Widely recognized as the man who made Taylor Swift’s career by signing the then-unknown teen singer in 2006, Scott Borchetta has been in the headlines this week amid a rapidly deteriorating feud with the artist.
It could be said that Swift made Borchetta’s career: in 2005, the record exec left DreamWorks Records to roll a dice and start new label, Big Machine Records, with just three artists. Swift has been his golden girl ever since, and her world domination, at least in part, might explain the more than $300 million that Big Machine sold for last week.
Swift supposedly isn’t too happy about the sale, despite no longer being signed with the label after the release of “Reputation” in 2017. Since then, Swift has signed with Universal Music Group. In a note posted last weekend, Swift said her decision to leave Big Machine was “excruciating,” in that she would be leaving behind control of her master recordings. In these recordings, she says, was “music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.”
Swift’s beef with Borchetta is that in selling his company, he’s sold its rights to Swift’s catalog. The buyer? A person Swift considers an enemy: Scooter Braun, one of the most famous music executives in the world and a previous manager of Kanye West.
On Tumblr, Swift minced few words in her address to Braun, slamming the executive for “the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years.” Swift has been a public target of West’s for almost a decade: in 2016, the rapper released a song that claimed “I made that bitch famous,” referring to Swift. After Swift publicly declared that she was offended by the line, Kim Kardashian got involved in a very public shaming that included the release of a recorded phone exchange between West and Swift. Swift is now reviving the saga, as well as the West music video that featured a naked mannequin of Swift, as evidence of bullying by Braun’s clients.
On one level, this business dispute draws attention to ongoing tensions in the music industry. When Swift signed her six-album deal that simultaneously handed over her creative rights to Big Machine, she was engaging in a classic deal for new artists: handing over control of music in exchange for the chance to make it big. As Swift’s star has risen, she’s taken issue with the arrangement the same way other successful musicians have done. Prince famously protested Warner Bros. Records in 1992 by writing the word “slave” on his cheek, and Paul McCartney for years called for the importance of artists owning their own music. West himself has just filed a suit to gain control of his own masters.
By voicing her complaints online again, Swift is working hard to control the narrative and create a public relations problem for Braun which may ultimately influence how he handles her masters. The power of public relations strikes again.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency.