How Female Music Artists are Finding Power in Re-Recording Their Work

By Yasmin Donald (She/her)

With the rise of social media, the music industry has become somewhat over-saturated thanks to the simple fact that anyone can use a platform to put their music out there. As a result, established artists have found that they need to use whatever methods they can to strengthen fan loyalty and remain relevant to their audiences.

Some artists team up with other singers (Elton John and Dua Lipa), some have branched out into other genres (Ed Sheeran with hip-hop song ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’), and some produce Tik Toks showcasing their song-writing abilities (Charlie Puth with ‘No Drama’). One of the most popular methods of rallying fans together and attracting new ones, however, is by re-recording your own songs. While, on the forefront, this appears to be just another marketing technique, re-recording music can actually be really powerful, particularly for female artists.

This year, Scottish singer Amy Macdonald re-recorded her 2010 record ‘Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over’ and two other singles. Speaking on the song’s meaning back in 2010, she told “As with all of the songs I have tried to come up with a meaning for it, but the way I look at it now is that it’s a song about doing something because you want to, and not because you think you have to.”

Now, in 2022, the song has “insistent melodies and far more bite”, according to total entertainment. By deciding to give her songs, to borrow her words, “a new lease of life”, she is able to project her message of following your own moral compass to a new generation of listeners. By releasing her song on the 8th of July, in the wake of the overturn of Roe vs Wade, the song certainly takes on a powerful new meaning for female listeners in particular.

Joni Mitchell’s re-recording of ‘Both Sides Now’ on her 2000 album of the same name is empowering not because of the song’s content per se, but because of what she does with it. Referring to the album as “a romantic journey,” Mitchell explained to The Los Angeles Times in a February 2000 interview: “It’s the one we’ve all been on. First, you are smitten, which is the first song ‘You’re My Thrill’, which was a Billie Holiday recording. Then you go through facets of pleading and making concessions along the way, then the romantic love goes away, and the album ends with ‘Both Sides Now’, which says you don’t know love at all.”

In this sense, Mitchell places experience at the crux of the album thematically and vocally. Mitchell was only 23 when she first wrote ‘Both Sides Now,’ and although some people have little appreciation for her songwriting, critic Nigel Williamson notes how 31 years later people still recognize the influence of her ‘mature voice.’

By re-recording, Mitchell defies society’s attempts to make women fit into what Deborah Jermyn calls a “youth-centred popular music culture” in her book, Female Celebrity and Ageing: Back in the Spotlight. Mitchell’s re-recording rejects the industry’s notion that the female voice (an extension of the female body) has to be a certain age to be worthy of our attention, and, in turn, empowers women who feel like their bodies have been rejected by society. 

Taylor Swift’s battle over ownership of her music is perhaps one of the most significant examples of how the process of re-recording can be a powerful act. Back in 2005, 14-year-old Taylor Swift signed over the ownership of the masters to her first six albums and received a cash advance. Fast-forward to 2019, Swift’s label Big Machine Records sold her 6 albums to music businessman Scooter Braun. In a Tumblr post, Swift claimed that Braun had “stripped her of her life’s work” and referred to his “incessant, manipulative bullying.”

Taylor Swift is now with Universal Music Group and Republic Records, and has four albums left to re-record. According to ITV, by creating new master versions of her old tracks, she will now ‘profit from them’ when played through Spotify or Apple Music. Therefore, through re-recording, Taylor Swift not only demonstrates how you can regain power when your artistic talents are being taken advantage of, but she also illustrates a female triumph over what could be considered an oppressive male force.

While re-recording can be used to adapt to the ever-growing music industry, it is, more importantly, a powerful action that can be used by female artists, whether that be for the purpose of reinforcing a message applicable to a female listener, rejecting society’s expectations of women, or simply retaliating against male authority.

In a society that is still very much patriarchal at its core, women need to have as many tools at their disposal as possible.