What Does Owning Your Masters Mean In Music?

What Does Owning Your Masters Mean In Music

First off let’s start with WHAT a MASTER is in the music business because it can be a bit confusing when you have to break down songwriters share, composers, and publishing and all the other terminology that can start to get confusing especially if you are just starting to learn about this stuff. 

For Example, I Own The Master To My New Single

Because I wrote it, recorded it and more.

What Is A Master Recording?

Before we get into the importance of owning your masters, we must first define “master recordings.” A master recording is the final recording of your song. Pretty much, the finished, beautifully produced, fully polished, mixed, and mastered song. The version that you end up putting on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Sound Cloud, and other streaming platforms.

Now the origination of this term…. Or why it is named that is because back in the day was the MASTER version of the song in which all of the cassette tapes, vinyl records, or CDs were made from. 

For example, if they wanted to clone you because you’re so awesome, you would be the master version that they made all of your clones from. Get me? 

Before we go on and I explain a ton more that might actually blow your mind about the importance of owning your masters… 

Who Am I To Talk About Master Recordings

I’m Rob Level a music artist who started from the dirt just like you and this is Smart Rapper the number 1 place upcoming music artists to get smarter and turn it from a hobby to a career. I release videos almost every day on here so hit that subscribe button and click that bell or the least click that like button for me really quick, I appreciate you.  In return, I’m gonna help you get Smarter, Right after the intro.

Digging Into What ‘Masters’ Are

Now there are different things here that can be kind of confusing because some artists don’t even write their own songs yet they do perform the song with their voice and music style right. 

So the composer or producer who makes the beat and the songwriter who writes the lyrics could own the rights to the song overall, but the artist who recorded their voice onto the song would own the recording because THEY recorded that version of it. 

The composer will typically own the copyright on the composition itself, or the beat, jointly with anyone who contributed to writing it. The performers or artist (YOU) would hold the copyright for specific recordings made of that composition

I am saying this in as many ways as possible so hopefully, you understand. Now most rappers really don’t even care about stuff like this because they just want to make great music and don’t care about the business side. 

And to be honest, I didn’t care about this stuff for a LONG TIME… until I started writing songs for major artists and was writing those songs with platinum producers and songwriters who write songs for superstars. 

Then I had to learn and understand what rights I had in those rooms and what I should be getting when I added my skills to the mix so that I wasn’t getting screwed or walked on. 

Because you know I hate being walked on…

Do You Really Need Your Masters?

Honestly, to be completely honest, you could go your whole career not even knowing this information and be pretty much fine…. But if you are a serious artist as I know you are…. Why not learn these things. I can guarantee it will help you make more money. 

Now let’s get into some more business information for you to protect yourself and be a Smarter Rapper. 

See now how it used to be, in traditional record deals an artist (You) would sign away their master rights and that means the rights to their recordings. 

And the artist (you) would do this by giving it to the label for a set period of time or the length of the copyright. 

Now in return for this, the label would provide the artist (YOU) with an advance…. A set amount of money that is recoupable against the royalties you would receive from the song. 

Now real quick, recoupable means the label gets to recoup or get back the money they gave you. And they get the money back from the money the song makes. 

When a label gives you an advance or money for something, generally it is recoupable meaning you have to pay them back through methods of monetizing your career as an artist. 

Basically it’s a bank loan. But we will get into that in another video. 

What’s actually kind of happening here is that you are signing your rights away to your recordings in return for a bank loan. The songs are the things you are trading as the currency for the large sum of money to fuel your career. 

Generally, when you sign a record deal unless otherwise stated, the record label will own all of your master recordings. That’s why it’s such a big deal when you hear that an artist owns their masters, they generally had to negotiate that in their deal, and if they did end up getting to keep their masters or they happened to set a smaller time limit on the set period of time that the label had ownership of the masters the artist probably was really buzzing when they signed or had enough leverage to ask for that.

And more importantly, they were smart enough to request ownership which is what I am trying to make you understand with this information. 

Now hold on because we are going to go deeper because I know you still don’t fully understand what this means. I am just breaking it down piece by piece. 

Now let’s talk about the capabilities to buy your masters back, yes, this is a thing. 

And if you own your masters you can also SELL them to people who know they can make money in the long term from your masters.

The Value Of Owning Your Masters

Michael Jackson purchased ATV Music’s 4,000-song catalog for $47.5 million in 1985, becoming the owner of the about 250 Lennon-McCartney songs which are the 2 main songwriters from The Beatles. In that deal, he also got masters to songs by Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and more. 

By the way… 47 Million in 1985 is about 222 Million dollars today…. To buy that 4,000 song catalog. 

Even crazier In 2016 Sony agreed to buy out the Michael Jackson estate which had owned 50 percent of the Sony/ATVs catalog. They bought his 50 percent ownership for $750 million, making Sony the sole owner of the Lennon-McCartney catalog as well as Sony/ATV’s 750 THOUSAND songs.

Music business ladies and gentlemen. 

Also, realize they would only buy the catalog back for 3 quarters of a billion dollars if they knew they would be able to make that money back from the royalties on those songs over time. 

So after talking about that I have to mention this to you in case you ever had to give up your masters and had no control. 

You can buy your masters back from a label at a certain cost AFTER you have recouped their advance…. but unless you are a superstar you often never reach the point of paying back your advance because you keep owing more and more money to a label. Man, I’d love to break that down right now but that could take a few minutes…. 

Actually let me show you this from a documentary 30 Seconds To Mars made that you should see. It shows you how the record label structure actually works. 

Crazy right. 

But in the case, you actually become a superstar and make TONS of money for the label and you pay back your advance, you can buy back your masters or catalog at a cost. 

Everything can be bought right?

Now you know that you should own your masters to your songs, for obvious reasons. And if you ever go to get a label deal, try to negotiate that you get to keep your masters if you can. You don’t want to have to spend money later when you are a superstar to have to try to buy your masters back. Avoid that entire issue. 

– Rob Level

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