Taylor Swift Said No to ‘the Biggest Record Label in Nashville’ Before Fame

Taylor Swift certainly seems to know her worth as a musical artist. Fans of the multimillionaire likely know how she’s taken 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 walked away from a huge record label before she had her big break.

Taylor Swift at the 2022 VMAs
Taylor Swift | Arturo Holmes/FilmMagic

Taylor Swift traveled to Nashville at age 11 in the hopes of becoming a singer

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

RCA Records offered the ‘Midnights’ artist a developmental deal

By age 14, Swift started receiving a bit of traction. Her unusual marketing approach, coupled with her songwriting abilities, got her noticed by RCA. RCA, of course, is a very well-known record label. 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 label. However, they weren’t exactly offering the record deal that she was hoping for.

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“I played them a few songs,” Swift shared about RCA when speaking to Dateline. “And they said that they wanted to sign me to a development deal. A development deal is an in-between record deal. It’s like, a guy saying that he wants to date you but not be your boyfriend. You know, they don’t wanna sign you to an actual record deal or put an album out on you. They wanna watch your progress for a year.”

Swift eventually walked away from the powerful record label

Though a developmental deal wasn’t exactly what she wanted, Swift was still encouraged that such a huge record label was interested in her. The “hoax” singer used the year to show them some of her skills. However, after the year passed, they still wanted to keep her in development. So, she made the decision to cut ties with RCA.

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“They wanted to shelf me,” Swift shared. “Keep me in development till I was 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. If anything, it seemed to embolden her to pursue her dream with even more tenacity. She convinced her parents to relocate to Nashville from Pennslyvania so that she had a better opportunity to launch her career.

How did Swift become famous without RCA?

Fortunately, for Swift, her parents (and little brother) were up for the move. After settling in Tennessee, Swift decided to have a showcase at Bluebird Café. It was there that she met with Scott Borchetta, who had recently left Universal Records. At the time, he was looking to start his own record 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 up his own brand new record label,” Swift shared. “And that he didn’t have a name for it. He didn’t have a building for it.  And he didn’t have a staff for it.  But he had a dream, and would I go on board? I went with my gut instinct which– which just said, say yes.”

While it’s clear that Borchetta took a chance on Swift, she also took a chance on him. Just as he helped build her career, her success helped build his record label. Perhaps that’s why there was so much bad blood when Borchetta eventually sold the singer’s masters to Scooter Braun instead of her.

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