Re-recording (music)

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

A re-recording is a recording produced following a new performance of a work of music. This is most commonly, but not exclusively, by a popular artist or group. It differs from a reissue, which involves a second or subsequent release of a previously-recorded piece of music.

Re-recordings are often produced decades after the original recordings were released, usually under contract terms more favorable to the artists. This is especially common among acts who originally agreed to contracts that would be considered unfair and exploitative today.[1] When re-recordings are issued under newer contracts, artists can collect far higher royalties for use in films, commercials, and movie trailers.[1] Other artists re-record their work for artistic reasons. Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra released a solo best-of album with new versions of previous hits like "Mr. Blue Sky", the original of which Lynne described as "[not] quite how I meant it".[2] Some artists, such as Def Leppard and Taylor Swift, re-recorded their music because of disputes with their labels; Swift's re-recordings have become massive successes, both critically and commercially.[3]

Re-recordings commonly appear in online music stores and streaming services, such as the iTunes Store and Spotify.[1]

Recording contracts[edit]

Recording contracts are a way in which the ownership of sound recordings can be legally recognised.[4] Recording contracts are often between an artist and a record label and stipulate terms relating to royalties, performance rights and recording costs.[4] The motivation behind the re-recording of music is often associated with the legal ownership of the music and how that ownership can bring financial gains to an artist, especially if initial contract terms are financially unfavourable.[4] Different types of recording contracts exist, and a newer model that focuses on paying the artist a prolonged salary for limited ownership of their music is becoming favourable with high profile artists such as Madonna.[5] This new model is often seen as fairer to artists, especially financially. The internet has also given artists more power in negotiating fairer recording contracts, or even self-publishing music directly onto streaming platforms. An element of risk associated with record labels and up-and-coming artists is offered as an explanation for why record contracts can often be seen as unfavourable but necessary to avoid financial losses over time.[4] Recording contracts are a fundamental part of the music industry and recording music, especially for commercial purposes. They serve as a way for artists to negotiate ownership of their music and for profits to be made and leveraged.

Even though recording contracts are between an artist and the record label, they often involve the ownership of rights to specific recordings of music, as is the case with Taylor Swift.[6] Swift signed with her first record label, Big Machine Records, in 2005, when she was not even considered an adult, and released six albums under that contract.[6] Her record contract expired in 2018 and she signed with a new record label, UMG.[6] Big Machine Records was sold one year later and Swift’s master recordings for her first six albums followed the sale, leading Swift to re-record those albums.[6] A similar record label contractual dispute is evident with Prince.[7] He was unable to own his master recordings, so he went so far as to change his name to a symbol and tried to release music under that in hopes that he would own the master recordings for those albums if his name was not Prince.[7] This did not work but in 2014 the record label gave Prince back his master recordings after he held a public campaign shaming them.[7] Prince was also one of the first artists to utilise the internet as a way to release music without the involvement of record labels.[7] In using the internet as a way of controlling the release of his music, Prince acted as inspiration for other artists to think about how they want to release their music, particularly in the face of contractual battles, even extending to re-recording of music.[7]

Music copyright[edit]

Music copyright refers to protecting a recorded piece of music so that it cannot be reproduced or used without permission of the artist or copyright holder.[8] Unlike copyright for films, music copyright focuses on the author of the piece of music and the sound within the music, not moving images.[8] This means that another individual or machine can reproduce a piece of music without causing copyright infringement, as long as the original recording is not used.[8] This is particularly relevant to re-recording of music as it allows artists to record the same song later as a newer version or a special edition and own that independently.

As the internet has evolved, copyright in music has been put at risk and forced to adapt. The digital landscape has changed the way in which music is shared and for what price, leading to music piracy threatening the legitimacy and control that copyright holders have over their music. Piracy has enabled the sharing of music with the click of a button for no monetary value.[8] This has forced copyright laws to adapt to circumstances such as piracy to protect an artist’s intellectual property.[8] Music copyright can provide an artist with freedom to license and re-record music but is constantly open to vulnerabilities from evolving technology.

Notable examples[edit]

Stereo re-recordings[edit]

Stereo or hi-fi recordings gained immense popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with mono recordings gradually being completely phased out by record companies by the end of the 1960s. With recordings having been made and issued in single-channel mono up to that point, some artists re-recorded some of their most famous songs so they would be available for purchase in the new stereo format. Sometimes these artists re-recorded their material for the same label, as with June Christy, whose 1955 album Something Cool was entirely re-recorded in stereo for Capitol in 1960, or Ray Conniff, who in 1969 re-recorded a stereo version of "S'Wonderful", a song he had recorded for Columbia in mono in 1956. As well in the late 1950s, a number of dance bands (including the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and others) issued stereo re-recordings of their best-known songs for a range of different labels.

Perhaps the most commercially successful stereo re-recording was Tommy Edwards' "It's All In The Game". Edwards' original (mono) 1951 version reached No. 18 on the Billboard Records Most Played by Disk Jockeys survey dated September 15, 1951.[9] By 1958, Edwards had only one session left on his MGM contract, and it was decided to cut a stereo version of "It's All in the Game" to have a stereo master available of the artist's most well-remembered recording. The re-recorded performance was issued as a single in July 1958 and became a hit, reaching number one for six weeks beginning September 29, 1958, making Edwards the first African-American to chart at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In November, the song hit No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart.[10]

The Everly Brothers[edit]

In 1960, The Everly Brothers left Cadence Records, where they had recorded a string of hits from 1957 to 1960. One of their earliest actions for their new label, Warner Brothers, was to re-record new versions of their most popular Cadence songs. The new versions of their Cadence songs were joined with their first hits on the WB label to form a new "Greatest Hits" album issued on WB.[11] In re-recording their music, The Everly Brothers set a precedent that is still widely used in recording contracts today.

Taylor Swift[edit]

A notable example of a musician re-recording their music is American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. When Swift originally signed to her prior record label, Big Machine, in 2005, she forfeited the ownership of her master recordings.[12] Swift was a teenager when she signed away the ownership of those recordings, and has since expressed feelings of resentment and frustration as she feels her music should belong to her.[12] Swift was advised by her lawyers that she could start the process of re-recording her old albums and release them as newer versions, after her contract with Big Machine expired in 2018. Following American businessman Scooter Braun's purchase of Big Machine (and the ownership of the masters along with it) after Swift moved to Republic Records, she announced that she would re-record her first six studio albums.[12] This coincided with the release of her seventh studio album, Lover (2019), the first she owns the masters of.[12] Swift has been an advocate for artists to own their music and be aware of contractual terms that are unfavorable towards them, based on her own experiences. Her dispute with Big Machine and Braun was highly publicized and triggered an industry discourse on ethics, musicians' rights, and intellectual property.[12]

In April 2021, Swift released her first re-recorded album, Fearless (Taylor's Version), a re-recording of her second album Fearless (2008). It became the first re-recorded album ever to debut atop of the Billboard 200.[13] As her prior recordings have been sold off to Braun, the re-recordings could potentially devalue the sales of the prior recordings.[14] Upon the release of the re-recordings, Swift has been applauded in the media for her inventive way of tackling a delicate contractual issue, and for the quality of the new recordings.[14] Swift is a current example of a high-profile musician involved in re-recording music and spreading awareness about music contracts and their terms. Commenting on her re-recording venture, Swift said that feels passionately about obtaining full ownership of her music and has said that in re-recording Fearless, she had such an emotional experience that it sparked her desire to re-record all the albums she had previously released prior to Lover.[15] Swift also stated that re-recording her prior albums enabled her to give fans a broader experience of her original intentions for those albums, and that she would include a number of songs that were written for the original albums but ultimately left out of the final track list, so that fans could know the full meaning and intentions of the records.[15] These previously unreleased tracks included in Fearless (Taylor's Version) and noted as "From the Vault" comprise "You All Over Me", "Mr. Perfectly Fine", "We Were Happy", "That’s When", "Don’t You", and "Bye Bye Baby",[16] featuring artists such as Keith Urban and Maren Morris.[16]

The album was followed by Red (Taylor's Version), a re-recording of her fourth album Red (2012), on November 12, 2021.[17] It features all 30 tracks Swift had written for the original album;[18] these include the charity single "Ronan", her recordings of Little Big Town's "Better Man" and Sugarland's "Babe", the 10-minute version of "All Too Well", and six other new tracks.[19][20] On September 17, 2021, and May 6, 2022, Swift released re-recordings of "Wildest Dreams" and "This Love", respectively; the two were previously featured on her fifth studio album 1989 (2014).[21][22] On March 17, 2023, ahead of her sixth concert tour, the Eras Tour, Swift released re-recordings of "If This Was a Movie", a deluxe track from her third studio album Speak Now (2010), and "Eyes Open" and "Safe & Sound", both of which she wrote for The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond (2012) soundtrack.[23]

Two further re-recorded albums were announced during the Eras Tour: Speak Now (Taylor's Version), which was released on July 7, 2023,[24] and 1989 (Taylor's Version), which was released on October 27, 2023.[25]

Def Leppard[edit]

Def Leppard believed they were not receiving adequate remuneration for the digital versions of their albums and songs, and they also believed that an artist should receive the same amount of royalties from digital copies that they receive from physical copies of CDs and vinyl records sold.[26] The band states they have paid back the money owed to their record label UMG and that modifications made to their recording contract over the years have given them the unique position of being able to control via an approval process the way in which their music is sold and distributed.[26]

The band feels as though they have not been treated fairly by their record label, so in a move to reassert their power they have decided to re-record their popular hits and release them digitally so as to provide themselves with a fair share of the profits compared to what their record label was willing to offer them in negotiations.[26] The band referred to these re-recordings as “forgeries” and the first to be released were two of their most popular songs “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Rock of Ages”, which they re-recorded in their own home studio. These songs made over $40,000 for the band from online sales alone and the option of use in advertising, television and movies is listed as a possibility for the band to further capitalise on the re-recorded material.[26]

Further examples[edit]

Re-recording and historical preservation[edit]

Re-recording of music is useful in understanding how sounds and recordings from the past have influenced history and can also be a way to preserve history. Early sound recordings can be traced back to 1888 in England, highlighting the historical trajectory of recordings and scope available for preservation.[47] Due to the fragile nature of sound recordings, especially in the past on vinyl and tapes, historical artefacts have been lost including voice recordings of Emperor Franz Josef.[47] Re-recording of music can help in aiding the reproduction of lost voice recordings and music, with many universities using the latest technology to try and preserve history from remnants that are left.[47] Technological advances have enabled sound specialists to draw larger quantities of sounds from old recordings as time passes, making it possible for sounds to be heard that have never been heard before.[47] Recordings from the past can also be improved thanks to re-recording of music, allowing sound specialists the chance to reduce background noise or noise from older style microphones to enable clearer understanding of speech and tone, providing greater understanding and meaning to the recordings.[47] The process of re-recording is therefore attributed to enabling the historic preservation of the past in sound form for future generations to study. This is useful not only in a historical context, but additionally for law enforcement and legal fields where evidence is needed.

The Library of Congress in the United States is an example of an institution that is working to ensure that sound recordings, such as those with historical significance such as Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech are preserved for generations to listen to in the future.[48] A department is in place at the library dedicated to the historical preservation of audio recordings and it has been working for decades.[48] However, a problem that historians at the library cite is that often these recordings can be very old, and it is time critical that they be preserved before they are lost due to heat exposure or breakage from not being handled properly.[48] The library is able to get past these problems and preserve them for future generations by digitising their collection, which preserves the audio if the original is lost and it allows for wider accessibility of the audio.[48] The library is acquiring around 50,000 to 100,000 new audio sources for preservation from the general public each calendar year whilst it is only able to preserve and upload to the digital collection around 15,000 per year. The library staff are having to make sure that the rest are placed in environments that are able to conserve and slow down the deterioration of the original audio sources until they can digitise them, however many have been lost such as historical radio recordings that were dubbed an important piece of society's "sociocultural heritage".[48]


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