Taylor Swift is one of the most powerful performers in the pop music business along with Beyonce and other creative leaders. She also has an Achilles heel, from more than a decade ago, which is an advantage you have in any new endeavor: She isn't in full control of her work.
In less than three months' time, she'll be a free agent, as the first anniversary of the release of her sixth album, "Reputation," marks the official expiration of her obligation to Big Machine Records and its founder/CEO, Scott Borchetta, who signed Swift when she first came to him as a country-pop teenybopper of 15.
The rub? Big Machine Records owns her masters - essentially the power to freely distribute, sell and, most notably, profit off of her 13 previous years of work. She's sold more than 32 million albums.
The limitations of backing
Even with her spellbinding success, Swift is now reportedly negotiating to get control of those valuable masters from her current label while entertaining big-budget offers from other labels worthy of her current multi-million dollar status. Her label with the expiring contract, Big Machine, wants to keep her, but it also wants to keep raking in money with the masters.
In short, she doesn't have complete control over her output. This wasn't a mistake, but just a sign of the times: It was normal a decade and a half ago, when she was a teenager (!) signing a big music contract.
Today, though, with streaming music, uploadable videos, and indie distribution, the next 15-year-old superstar is probably going to bypass the labels all together.
The last of a dying breed
Late last year, music mogul Steve Stoute launched United Masters, an Alphabet-backed music label that gave artists complete control over - you guessed it - their masters. Here's what I said at the time:
The artists will keep their masters, which is the artistic equivalent of intellectual property. I'd argue that your IP is the most valuable thing you've got. Don't sweat getting funding and don't worry if a corporation doesn't get your idea. You can be broke, you can be unknown and you can be desperate, but if you own the rights to your stuff and act on it, you can open more doors yourself than any fool with a major publishing deal.
I experienced this with my bootstrapped startup, Cuddlr, and my co-founders and I alone decided when to sell it and make a profit off of it. Jay-Z has done the same, buying and building up his own streaming service and distributing his music independent of traditional labels. And my long-time friend and colleague DJ Purple Flourite is connecting directly with his fans and they are purchasing directly from him.
All three of us own our masters.
Today, we very seldom need the gatekeepers. Even the powerful Taylor Swift is tied to the past and, in that sense, you likely have more power of choice than she does in any new business you pursue right now.