Prince is famous for the saying, “If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”
From Prince, Paul McCartney, to James Ocean, we see artists time and again fight music industry giants to gain control of their master recordings and win. Last week we saw Taylor Swift speak out against the sale of her early-career recordings by her former management company, Big Little Machine. While the legal experts agree that Swift has no legal footing to sue her previous management company over the sale her public outcry is critically important for artists. This case gives us a peek into the complexities of the music industry and artists’ plight to own their intellectual property.
Negotiating with labels requires a certain level of expertise that many new artists do not have, and the issue gets further complicated because of the impact of technology on the music industry. Younger artists are bypassing contract negotiations by putting out their own music online platforms and crowdfunding sites specifically to maintain control. The number of independent artists who are huge online, successful, and own their own work is growing. But in an industry where artists are still at a huge disadvantage in contract negotiations, Robert Baldori, an attorney and musician who has represented Chuck Berry and other notable performers, has said about Swift’s statements, “It’s good that someone with that much clout is standing up and talking about it—it would be great if the ones that have leverage got together and lobbied for fair regulations.”