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Taylor Swift on Industry Sexism and Music Rights

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Photo Credit: Billboard

Being a successful woman in the music industry is no easy feat. Not only do they deal with the typical trials and tribulations of being a musician, but there are also gender-specific challenges. Taylor Swift knows this all too well. 

As you’re probably already aware, Swift is a unique force in the music industry. Her many accolades include:

  • Youngest solo artist to win the GRAMMY Album of the Year Award
  • The only woman to win the GRAMMY Album of the Year Award twice for her own albums
  • Winner of more American music awards than any other artist
  • All her albums have gone platinum 

However, these achievements haven’t come without challenges.

Why Women Struggle in the Music Industry

To no one’s surprise, Taylor Swift won the Billboard Woman of the Decade Award in 2019. In her acceptance, she spoke about her experiences being a woman in music.

Fearless (released in 2008) was the start of it all. After winning her GRAMMY award, Swift experienced instant backlash and criticism. Everything from her voice to her songwriting skills was picked apart.

At the time, Swift had no idea why it happened. So, she tried to deter critics by doing what they thought she couldn't do. Dating too much? Time to stop dating for a while. Too many break-up songs? Here’s an album about life with friends. Songs not country enough anymore? Let’s change the next album’s style. Swift also worked on her voice, wrote her Speak Now album by herself, and toured constantly. 

She became the best of the best. And it still wasn’t enough. 

After years of accommodating critics, she now knows that “as a female in this industry, some people will always have slight reservations about you. Whether you deserve to be there, whether your male producer or co-writer is the reason for your success, or whether it was a savvy record label.” Many believe that a woman can’t be successful by themselves. 

Because of this, female artists feel like they have to prove themselves. In her speech, Swift attributes this to why women did so well in the past decade. The bar is higher for women, so they must work harder to prove they deserve to be there. Work that their male counterparts don’t have to do.

Other issues for women in the music industry include eating disorders and sexual assault. Swift discussed this and more in her 2020 documentary, Miss Americana. 

Unfortunately, Swift’s problems don’t stop there.

Swift’s Music Rights Controversy

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

During her speech, Swift called out the unregulated world of private equity. After signing with Republic Records, her old record label, Big Machine Records (owned by Scott Borchetta), was bought by Scooter Braun. That deal included Swift’s entire catalog of music. 

Before the deal, Swift attempted to buy her own music. However, Big Machine Records provided her with unfavorable conditions to do so. After the deal, no one asked how Swift felt about it. Not Big Machine Records. Not the investors who funded the deal. Not Braun. 

When Swift spoke out about this situation, she expressed her frustrations about not being consulted or giving her consent for the deal. As well, she detailed how Braun has harassed and bullied her throughout her music career, which Brochetta was well aware of. 

After the deal, Braun and Borchetta attached conditions to Swift’s song use. Swift summarized it as “be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.”

However, Swift refused to back down. Instead of giving in, Swift found a way to reclaim her music. As of 2023, she has re-recorded four of her six albums with great success.

What about her old music? In 2020, Shamrock Holdings, the Disney family investment firm, bought her music from Braun. Braun and Shamrock offered different deals to Swift, but she declined both, once again, due to unfavorable conditions. 

Why does Swift’s situation matter?

Well, she brought light to a prevalent issue in the music industry. By standing up for herself, she started a dialogue on music ownership and artist / record label relationships. 

Further, Swift inspired many of her peers. Artists, like Olivia Rodrigo, began negotiating with their record labels to own their music masters, while others, like Bryan Adams, began to re-record their albums after record label disagreements.

Needless to say, Swift changed the game in significant ways. 

What Now?

It goes without saying that Swift has achieved amazing things in her career. Not only has she overcome criticism based on her gender, but she has also brought attention to how people view music ownership. 

And, clearly, she’s not stopping anytime soon. 

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If you want to watch Taylor Swift’s full 2019 speech, check out the video below!