Artists Rerecording Past Work – Reclaiming What Is Rightfully Theirs

By Jessica Keilitz

When asked about rerecording in the music industry, singer, songwriter, and producer Amy Peters stated that she thinks “it is an amazing way for artists to reclaim ownership of what is rightfully theirs” and that she is “excited to see artists taking steps to own their work wherever they can.”

For artists, being in the music industry can be an amazing way of getting their work out there, helping other people, and making a livable wage. Unfortunately, one of the potential negative aspects of being a part of the music industry for artists is not owning their own work. If artists do not own their own work, this makes it extremely possible for the record label to license out the artists’ song and receive all of the royalties for it, instead of the artists collecting their rightfully earned money for it. If artists cannot negotiate with their record label to own their own work, something that they can do is rerecord their unowned work to make it rightfully theirs.

The “Taylor’s Version” Era

Although an artist may choose to rerecord their work if they simply do not resonate with it anymore, feel that they can make it better if they record it again with more mature vocals, or because they may want to go about it with a different creative strategy, it is more common for artists to rerecord their work for legal reasons. In recent years, Taylor Swift decided to do just that. In 2019, Swift revealed that her previous record label had sold all her music without allowing her the chance to buy it. In a 2021 interview with Seth Myers, Swift stated, “There was something that happened a few years ago where I made it very clear that I wanted to be able to buy my own music. That opportunity was not given to me, and it was sold to somebody else. […] I was the one to make the music first, I can just make it again.” Because she owned the composition of her music but not the masters, the only way to own her work was to go rerecord her first six albums under the “(Taylor’s Version)” trademark [1].

Since then, Swift has rereleased four of her six albums she plans to rerecord, and has seen more success than any previous artist who has put out rerecordings of their work. This may be partly because with every album she rereleases, she also releases several “vault” tracks, which are unreleased songs that were written for the original album that did not end up making it on the album.

One detail about Swift’s contract that many were assuming was true was that she would have to make every song sound slightly different in order for it to be legal. This would be due to the original production clause that Big Machine Records, her old record label, had that prohibited artists from rerecording a song that sounded too similar to the original [11]. Although that may be true, it does not seem like it is because many of Swift’s rerecordings sound almost identical to the original besides her older, more matured voice. Some of her songs, however, do sound very different. In the 2021 interview with Seth Myers, Swift also stated that “this time around, I get to do things that I know [the fans] wish I would have done the first time.” This applies to how the songs individually sound, which songs were singles, and which songs got a music video.

Although all of Swift’s rerecordings so far have seen major success, it was her most recent rerecording, ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version),’ that outdid the original in terms of numbers [4]. The original ‘1989’ album made a total of 1,287,000 sales in the United States, which was already the biggest start for any album in more than a decade [6]. Her rerecorded ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ received a whopping 1,653,000 sales in the United States – the biggest opening sales week of Swift’s career [6].

The History of Rerecording

The history of artists rerecording their art goes back to the late 1960s when Chuck Berry remade his hits, changing the tempo and the way he recorded them [2]. Since then, many artists have rerecorded their work, for many reasons. In 2012, Def Leppard decided to rerecord a few of their biggest hits, “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Hysteria,” and “Rock of Ages,” because they felt that they were receiving unfair compensation from their record label [7]. In fact, it was essentially the exact same situation as Taylor Swift, that Def Leppard did not own the masters to their songs, but the composition.

In 2023, Demi Lovato revealed that she would be rerecording ten of her biggest hits throughout her career, remaking them to have more of a rock sound and a different production than they originally had, and releasing them in an album titled, ‘REVAMPED.’ When talking about the album, Lovato stated that she “wanted to pay homage to the songs that resonated the most with fans and played a big role in [her] career by breathing an exciting new life into them’ [8]. The fact that historically, artists typically chose to only rerecord their biggest hits makes Taylor Swift’s decision to rerecord her first six albums even more impressive.

The Financial Aspects of Rerecording

Although rerecording music has always been around and is seemingly becoming increasingly popular as the years go on, one may question if it is the best financial decision, especially if the only reason the artist is doing it is for creative purposes. Rerecording many songs, or in Taylor Swift’s case, multiple albums, can cost millions of dollars, which very likely is not worth it for many artists [3]. For someone like Taylor Swift, chances are she did not hesitate about the cost of her decision because she either chose to do it, or to not own the past 10 years of music that she had written. Using Demi Lovato for example, she had no obvious reason to go back and redo her old songs other than just wanting to revamp them to fit her current sound, so the financial aspect of that decision most likely weighed heavier on her.

Record Labels Retaliating

An important aspect to note of the Taylor Swift rerecording era that is currently going on is what record labels are doing to try to avoid artists doing the same as her. Before Swift announced she was rerecording her albums, the standard amount of time an artist would have to wait before rerecording anything was five years [1]. Now, record companies are changing that rule to make it even longer amount of time. Universal Music Group has effectively doubled the amount of time that contracts limit an artist from rerecording their work [5]. This is a smart decision financially on the record companies’ side; however, this could prevent artists, especially smaller artists without the power to negotiate, from owning the work that is usually rightfully theirs to own. When asked if he agrees, award-winning songwriter and producer, Michael Ahern stated that he sort of does, and said that he “can see it from both sides” and that “it is a tough situation for both parties, the artist and the record label to navigate,” also stating that “hopefully they can come to an agreement that suits both sides the best.” He has produced music of his own and knows how difficult it can be to figure out the best agreement when it comes to a record deal. Record labels make substantial investments in their artists, and it is in their best interest to prevent them from rerecording sooner because it minimizes any risk involved with that. Some may argue that the record labels should come to a different kind of agreement, one that allows the artist to rerecord what is rightfully their music, whenever they choose if they are unhappy with the situation with the label.

Record labels are legally binding and prevents their artists from recording with any other record label without permission, which usually does not get granted. It also prevents them from leaving the contract if they are not content with their experience [9]. Record labels can also make decisions on behalf of the artist without the artist’s permission, which is something that it is in the contract that the artists agree to. It is extremely difficult for an artist to get out of their contract if they want to, as both the artist and the record label must agree to it. Usually, the only ways a contract may be invalid are if the artist was under the age of consent when they signed, if they were under duress, if they were mentally incapacitated, or if they were lied to to get them to sign [10]. The decision of which record company to sign to can be a daunting task for artists since some may encourage them to be more independent and own their work, but some may be more controlling and limit a lot of what the artist can do or say. Best case scenario, record labels can be very beneficial for an artist to have. They can offer financial support and allow smaller artists to start with a company that has a reputable brand. They also are able to market their artists and distribute their artists, typically on a much bigger scale than the artist could do alone.

Swift Advocating for Smaller Artists

Although record labels are unfortunately making it harder for artists to reclaim their work, mainly because of Taylor Swift, she has been an advocate for smaller artists since. From the moment Swift found out her masters were being sold, she has been strongly urging younger artists to better protect themselves in a negotiation in order to hopefully not go through what she, and many other artists, have had to go through. In her announcement online in 2021 of her first rerecording “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” she stated that artists should own their work “for so many reasons, but the most screamingly obvious one is that the artist is the only one who really *knows* that body of work.” When asked about this topic, sound engineer and musician Russell Head shared his opinions, stating that, “younger artists tend to not have enough people supporting them and backing them, especially when they are pressured to make significant financial decisions by themselves.”

What Now?

The fight for artists to own their work is still ongoing, and most likely will be for a long time to come. Taylor Swift still has two more albums to rerelease: her very first album, simply titled ‘Taylor Swift,’ and her sixth album, ‘Reputation,’ which was the last album Swift made with her old record label. When asked about if she would rerecord her past work, with all the financial struggles in mind, Amy Peters stated that “writing songs is such a personal craft” and “if the right opportunity arose, I would definitely revisit any of my past work.” She has taken off a few of her older songs on all streaming services because “they felt were a departure from [her] current brand.”


  1.             Gardner, Eriq. “Taylor vs. Scooter and the Imminent Rerecording War: In the streaming age, ‘boilerplate’ provisions may be outdated for artists who reclaim songs: ‘I see broader blanket prohibitions coming’.” Hollywood Reporter, vol. 425, no. 38, 20 Nov. 2019, p. 24. Gale Business: Insights Accessed 25 Apr. 2024.
  2.             Halperin, Shirley, and Eriq Gardner. “Def Leppard’s digital revenge: like Squeeze and ELO’s Jeff Lynne, the ’80s mega band is rerecording its hits to sell online–infuriating its label in the process.” Hollywood Reporter, vol. 418, no. 27, 10 Aug. 2012, p. 22. Gale Business: Insights Accessed 25 Apr. 2024.
  3.             Kaufman, G., & Knopper, “DOES RERECORDING PAY?” Billboard, vol. 131(18), 2019, pp. 39–39. Accessed 25 Apr. 2024.
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  8.             Crucial Rhythm. (2023, September 15). News: Demi Lovato releases her Rock Album “revamped.”
  9.             Salmon, R. (2024, February 1). Recording Contracts Explained. Sound On Sound.
  10.             Is it possible to break free from a record deal?. Ford & Friedman. (n.d.).
  11.             Louise-Smith, K., & Smith, K. L. (2023, November 1). Here’s why Taylor Swift’s re-recordings don’t sound identical to the original. Capital.