To some, music is simply a form of entertainment. But for others, music is a religion and a way of life. As a ‘90s kid, I was one of those people who obsessively created mixtapes, waited outside a music store for hours to get the latest CD, shrieked when a new song comes on the radio, bawled over the soundtrack of my favorite films or series, got victimized by jammed cassette tapes, and walked along the streets with a Walkman in hand as I sang my heart out to the new Britney Spears album ― priceless moments that have been immortalized in my heart.
Music is undoubtedly a powerful form of artistic expression that has an unparalleled influence in our lives. It has the ability to unite people from all walks of life, to give us solace when we need it the most, to help convey our emotions when words do not suffice, to evoke nostalgia, and to enhance our overall well-being. Music has also played a pivotal role in celebrating life’s milestones, shaping cultures and identities, giving a voice to the oppressed, and advocating for political and social change.
While we reap the benefits of music, we know little of what goes on behind-the-scenes. For a melophile like me, this sparked my curiosity to delve deeper into the music industry to genuinely understand how its moving parts come together to produce the songs that leave indelible marks on our lives, and there’s no better and richer way to unravel the mystery than going directly to where it all begins ― the songwriters.
However, as I progressed further into my research, I was taken aback by the toxic and corrupt culture that has infiltrated the music industry; an industry that has failed aspiring and veteran songwriters time and again.
Songwriting is the first and one of the most important stages in the process of music production. In the early days, songwriters were hired to work for publishers and solely created material that would be performed by singers. Usually, a song was shaped with a particular artist in mind and would incorporate elements that made their strengths shine. When music icons such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan rose to fame in the 1960s, the culture started changing and artists were encouraged to write their own material especially for genres such as folk or country. “When a song is both written and performed by the same person, audiences assume that the material comes from the heart; that it emerges from the person’s own experience.”
While being an artist is a success in itself, many are eager to break into the competitive world of entertainment to build a career and make a name for themselves. In this regard, aspiring singer-songwriters without the experience would need the professional guidance of a music producer to help launch their careers. Music producers are essential because they are responsible for decision-making, organizing, and bringing to life the vision of the song, putting together a team of talented creatives, overseeing every stage of the production, and ensuring that all moving parts are effectively and efficiently working towards producing a cohesive and chart-topping record.
Due to the overwhelming competition, the immeasurable challenges and setbacks will sometimes force them to do things out of despair
These passionate and hungry artists embark on their journey with immense enthusiasm and the right mindset, but unfortunately, not everyone they meet in the industry has good intentions. Due to the overwhelming competition, the immeasurable challenges and setbacks will sometimes force them to do things out of despair such as settling and enduring corrupt and abusive music producers who overstep their boundaries and take advantage of their talent and dignity. Some novice artists would bend over backwards to seize the first opportunity that comes their way to get their foot in the door, without realizing the terms, conditions, and relationships that they are getting into.
Multi-award-winning Nashville singer-songwriter, Taylor Swift, suffered the same circumstances as she was paving her own path in the industry. Upon the release of her re-recorded 2008 album Fearless this year, Swift has revealed a controversial account of what transpired between her, music manager Scooter Braun, and Big Machine Records. She signed a deal with the record label in 2005, which gave them the right to own the master recordings of her first six albums in exchange for an advance payment to jumpstart her music career.
“In the music industry, ownership of masters means you control what can be done with the original recording of a song or album, from re-releases and box sets to making it available for use in an advert or on a streaming platform. Owners of popular songs can earn a huge amount of money.”
When Scooter Braun’s company, Ithaca Holdings, bought Big Machine Records, he got the rights to most of the singer’s work. However, Swift as the writer of her music still owns the publishing rights. Since then, the two had a legal battle over the control of the music. In a statement posted by the singer, things took a turn for the worse when Shamrock Holdings, a private equity company, reached out to Swift’s team saying that they bought the entirety of her “music, videos, and album art from Scooter Braun.” The singer mentioned that this is not the first time her music was sold without her knowledge and consent. Braun required his team to cut ties with Swift and her team as the deal with the company would be off the table.
Swift eventually found out from Shamrock Holdings that the terms of the deal with Braun involved him continuously profiting off her old music catalog for the years to come. In response to this ludicrous situation, Swift surprised us with a wise move by re-recording her old music in an effort to “regain a sense of pride and to allow fans to listen without feelings of guilt for benefitting Scooter.” The singer expressed how Braun has always been an “incessant, manipulative bully.” This is one of the many instances that even accomplished artist battles throughout their career. Just imagine what aspiring independent artists face when they first enter the business.