number that would average out much higher taking into account the studio albums she has released over her tenure as an artist with the group, even following the release of Reputation in 2017 alone. That amount of impact means that Swift would have significant leverage in negotiating a new deal. "At this point she doesn't need money, she should be looking for ownership," one attorney told Billboard. "It's the house that Taylor built."
While Big Machine has gone on to become a massively successful operation outside its partnership with Swift, it's irrefutable that the icon would have had immense bargaining power in negotiating a new deal. She could have asked for rights to her masters copies to revert to her, her own imprint or even larger ownership in the company itself, for example.
However, Swift's move to UMG isn't entirely unprecedented, either, and demonstrates a vision that Swift's career has been trending towards for years. Big Machine works largely with country artists, and after Swift's transition into pop, an alliance with UMG's Republic Records allowed for greater promotion to pop outlets.
Furthermore, in an Instagram post on Monday (Nov. 19), Swift elaborated on the conditions behind her new contract, revealing that in her UMG deal, she walked away with some of the same creative control that Billboard speculated she might bargain for at Big Machine. Swift posted a photo of herself with UMG Chairman/CEO Sir Lucian Grainge and Republic Records CEO/Co-Founder Monte Lipman, along with a message of why it was important to her to make the switch.
"It's also incredibly exciting to know that I'll own all of my master recordings that I make from now on. It's really important to me to see eye to eye with a label regarding the future of our industry," Swift writes.
Additionally, she adds in her Instagram post, there was one more important condition to the new deal. "As part of my new contract with Universal Music Group, I asked that any sale of their Spotify shares result in a distribution of money to their artists, non-recoupable. They have generously agreed to do this, at what they believe will be much better terms than paid out previously by other major labels."
Swift also took a moment to thank Borchetta for their long history of working together, expressing her gratitude to him for "believing in me as a 14-year-old and for guiding me through a decade of work that I will always be so proud of."
The move to UMG -- and the terms of the new deal -- are, Swift explains, part of a vision both to further her own global career and also be a force for important structural change in the music industry as a whole. "I see [UMG's new distribution agreement] as a sign that we are headed towards positive change for creators -- a goal I'm never going to stop trying to achieve, in whatever ways I can," Swift adds.