It's not a big deal for small, independent artists to own their masters. Owning your master simply means owning the final version of your song that will be sent to streaming sites and added to physical copies. In today's music world, where everybody has the ability to record and publish their own work on the internet, most artists own their masters, and their masters aren't worth much.
On the other hand, popular artists that are signed and get a lot of sales often don't own their master recordings. The owner of their masters is usually the label, who traded their promotion of said artist for the right to sell, promote, and earn money from the masters on the songs that the labels release. Every so often, labels will give established and successful artists the rights to their masters back when the artist is no longer in debt to the label with all the money it took to make them a star. But most of the time, the artist doesn't have the bargaining rights for that.
Many people are aware that Beyonce has her own management and publishing company and has been actively working on getting the rights over her masters. Many cite her moves to start these companies as her moment in receiving the rights over all of her masters as well, but this has not been verified for certain. In her commencement speech to the graduating class of 2020, she spoke about owning her masters, which most took as her speaking on all of her masters. However, there is much speculation that she is still in the process of getting rights to all her masters and is not finished with the very long, complicated, and expensive process.
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While it's obvious that Beyonce is advocating for artists, especially black female artists, to own their masters, it's not clear how far along she is in the process herself. According to this article published in Complex in 2018, Beyonce's ex-manager was recently gathering 260 million dollars to acquire the rights to her songs. There is no follow-up on the current state of her masters.
When you own your masters, you have full control over the distribution and marketing of your songs. If you've signed an agreement with a label that gives your masters to them temporarily or permanently, you will be losing out on executive decisions on what to do with your own art. This is something that independent artists, in particular, should be aware of; smaller labels sometimes have contracts that will stop you from being able to upload your own work to a platform like Soundcloud or Spotify.
In addition to getting to make the executive decisions, the holder of a song's master is also entitled to a certain type of royalties. Songs that get a large number of plays can earn performance royalties, but big labels collect millions of dollars in mechanical royalties simply because they own the master. This is why the sale and transferring of master rights can carry such a huge price tag when it comes to celebrity music artists and their bodies of work.
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As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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