Taylor Swift’s UMG Deal
Every artist hopes for a tipping point in their career where they have accumulated enough juice to dictate the terms of their contract with their record label. When you’re fresh out of the local club, unless you’re so phenomenal that a bidding war ensues and you get to pick the best deal (which to twenty-somethings with a best friend as manager usually means the most money upfront, not necessarily the best deal overall), your initial contract will definitely favor the label, and you’ll take it, thankfully. Perhaps the best you can hope for is keeping the number of albums the label wants to tie you up for to a reasonable number (like 4 not 7).
The history books have chapters on bad deal horror stories, and its usually not until an artist has significant leveraging power that they can negotiate a decent deal. In the very early days of the business naïve blues and r&b acts signed away their music in exchange for a car and a new suit. Famously, and ridiculously, The Rolling Stones made little money from their album sales until their $44M deal with Virgin in 1992 (28 years into their career), Aerosmith and Michael Jackson also signed highly lucrative deals in the 90s after years of bad management.
With her new deal with UMG/Republic Taylor Swift enters that category. Not that she hasn’t had negotiating power for years, but presumably this is the first time she’s had the chance to make a move from Big Machine. And as is typical she’s making some very specific demands of her new ‘bosses,’ the first of which is pretty typical at this stage in her career, in that she retains ownership of her music (masters), and the second, is something that a decade, or even a few years, ago, no one would have even known to ask. Swift is demanding that a percentage of any profit that UMG gets from the sale of shares they have in streaming store Spotify be shared with UMG artists.
This deal point is interesting in many way; the fact that it’s not just benefiting Swift but many other artists, and certainly setting a standard for other artist deals, and also that its impacting a huge corporation like UMG’s business model. It’s a far cry from driving off in a new Cadillac, well done TS.
By: Adam Pollock