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- American singer-songwriter
Taylor Swift and I both come from Pennsylvania. We both love melody and lyrics, we both love Patty Griffin and Bruce Springsteen, and we both think Kanye West is an incredible, but really annoying, artist. And we both make up songs and sing them for a living. That’s about as much as we share in common. Other than that, we have led vastly different lives.
Taylor had a publishing deal and a record contract by the time she was 15. I graduated high school, worked construction and then roadied for two legendary punk rock bands, The Bouncing Souls and Sick Of It All, in my early 20s.
When I was 26, I started my own punk rock band, called The Loved Ones, and released two albums on an independent record label. I went on to start a solo career as a singer-songwriter in 2011, and I’ve released five solo albums, three of which I co-wrote with my younger brother, Tim. All of them have charted modestly on Billboard and recouped their initial investment, and then some, from the labels who put them out.
Taylor Swift has released nine chart-topping, genre-blending, expertly crafted albums, collaborating with some of the most successful artists in the history of pop music and selling more than 100 million records. All of this by the time she turned 31. She’s a household name who has made hundreds of millions of dollars.
My last name, Hause, rhymes with pause. The closest I’ve gotten to being a household name is when my last name gets mispronounced as “house” instead of the way my family says it. I make a modest living playing music to a dedicated and slowly growing fan base, and I rent a house in California with my wife and our twin 2-year-olds.
The other major difference between Taylor Swift and me? She is infinitely more punk rock than I am.
Sure, my band The Loved Ones had a punk sound. We put our records out on a label owned by a guy who nicknamed himself “Fat Mike” and fancies himself the king of the punk rockers. I have released all of my solo records on a record label associated with the “punk” scene and opened for some of the best punk rock bands of all time.
With Taylor, I’m talking about punk ethics, what punk is really about.
It’s not the way she looks or sounds, but the ethic of always doing exactly what you want to do creatively, and when the powers that be try to take your art away from you, fighting back with all of the fire and ferocity you can muster. Taking it to “the man.” That’s punk.
Who owns yours masters?
Record deals for most artists are inherently exploitative, especially once an artists succeeds in reaching an audience. The audience buys, streams and otherwise devours the music the artist created, which pays back not only the loan the artist took from the record label to record the album but also all of the costs associated with manufacturing and promoting the record. Then that company reaps the lion’s share of all of the proceeds, usually “in perpetuity” (also known as forever). For instance, that “punk rocker” that put out my first band’s records? You guessed it. He owns the master recordings for those records in perpetuity. Forever. Through that lens, he’s less the king of the punks and more of just a good old-fashioned business guy. He gave us a bad loan, one that he can make money on forever. Generally speaking, the same thing happened to Taylor.
Her (inherently exploitative) record deal excluded her from being able to buy her own masters back without renewing the contract – masters she worked so hard to build and promote. What’s more, the label sold her catalog to a known enemy of Taylor’s. Bad form.
So when she decided to rerecord her entire back catalog – which would give her ownership rights over her own masters – it struck me as about the most punk rock thing I’ve ever seen an artist do in the music business.
Now, again, she and I have led vastly different lives – I’d love to have one of my records do commercially what her weakest album did. If I found myself in her position with this label, I’m pretty sure I would just chalk this situation up to a loss and just decide to move on with an already successful and busy life.
Some of the most revered and successful artists in rock-and-roll history have had bitter battles with their record labels: Prince changed his name to a damn symbol just to try to fight their power over his work. But not Taylor Swift. She is going back through her old work and painstakingly rerecording it. She’s singing all of those lyrics she wrote during different highs and lows of her life, honoring the old work that fans hold dear while even improving on the old work.
She's then using her enormous influence to go out and promote what she’s doing so that her fan base gets the message, and then with open arms, supports these new recordings. She isn’t doing it for the money – she doesn’t need it. It’s about the principle. She’s doing it so that she can own her intellectual property, so that she can say who gets to use it and how, so that she doesn’t get exploited any more by people who only see it as “content” that they can make a mint off of.
How fierce is that? How punk rock? More than I am, that’s for sure. So thanks, Taylor, for all of the incredible songs. And thanks for advocating for yourself and, by extension, all of us who create – by doing the most punk rock thing I’ve ever seen someone do in the music industry.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I may have some rerecording to do …
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Taylor Swift 'All Too Well': Rerecording to own her masters is so punk