Taylor Swift and artistic redux

Over on Slate.com Carl Wilson offers the following fascinating review/examination of Taylor Swift’s reworking of her album Fearless, titled Fearless (Taylor’s Version)

Taylor Swift’s Fearless Redux is both business stunt and conceptual art

Let me say right up front: I’m not a Taylor Swift fan. If someone were to play a trio of songs for me by modern female artists, there is probably a 99% plus chance I couldn’t identify any of the songs or artists who sing them, much less which song is by Taylor Swift.

Sad but true: I’m not really that into the modern music scene. Been a while since I was.

Having said that, I’m not here to knock Taylor Swift fans for making Fearless (Taylor’s Version) a HUGE hit.

The original version of Fearless, released when Ms. Swift was 18 years old (she’s 31 now), and a number of her older albums, have been the source of considerable consternation for Ms. Swift. She, like many other artists, released her early albums (six of them, to be exact) and a gentleman by the name of Scooter Braun has control over those master recordings… but not the rights to the songs themselves.

So its like this: Ms. Swift, while having the copyright to the songs, does not have the rights to those original recordings of them. Over the years and as she’s become a bigger and bigger star, she’s tried to regain control over them but, given that those albums sell extremely well, Mr. Braun has not been terribly inclined to release control over those original recordings and give them back to Ms. Swift.

To get around this, Ms. Swift decided to re-record the entire album and released this new recording, along with several bonus songs, in an attempt to supplant the original version of her album. This is a totally legitimate way of gaining back control of this album and its songs. While Mr. Braun keeps the original recordings, Ms. Swift has essentially offered fans a way of still enjoying that album without any of the proceeds going to Mr. Braun.

Given the loyalty her fans have to Ms. Swift and the tremendous success of this album’s release, looks like Ms. Swift has managed to stick it to Mr. Braun… and good.

Given the success of this re-recording/release, she now can go back and redo the other albums Mr. Braun owns the original masters to as well. If this continues to be a success, those original recordings may wind up being worthless… if indeed fans prefer the new versions over the old.

As far as I’m concerned, good for Ms. Swift!

Anyway, indulge me for a moment while I paste a paragraph from the article I linked to above. I know its a long paragraph, but it totally fascinates me. I’ve put in bold a part I particularly liked:

The reasons to rerecord always involve dry intellectual-property distinctions, like publishing versus mechanical rights, as well as larger principles of artistic autonomy. But they also invoke questions about authenticity and originality within a creative economy of mass reproduction, questions that aesthetic philosophers have wrestled with for going on a century. The ambiguous status of the remake long predates mass media itself; consider that there are multiple “originals” of works like Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Munch’s The Scream, Duchamp’s urinal, and arguably even the Mona Lisa, likely due to a mixture of artistic and avaricious motives. Just like Swift, these artists had to deal with the frustration that once you’ve sold something you’ve made, you can’t sell it again unless you find a way to repossess or remake it. (Hell, you could say the same about all of our time and labor under capitalism.) That’s partly why artists from Warhol to Koons to Banksy, whose works dart back-and-forth across the borders of perceptual object and commodity, have been so influential. Every art market perpetually wrestles with the implicit postures and falsehoods of how it generates value. If the Swift vs. Braun feud were just starting now, might they have been able to split the difference on the album masters by rendering unto one side or the other a nice shiny non-fungible token?

As an artist, the part I put in bold really hits home.

I’ve written several novels and, to date, have tried to make each and every one of them, even my 8 part (to date) Corrosive Knights books be original to each other.

Yet I’m keenly aware that if one of those books did better -let’s say incredibly better- than the others and fans truly loved that book above all the rest, as someone who needs to make money to pay for food and rent, this might prove a big temptation to emulate the book(s) that did better.

After all, we want to be rewarded for our hard work, don’t we?

But that’s the conundrum mentioned above. As artists, you are often paid for a work and that’s that.

When I was younger, I worked in the comic book field and the work I did was “work for hire”. What that meant was that the publisher of the company paid me to do my work (usually inking work) and once I was paid, that was that.

Let’s say a book I inked proved to be incredibly popular. Let’s say it sold in the millions of copies and did so because people liked my inking.

The publisher could continue to print the book ad nauseum, and what would I be entitled to?


Oh, I grant you, if a book was that popular, the publisher would come back to me for any future work and, yes, I could demand a bigger pay.

But let’s say this particular story I inked was the one people were interested in, and no other works of mine merited even a tenth of the interest.

Again, what would I get from reprints of the work?


Because I was paid for the original work and that, folks, was that.

Which is why I realized that if I was ever going to make it in the entertainment field the way I wanted to make it, I needed to have some control over my work. This made sense to me financially and, frankly, mentally. I couldn’t stand the idea of others having control over my creative works.

The only way to do this was to move away from work for hire situations, though they might pay well, and focus on releasing things on my own but which I alone controlled.

So all the novels, one graphic novel, and one short story collection are all mine. All publication rights and any future publications will be under my control.

The good thing about this is that if (and its a BIG if) the work hits, I stand to make more from it versus doing a “work for hire” story/novel. I also decide how the works will continue. No company will make any decisions about any of the characters I spent considerable time and effort working on.

On the minus side, its solely up to me to succeed. I don’t have any big pocketed company promoting my work(s). I don’t have a big pocketed company and the goodwill it has created with readers to get them looking at me and my works.

But I want it that way.

For better or worse and unless something really big changes, that’s the only way I want to be.