What It Means When You See (Taylor’s Version) And Why The Music Icon Is Re-Recording Her First Six Albums

With her July 7 release of "Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)" and the recent announcement of "1989 (Taylor’s Version)" coming to fans on October 27, let’s unpack what this important disclaimer in re-released album titles really means for Taylor Swift and the music industry.

By Caitlin Shaw4 min read
Getty Images/Amy Sussman

Taylor Swift re-recording her first six albums is not new knowledge. In fact, she announced that she was undertaking this passion project in 2019 on Good Morning America. But what makes Taylor’s Version albums so exciting is that A) we don’t know the release date until she announces it, B) her re-records typically include “From the Vault” tracks that were excluded from the original album, meaning she gives fans a handful of new songs to play tirelessly on repeat, and C) there’s nothing that makes a fan happier than witnessing an artist they love reclaim their beloved work. 

The Politics of the Music Industry

Buckle up, “Dear Reader,” because the backstory to why Swift dove head-first into this endeavor is a complex one. Let’s rewind to the beginning of her career. In 2004, Taylor Swift became Big Machine Record Label’s first client, and she was only 15 years old. She spent over a decade with the label and claimed her experience was mostly positive. In 2018, after her Reputation studio album, she made the decision to sign a deal with Republic Records, which is owned by Universal Music Group. 

Her departure from Big Machine Records and the owner at the time, Scott Borchetta, was amicable. That was, until 2019, when well-known talent manager Scooter Braun purchased the company for $300 million. With Braun’s ownership of Big Machine Record came lots of unearned power, undeserved money, and animosity between Swift and her former label. The purchase of Big Machine Record means that Braun owns the rights to her first six albums – so whenever these tracks are streamed, used in films, TV ads, or played in any sense of the word, Braun profits

But for Swift, it wasn’t just the money that made her a “mad woman.” To dive into all of the drama with Scooter Braun and the problematic ways that he treats artists would require a long tangent. Just know that the issues between the two date back to 2016 when Kanye West, one of Braun’s clients, belittled Taylor again in his “Famous” lyrics (I say again because, at the 2009 VMAs, West stole the mic from Swift and humiliated her). Tension escalated in 2020, when Braun and Borchetta refused to let the “22” singer play her songs live at the American Music Awards. They also tried to prohibit her from using recordings of her own music in her Miss Americana Netflix documentary.

Swift ended up turning to the public, speaking her truth, and garnering enough fan support to ultimately convince these two power-hungry manipulators to let her play her own music. When she performed at the AMAs, Swift wore a white prison-like shirt with the names of all her albums written in black on it, like the true “Mastermind” that she is. Not only was Swift showing the crowd that her albums are hers, but she hinted at her exploitation and entrapment with the prison-like style of the outfit.

Taylor Swift at the 2019 American Music Awards. Getty Images/Kevin Winter
Taylor Swift at the 2019 American Music Awards. Getty Images/Kevin Winter

Because Braun and Borchetta didn’t give Swift an option to buy her masters back, in 2019, she decided she was sick of being a puppet in their games and announced her plan to reclaim her work. When questioned about this decision to re-record her first six albums, Swift candidly shared, “For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead, I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in.”

How Is This Legal?

What many people may not realize is that artists don’t automatically own the rights to their music. Taylor Swift, like all artists, was signed by a record label, and many times, a written contract states that master recordings are the property of the label and not the singer. For this reason, many people questioned how this was legal and why Swift has been so public about her plan. It’s true that Swift doesn’t own the rights to the masters (the original tracks) of her first six albums, but as the songwriter, she owns the publishing rights to remake any song in her discography.

Technically there’s a slight difference between records and songs, which makes an entire world of difference in Swift’s case. A song is the music itself – the notes, the beats, the lyrics, etc. – while a record is a certain recording or version of a particular song. Swift’s former contract with Big Machine stated that the label will own rights to the master recordings, not the songs. Because a recording and a song are different, Swift and other artists in the same position are legally allowed to re-record their songs and subsequently own that record. 

As of 2019 when she signed with Republic Records, Swift legally owns all masters recorded past that point – including her Lover, Folklore, Evermore, and Midnights albums. So, when these songs are streamed on-demand, used in TV shows, films, etc. she gets royalties. And now, she has cast her net for business opportunities wider with her release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Red (Taylor’s Version), and Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).

What Are “From the Vault” Tracks?

When Swift releases her versions of her re-recorded albums, she has made it a custom to include tracks that didn’t make the cut for the original release. Her most iconic “From the Vault” track is “All Too Well (10 minute version)” from Red (Taylor’s Version), but others include “Mr. Perfectly Fine” from Fearless (Taylor’s Version) or “I Can See You” from Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). 

Not only is her “From the Vault” feature an exciting touch for fans, but it’s also an intelligent business play on her part. Swift's “From the Vault” tracks have grown her discography enormously, taking her albums from 13 or 14 tracks to over 20 tracks, helping her break records and elevate her career. 

How Do Taylor Swift’s Re-Recordings Compare to the Originals? 

I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves: Red (Taylor’s Version) has over 2.8 billion on-demand streams, while the original Red (the original) has had 476 million streams since the November 2021 release of Taylor’s version. Similarly, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) has accumulated over 1.9 billion streams since its April 2021 debut, while the original Fearless only has about 680 million on-demand streams in that same timeframe.

Her most recently re-recorded album, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), has been so wildly popular that its stats caused her to break the record for the most number one albums by any female artist in history. Taylor Swift is now also the first and only woman to have four albums on the Billboard top ten list at the same time. 

How’s that for “Karma,” Big Machine Record?

Closing Thoughts

Taylor Swift is not the only artist to embark on this endeavor to reclaim ownership of her work. However, many artists like Frank Ocean, Jay-Z, Metallica, and more are able to simply buy back their masters and don’t ever have to go through the re-recording process. What makes Taylor Swift’s case different is that she wasn’t given this opportunity. Another reason why her case is unique is because of how candid and open she has been about her re-recording plan. She’s been on countless interviews explaining herself and her reasoning behind this project, and what is so spectacular is how her fans (both old and new) have supported every step of her journey, promising to only listen to albums noted with (Taylor’s Version).  

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