We knew that Taylor Swift’s plan to re-record her back catalog was going to work. But no one could have predicted what she’s managed to pull off over the past two weeks.
Swift’s first re-record, “Love Story (Taylor’s Version),” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s leading country chart, Hot Country Songs. Swift is only the second artist in history to top that chart with a new version of a previously released song, and the numbers that got her there are staggering. Billboard reports that from its release on February 12 through February 18, “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” netted 13.7 million streams in the U.S. The original version netted just 3.4 million. Over that same period, “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” sold 25,000 paid downloads. The original version sold just 700.
When Swift started this project, industry experts predicted her original recordings would outperform her new ones in streams and sales. Casual listeners would go with what they know, the thinking went, while a small group of hardcore fans would choose to listen to the new versions in a gesture of support. These experts thought Swift would mostly make money from her re-records through sync licensing: Charging one-time fees to those who want to use her songs in movies, TV shows, advertisements, and other media. By owning both the master rights and the publishing rights to her back catalog, Swift would gain unilateral control over how that music is licensed, and pocket all the cash it generates through sync deals. (Judging from what she’s said in interviews, along with the fact that “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” has already appeared in a Match.com ad, sync licensing appeared to be a major part of her endgame.)
What those experts didn’t anticipate, however, was that Swift would be able to manufacture a No. 1 hit out of a song the world has been listening to for 13 years. If she can do that consistently, the amount of money she stands to make is unthinkable. And all of it—both on the master side and the publishing side—will go directly to her.
Part of the reason “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” has been so successful is that it’s almost a carbon copy of the original. While Swift’s voice has matured, to the average listener, the two tracks are basically identical. Fans don’t have to choose between listening to the “real” version, whose every note they’ve memorized, and the “other” version, which deviates (even if only slightly) from what they know and love. Swift has made the choice much simpler: Either listen to the version she wants you to—which also conveniently appears right at the top of her Spotify page—or listen to the one she doesn’t. The numbers seem to show listeners are opting for the former, signaling that—as long as she keeps replicating her old songs note-for-note—folks will continue to choose her re-records going forward.
Additionally, her re-recorded version of “Love Story” has almost certainly gotten a boost from her most loyal fans—something she’ll be able to count on every time she puts out new versions of her old songs. It’s safe to say “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” didn’t rack up all of its 13.7 million streams in the U.S. from 13.7 million individual people with a passing interest in Swift’s music, each of whom listened to the song once. Instead, rabidly devoted fans streaming the song several times—if not on repeat— probably had a big hand in pushing that number up so high. And those passionate fans likely account for most of the paid downloads of “Love Story (Taylor’s Version),” too. In an era when most people access music by streaming it, who else but hardcore Swifties would go out of their way to buy the song?
Swift’s first full re-recorded album, Fearless (Taylor’s Version), is expected to come out in April. If it performs nearly as well as its lead single, Swift will have accomplished something unprecedented: turning one set of songs into two hit records. And she’ll have set herself up to do the same thing five more times, with the release of re-recorded versions of her self-titled LP, Speak Now, Red, 1989, and Reputation.
At this point, Swift isn’t just reclaiming ownership of her old music from Scooter Braun, though that alone is quite a feat. She’s building herself a money machine.
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