Hot Topic: Owning Your Masters

Have you heard the coming & going buzz of the debate on artists and their right to own their masters? What is one to do when they are overly excited about finally signing a record deal and don't dig into the details? Avoid a future of battling over rights and read on with us.bernie-grundman-2_credit-danny-liao-759x500.jpg

What is a master anyway? There is such a thing as "mastering" your audio, which is the final step of mixing a record and/or an individual track. However, today we will be discussing the rights to owning your masters. Let's break it down a bit. "A master license gives the license holder the right to use a recorded piece of music in a media project such a film, TV show, commercial, or another visual creation or audio project. A master license is obtained from the person who owns the recording, which is the party that financed the recording."

Often times, when signing with a label, no matter how big or small, you will give up your rights. This is the trade. After all, there has to be some end of the bargain that would benefit on the record companies end, or else, why would they do it? Our suggestion would be not to rush into it, you'll end up paying in the long run.

There are many ways in which someone else owning your masters can go wrong. Nevermind the aspect of owning for the purpose of making money, what about the physical copies of your masters? The recent stories of the fires at Universal in Studio City were shocking. So many artists and bands lost the original masters and it was hidden for years.

Taylor Swift at the iHeartRadio Music Awards 2019 main image.jpgRegarding Taylor Swift's recent run in with the details of her rights, she said the following “For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, [Big Machine founder] Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.”

Wow, what a telling tale. Is there any way to really win? Do you remember the fight that Prince put up in owning his masters. Do you remember when he wanted to go by the symbol and then the "Artist Formerly Known As"? This was Prince trying to regain his power over his creativity that he poured his blood, sweat and tears into, over decades and decades. After all of that big fight, now, after Prince's passing - his estate has inked a deal with Sony to release an entire slew of his catalog. "The Japanese-owned global music conglomerate (NYSE: SNE) announced Wednesday that it inked “an exclusive distribution agreement” that covers 35 previously released album titles owned by the estate of Prince Rogers Nelson."

At the end of the day, do your research, don't rush yourself. You've spent decades dreaming up all of your creativity, don't sign it away just to make a pipe-dream come true. Make smart moves, hire attorney's to read the contracts. It will pay off in the long run. Your future self is already thanking you.


- K. O'Neil, PitStop Musicians