Making money in the music industry is all about ownership. Some of the top artists in the game will tell you, getting and maintaining ownership of your music, particularly your masters, helps you be in complete control of your business. For years we have heard about artists fighting for their masters and the great lengths many go to re-record their music in the event their masters fall into someone else’s hands. R&B singer Ashanti recently opened up about this and how she got control of her career.
A master is defined as the first recording of a song, from which copies are made for sales and distribution. The person who owns the master owns all formats of the recording, from digital versions for download or on streaming platforms to physical versions available on CDs and vinyl records. This means that anyone who wishes to reproduce a record must ask permission from the master owner first. Before the rise of digital music platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, musicians depended on record labels to promote their music through airplay or physical distributions to retailers. These labels would typically require artists to sign record deals which would give them the rights to their masters “in perpetuity.”
Taylor Swift is one of the biggest examples of how artists are fighting for their masters. The pop/country star writes a lot of her music and makes a ton of money from publishing and touring. However, her masters were recently acquired by Scooter Braun, manager of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.
In 2019 when he purchased the label Big Machine, he also got full ownership of Swift’s masters. Swift was outraged and claimed that she had been trying to buy her masters for years but kept getting less than favorable offers. She publicly blaster Braun and anyone who has unfairly purchased artist’s masters. In order to reclaim some of the money she is not making because of this purchase, Swift has been slowly re-recording and re-releasing the songs from her first six albums.
She is not the first artist to do this. Boyz II Men were faced with similar issues. The group did not own any of their masters, so they opted to re-record their greatest hits for a compilation in 2011.
R&B singer Jojo also had to re-record her catalog. Her debut and sophomore albums were held in the same vault that housed Aaliyah’s music for years. Blackground Records owned her masters and decided to remove her music from everywhere. In order to make some Jojo re-recorded both albums and any singles, the label kept off streaming as well. As a result, Jojo only makes money off the re-recordings even though the originals finally hit streaming this month.
Ashanti has had a very different experience. The singer has always done very well, thanks to how involved she was in her music as a writer. She is one of the first acts to go indie and has been very focused on her business. She has managed to recently acquire her master’s and plans to re-record her music as a celebration of 20 years.
“You get the masters to the album Ashanti that started it all.” Said Tamron Hall during an interview. “What does that mean?” “It is so surreal. I have an amazing legal team.” She said. Tamron followed this up with the news that she is re-recording the album saying “yesterday’s price is not today’s price,” quoting Fat Joe.