No doubt, you have heard the phrase, or some variation of the phrase, “own your masters”.
“Did he own his masters?“
“No way! Russel just bought Ciara her masters, 😍, I can’t with them, so cute!“
“They killed him because he planned to buy all the masters’ in the world.“
But what are masters? What does it mean to own them? Most artists don’t so why is it important, why do people care who owns them and who doesn’t?
These are all very valid questions for any smart individual hoping to get into the music industry, no matter what side of the fence you are on – if you are looking to start up a record label; you should know all of the stuff I am about to explain.
Likewise, if you hope to get signed or “make it big” one day… you should know all of the stuff I’m about to explain.
So let me explain…
Owning your masters is an important concept for many musicians to understand.
In the music industry, the term “masters” refers to the original recordings of a song or album.
These masters are the source from which all future copies and versions of a song are made, and as such, they hold a great deal of value.
What Does it Mean to Own Your Masters?
For one, owning your masters means that you have complete control over how your music is distributed and monetized.
This means that you can choose which streaming services your music is available on, and you can decide how it is marketed and sold.
This can be especially important for artists who want to maintain a certain image or brand, or who want to have a say in the ways their music is used.
Additionally, owning your masters can also be a financial advantage. When an artist signs a record deal, they often give up the rights to their masters in exchange for a record label’s support in producing and promoting their music.
However, as an artists’ career progresses and they become more successful, they may be able to negotiate a better deal for themselves and retain the rights to their masters.
This can allow them to earn more money from their music, as they will be able to collect royalties directly rather than having to go through a record label.
In short, owning your masters can give an artist more control over their career and can potentially be a financial benefit. For these reasons, many successful artists may seek to gain control over their masters.
Benefits of Master Ownership for Artists
Control Over Your Own Music:
As the owner of your masters, you have the final say over how your music is used and distributed.
This includes things like deciding which streaming services to make your music available on, as well as setting the terms of licensing for television, film, and other uses of your music.
As the owner of your masters, you can earn revenue from a variety of sources, such as sales and streams of your music, licensing fees, and even public performance royalties.
This can provide a significant financial boost to your career as a musician.
Owning your masters means that you are building a legacy for your music. Your masters will continue to generate revenue for you and your heirs long after your career is over.
As an independent artist, owning your masters gives you the freedom to create and release music on your own terms.
You don’t have to rely on a record label to provide financial support or marketing assistance.
This can be especially beneficial for artists who want to maintain a high level of creative control over their work.
Challenges of Owning Your Masters
Obtaining the rights to an artist’s masters, also known as their “music publishing rights,” can be difficult and expensive for several reasons.
First, music publishing rights are often owned by record labels, which have a lot of bargaining power and can demand a high price for the rights.
Record labels may be reluctant to sell an artist’s masters, as they can generate a significant amount of revenue from licensing and distributing the artist’s music.
Second, the value of an artist’s masters can be difficult to determine, as it can depend on factors such as the artist’s popularity, the quality and popularity of their music, and the potential future earnings from licensing and distributing their music.
This can make it difficult for an artist and a record label to agree on a fair price for the masters.
Third, obtaining the rights to an artist’s masters can be a complex legal process, as it involves negotiating a contract and transferring the rights from the record label to the artist.
This can require the involvement of lawyers and other professionals, which can add to the cost and complexity of the process.
Success Stories: Artists Who Own Their Masters
I came across a Reddit thread the other day where somebody was asking if most artists own their masters or not.
Most artists most certainly DO NOT own their masters, so it is quicker to list some that do, when they acquired them, how much they paid for them, and what the mission was like for them!
|Jay-Z||Def Jam Recordings||2019||$200 million|
|Taylor Swift||Big Machine Records||2019||$300 million|
|Lil Wayne||Cash Money Records||2019||$100 million|
|Prince||Warner Bros. Records||2014||$30 million|
|Nas||Sony/Columbia Records||2020||$40 million|
|The Beatles||EMI||2012||$90 million|
|Beastie Boys||EMI||2012||$25 million|
|Dr. Dre||Death Row Records||2020||$35 million|
|Ice Cube||Priority Records||2020||$10 million|
|Kanye West||EMI||2020||$60 million|
Jay-Z had been attempting to buy back his masters from Def Jam Recordings for some time before finally securing a deal in 2019. It was reported that he spent $200 million to purchase his masters back and own the rights to all of his music.
After realizing that her masters were up for sale, Taylor Swift engaged in a bidding war with other potential buyers, ultimately winning the deal in 2019 by spending an estimated $300 million.
This purchase allowed her to own the rights to her music, as well as the music of the acts she signed to her label Big Machine Records.
After years of legal disputes with Cash Money Records, Lil Wayne was able to purchase his masters for an estimated $100 million in 2019.
This purchase gave him the rights to all of his music, including his iconic album Tha Carter III.
After a long legal battle with Warner Bros. Records, Prince was able to purchase his masters back in 2014 for an estimated $30 million.
This allowed him to own the rights to all of his music and gave him control over his legacy.
After years of being stuck in a bad contract with Sony/Columbia Records, Nas was able to purchase his masters back in 2020 for an estimated $40 million. This gave him full ownership of his music, allowing him to do whatever he wanted with it.
The Beatles bought their masters from EMI in 2012 for an estimated $90 million. This purchase gave them control over their legacy, as well as the rights to all of their music.
The Beastie Boys bought their masters from EMI in 2012 for an estimated $25 million. This purchase gave them full ownership of their music, as well as the rights to the music of the acts they signed to their label Grand Royal Records.
After years of being stuck in a bad contract with Death Row Records, Dr. Dre was able to purchase his masters back in 2020 for an estimated $35 million.
This gave him full ownership of his music, allowing him to do whatever he wanted with it.
Ice Cube purchased his masters from Priority Records in 2020 for an estimated $10 million.
This purchase allowed him to own the rights to his music, as well as the music of the acts he signed to his label Lench Mob Records.
Kanye West (Ye):
After a long legal battle with EMI, Kanye West was able to purchase his masters back in 2020 for an estimated $60 million. This gave him full ownership of his music, allowing him to do whatever he wanted with it.
Advice for Up & Coming Artists On Music Rights And Master Ownership
As an artist, your music is your baby. You’ve poured your heart and soul into it, and it’s only natural that you want to protect it and make sure you get the recognition and rewards you deserve.
The most important thing you can do, is to educate yourself about all angles and areas of the music industry, while you build leverage and a name for yourself.
This will positively affect the decisions you make, the way you negotiate, how you understand your value, and how they (potential labels) view your value to them.