Re-recording (music)

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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 that 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 acts 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 Taylor Swift and Def Leppard, re-recorded their music because of disputes with their labels.[3] In Swift's case, it was a consequence of a dispute with her former record label, Big Machine Records.

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

Re-recording (music)

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 being fairer to artists, especially financially. The internet has also given artists more power in which to negotiate fairer recording contracts, or even self-publish music directly onto streaming platforms. An element of risk is associated with record labels and up and coming artists, this is offered as an explanation as to why record contracts can often be looked at as unfavourable but necessary as 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 can often involve the ownership of rights to specific recordings of music, such 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 over five albums whilst under that contract.[6] Her record contract expired in 2018 and she signed with a new record label, UMG.[6] Her prior label, Big Machine Records was sold one year later and her master recordings for her first six albums followed the sale, leading Swift to re-record her albums.[6] A similar record label contractual dispute is evident with Prince.[7] He was unable to own his master recordings, so he went as 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, however 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 utilising 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 protection in relation to a recorded piece of music so that it cannot be reproduced or used without the artist or copyright holder’s permission.[8] Unlike copyright for films, music copyright is different as it 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 in relation to re-recording of music as it allows artists to record the same song at a later date as a newer or special edition version and own that version independently.

As the internet has evolved, copyright in relation to music has been put at risk and has been 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] Due to this, copyright laws have been forced to adapt to circumstances such as piracy to protect an artist’s intellectual property.[8] Music copyright can provide an artist with freedom in relation to licensing and re-recording of music but is also constantly open to vulnerabilities from evolving technology.

Notable examples[edit]

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 recordings.[9] Swift was a teenager when she signed away the ownership over the masters of her recordings, and has since expressed feelings of resentment and frustration as she feels her music should belong to her.[9] Swift was advised by her lawyers that she could start the process of re-recording her old albums and release them as newer versions as she is no longer affiliated with her prior label. Following American businessman Scooter Braun's purchase of Big Machine (along with it the ownership of the masters) after Swift moved to Republic Records, she announced she will re-record her first six studio albums.[9] This coincided with the release of her seventh studio album, Lover, the first album she owns the masters of.[9] Swift has also been an advocate for artists to own their own music and to be aware of contractual terms that are unfavorable towards them, based on her own experiences. Her battle with Big Machine and Braun was highly publicized and triggered an industry discourse on ethics, musicians' rights, and intellectual property.[9]

In 2021, Swift released her first re-recorded album, Fearless (Taylor's Version), a re-release of the second album Fearless.[10] It became the first re-recorded album ever to peak atop the Billboard 200, debuting at number 1.[11] As her prior recordings have been sold by her prior record label, these new recordings could potentially devalue the sale and the prior recordings.[10] 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.[10] Swift is a current example of a high-profile musician who is participating in re-recording of music and spreading awareness about music contracts and their terms. Swift feels passionately about obtaining full ownership of her music, and she has stated that in re-recording her album Fearless she had such an emotional experience that it made her want to re-record all the albums that she has released.[12] Swift has also stated that in re-recording and re-releasing her prior albums she is able to give fans a broader experience when it comes to what her true intentions were in the first place in relation to the albums. She says that when she initially released the album Fearless, she held certain songs back because they were not appropriate, but whilst re-recording, she changed her mind and decided to release a number of un-released tracks so that fans could know the full meaning and intentions behind the album.[12] These previously unreleased tracks included on Fearless (Taylor's Version) include “You All Over Me", “Mr. Perfectly Fine”, “We Were Happy”, “That’s When”, “Don’t You” and “Bye Bye Baby”.[13] These unreleased tracks also included feature artists such as Keith Urban and Maren Morris.[13]

Def Leppard[edit]

Another example of an artist re-recording their prior music is Def Leppard.[14] Def Leppard believed they were not receiving adequate financial reimbursement for the digital versions of their albums and songs and the band 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. The band states that they have paid back the money owed to their record label UMG and that over the years modifications to their recording contract has given them the unique position of being able to control via an approval process the way in which their music is sold and distributed.[14]

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 as to provide themselves with a fair share of the profits compared to what their record label was willing to offer them in negotiations.[14] 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. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Rock of Ages” 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.[14]

The Everly Brothers[edit]

One of the first bands to re-record their music was The Everly Brothers, this took place in 1960 when they re-recorded an album of their most popular songs for the new label they were signing to, Warner Brothers.[15] In re-recording their music, The Everly Brothers set a precedent that is still widely used in recording contracts today, that an artist may not re-record their own music for up to five years when the masters are first recorded or three years after the contract with the artist comes to an end.[15]

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.[23] 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 .[23] 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.[23] 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.[23] 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.[23] 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.[24] A department is in place at the library dedicated to the historical preservation of audio recordings and it has been working for decades.[24] 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.[24] 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.[24] 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”.[24]


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