‘Non-Fungible Taylor Swift’

Long story rendered very short, Taylor Swift does not own the rights to her first six albums, and isn’t happy about that. She faithfully re-recorded the entirety of her second album, Fearless, and just released the new version as Fearless: Taylor’s Version. Without breaking any contract or copyright, she effectively rendered the original studio version nearly worthless, because her fans know the deal.

Ben Thompson has a great column on the whole saga, and deftly connects it with Dave Chappelle’s similar direct-to-fans appeal to retake control over the rights to his seminal Chappelle’s Show. Thompson:

This explains what Swift got right in 2014:

A friend of mine, who is an actress, told me that when the casting for her recent movie came down to two actresses, the casting director chose the actress with more Twitter followers. I see this becoming a trend in the music industry. For me, this dates back to 2005 when I walked into my first record-label meetings, explaining to them that I had been communicating directly with my fans on this new site called Myspace. In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around.

This is the inverse of Swift leveraging her fans to acquire her masters: future artists will wield that power from the beginning (like sovereign writers). It’s not that “art is important and rare”, and thus valuable, but rather that the artists themselves are important and rare, and impute value on whatever they wish.

To put it another way, while we used to pay for plastic discs and thought we were paying for songs (or newspapers/writing or cable/TV stars), empowering distribution over creators, today we pay with both money and attention according to the direction of creators, giving them power over everyone.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021