Record label

Taylor Swift said no to ‘Nashville’s biggest label’ before fame

Taylor Swift certainly seems to know her worth as a musical artist. Fans of the multi-millionaire probably know how she took control of her discography by re-recording her masters. However, Swift was asserting her agency even before she was one of the most famous musicians on the planet. In fact, she left a huge record label before she got her big break.

Taylor Swift | Arturo Holmes/FilmMagic

Taylor Swift traveled to Nashville at age 11 hoping to become a singer

Swift knew from a young age that she wanted to be a famous singer. When she was just 11, she convinced her parents to come to Nashville for her spring break. She knew that many successful musicians got their start in Music City, and she felt that would be her path too. Once obliged, Swift spent the week dropping off her demo CD at various recording studios and urging them to call her because she wanted a record deal.

RCA Records offered ‘Midnights’ artist a development deal

At 14, Swift started to get some traction. His unusual marketing approach, coupled with his songwriting abilities, got him noticed by RCA. RCA, of course, is a very well-known record company. Some of their biggest artists at the time were Kelly Clarkson, Dave Matthews and Christina Aguilera. Today they represent people like Doja Cat, Usher and SZA. Naturally, Swift was thrilled when she got a call from the record company. However, they weren’t exactly offering the record deal she was hoping for.

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“I played them a few songs,” Swift shared of RCA while speaking to Deadline. “And they said they wanted me to sign a development contract. A development contract is an interim recording contract. It’s like a guy saying he wants to date you but not be your boyfriend You know, they don’t want to sign you to a real record deal or release an album about you, they want to watch your progress for a year.

Swift eventually left the mighty label

Although a development deal wasn’t exactly what she wanted, Swift was still encouraged that such a big record label was interested in her. The “hoax” singer has used the year to show them some of her skills. However, once the year passed, they still wanted to keep it in development. She therefore made the decision to cut ties with RCA.

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“They wanted to put me in the closet,” Swift explained. “Keep me in development until I’m probably about 18. So I walked away from the biggest record label in Nashville.” But Swift didn’t let the situation with RCA deter her. On the contrary, it seemed to encourage him to pursue his dream even more tenaciously. She convinced her parents to move to Nashville from Pennslyvania so she would have a better opportunity to launch her career.

How did Swift rise to fame without RCA?

Luckily, for Swift, her parents (and baby brother) were ready to move on. After settling in Tennessee, Swift decided to have a showcase at the Bluebird Café. It was there that she met Scott Borchetta, who had just left Universal Records. At the time, he was looking to start his own label (which would eventually become Big Machine Records) and wanted to offer Swift a record deal.

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“He then explained to me that he wanted to start his own new label,” Swift explained. “And he didn’t have a name for it.” He had no building for that. And he had no staff for that. But he had a dream, and would I go on board? I went with my instinct that – that just said, say yes.

While it’s clear that Borchetta tried her luck with Swift, she also tried her luck with him. Just as he helped build his career, his success helped build his record label. Perhaps that’s why there was so much disagreement when Borchetta finally sold the singer’s masters to Scooter Braun in her place.

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