Universal Increase Rerecording Restrictions in Contracts
Universal Music Group have extended the period in which artists can’t rerecord previously released works. Further changes to artist contracts have been made in addition. Find out what they are here.
In a move to retain control over investments, Universal has made changes to the contracts they agree with artists they sign. This comes after huge success for Taylor Swift’s rerecorded albums. Previously, an artist wasn’t allowed to rerecord works either 5 years after their last delivered recording or 2 years after their contract ended, whichever came later. The new changes increase these periods to 7 years and 5 years, respectively.
These changes have come about as a direct result of the advent and popularity of digital music streaming. Before, music was difficult to popularise without the help of big labels. Recording and distributing music was incredibly costly, with physical formats and radio plays being the main catalysts for success.
Now, due to services like Spotify and iTunes, artists can release music far more easily. Social media also now plays a significant role in launching an artist’s music career. TikTok and YouTube have seen artists shoot to fame, without any assistance from large labels.
When an artist releases music through major labels like UMG, they retain the composition rights and the label owns the master rights. Master rights relate to the final recording that the public hear.
Most deals regarding film, TV, radio and advertising relate to the master rights. This is what makes the label money, and pays off against their gamble, of sorts, in investing in the production of a release. Royalties for the use of master recordings tend to sit at around 80% going to the label and just 20% to the artist, however this varies. When an artist holds the master rights, they retain 80-95% of royalties.
Taylor Swift’s Rerecording
Earlier this year, pop giant Taylor Swift began rerecording her first six albums. This was in a bid to reclaim her back catalogue, after battling with her label, Universal, for the sale of the master rights. After an ugly saga, the rights ultimately ended up in the hands of an investment company.
Since then, Swift has had huge success with her “Taylor’s Version” iterations of her initial albums. In fact, Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the first of the rerecordings, reached number 1 in the UK album chart. These recordings, which have been remade nigh on identically to the originals, are now outperforming the originals. Although, it appears the originals aren’t suffering a decrease in listeners either. Lately, Red (Taylor’s Version) broke records for Spotify’s first day streams numbers.
This move by the star has stirred up somewhat of a movement, attracting new listeners and instilling an even fiercer sense of support in her existing fans. Viewed as a fight for empowerment and ownership over one’s creative works, Swift has garnered much support.
What This Means for Artists
Following in the footsteps of Taylor Swift, artists may be encouraged to steer further away from relying on bigger labels for investment. With the accessibility of recording and distributing music more widespread, artists could feel urged to retain more of their rights.
Recognising this potential amid the evolution of a streaming-focussed music industry, Universal have taken steps.
Universal Further Contract Changes
According to the Wall Street Journal‘s knowledgable source, Universal have been planning these changes in artist contracts prior to the Taylor Swift rerecordings.
However, changes are not solely focussed on restricting artist’s ability to rerecord works within the period a release is most popular and likely to be monetised – 10 years. Some seemingly positive alterations are being made.
WSJ’s source also stated that Universal will be increasing the share of royalties that go to artists. Alongside this, more transparency surrounding royalties will be offered. Chiefly, how royalties are calculated in the first place.
Moves made by Universal tend to quickly become industry standard, since the company is so large and holds so much sway. It will be interesting to see the kind of impact these changes may affect within the industry.