In 2021, Taylor Swift began releasing rerecordings of her back catalog to regain control of her music.
iHeartMedia promised fans it would only play "Taylor's Version" of songs once they were available.
An analysis of data from six iHeart stations shows that the company broke that promise.
Two years ago, America's biggest radio network made a commitment to America's biggest pop star.
iHeartMedia, which owns 850 radio stations nationwide, promised Taylor Swift and her legions of fans that its stations would only play the newly recorded "Taylor's Version" of her old songs.
"Whenever Taylor re-records a new track, we immediately replace the old versions," Tom Poleman, the company's chief programming officer, said in a statement in November 2021. "Listeners have made it known that they cannot wait to hear Taylor's Version of each track."
Swift began releasing rerecordings of her back catalog in 2021 to regain control of her music after a bitter dispute with her previous label, Big Machine Records.
"It's so heartwarming to me," she said of iHeart's pledge in a 2022 interview. "This is something I care about that I don't expect other people to care about."
But iHeart has repeatedly broken that promise, a Business Insider review of radio airplay data found. According to data from six iHeart stations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, iHeart has played the original version of a Taylor Swift song when a rerecorded version was available at least 626 times since she started rereleasing her old albums, and 507 times since iHeart announced its Taylor's Version-only policy.
iHeart's commitment to play only Taylor's Versions wavered over time. Immediately after its announcement in November 2021, the iHeart stations BI looked at rarely played an original version of a song when a Taylor's Version was available. However, in the two months after the most recent rerecorded album — "1989 (Taylor's Version)" — was released in October 2023, iHeart played original versions of Swift's songs an average of three times a day on the six stations BI looked at.
The six stations BI examined are part of the largest markets in the country, but they're merely a fraction of iHeart's empire. iHeart has more than 100 Top 40 and pop stations in its portfolio. It also owns stations in other genres, like adult contemporary, that often play Swift songs. This means the true number of non-Taylor's Version of songs played by iHeart stations is likely much higher.
When BI described its findings, iHeartMedia said it would take steps across its entire network to make sure erroneous plays didn't happen again.
"We've played Taylor's Version songs millions of times across our broadcast radio stations and they're committed to ensuring that Taylor's Version songs are the only ones we play, so they are scrubbing through our system and doing another thorough sweep to remove any incorrect versions," Wendy Goldberg, iHeart's chief communications officer, said in an email.
Representatives for Swift didn't respond to emails.
iHeartMedia's radio empire
In the radio industry, iHeartMedia is an 800-pound gorilla. With stations broadcasting nearly every genre of music in every major US city, the company says that 90% of Americans hear its programming each month. It also hosts and airs live entertainment, like the hourlong release party for Swift's album "Reputation" that it aired on 126 stations in 2017 and the iHeartRadio Music Awards (where Swift reigns as the most-awarded artist).
Swift writes many of her own songs, so she gets paid no matter which version is played on the radio. But by buying (and selling) the ownership of the master recordings against her will, others still stand to profit from record sales and downloads of the originals, something Swift was determined to stop.
Casey Rae, a music-business professor and former programming executive for SiriusXM, said it's unusual for radio stations to make a public promise like iHeart did, but it was likely done with Swift's vast fan base in mind.
"Maybe they're just happy to live in a world with more Taylor," he said. "There's a political component to this."
To check iHeart's compliance with its commitment, Business Insider contacted several media-monitoring services that said they could monitor radio plays. Songwriters and others in the music industry use these services to ensure that they aren't being stiffed on royalties.
Using a list of 72 tracks that Swift has rereleased as Taylor's Versions, BI worked with ACRCloud, which uses acoustic-fingerprinting software — similar to the software that powers Shazam, an app that can identify songs based on short snippets — to analyze Swift's airplay going back to March 2021, shortly before Swift released her first rerecorded album, "Fearless (Taylor's Version)."
Six stations that played the most Swift, according to the ACRCloud data analyzed by BI, are iHeart-owned: KBIG-FM, KIIS-FM, and KOST-FM in Los Angeles, WKSC-FM and WLIT-FM in Chicago, and WLTW-FM in New York.
The iHeart stations in BI's sample played just over 54,000 Taylor Swift songs from March 2021 through December 2023. The data shows 626 of those plays — about 1.2% of them — were of the non-Taylor's Version of a song for which a Taylor's Version had been released at least a day before.
iHeart stations most often played the original version of the songs "I Knew You Were Trouble," from the album "Red," and "Love Story," from the album "Fearless," even though a Taylor's Version was available. These two songs accounted for about half of the 626 non-Taylor's Version spins.
The original version of "Shake It Off" — from Swift's latest rerecorded album, "1989 (Taylor's Version)," released in October 2023 — was spun 36 times on iHeart stations in the roughly two months after the Taylor's Version of the song dropped.
Other radio stations were less likely to play Taylor's Versions
BI couldn't find any other radio-station operators that promised to play only Taylor's Versions. But iHeart played original versions at a lower rate than its competitors; about 2% of the 31,690 spins on Audacy stations in BI's sample were of original versions of songs for which a Taylor's Version existed. On SiriusXM, the rate was nearly 4.9%. On all other stations, amounting to over 20,000 plays, the rate was 7%.
But in terms of sheer numbers, the erroneous plays by iHeart are almost certainly higher than the few hundred BI found. Its website lists 108 radio stations in the "Top 40 & Pop" category. If these stations played Swift's original recordings instead of her rerecordings at a rate similar to the six iHeart stations BI analyzed, the company would have violated its promise over 11,000 times.
But that iHeart made the promise to Swift at all — and then promised BI it would scrub the non-Taylor's Versions it was still playing — shows the cultural weight Swift carries.
"That's the social phenomenon of Taylor Swift," Rae, the former satellite-radio executive, said. "Her cultural stature is such that she can bend things to different outcomes than mere mortals."
Read the original article on Business Insider