Over the past two decades, record companies have sought new ways to profit from their artists. In the early 2000s, the music industry was ravaged by leaks and free music downloads through sites like Napster and the advent of the mp3 file. Today, streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal etc.) have replaced sites like Napster, and labels are certainly playing their part in music streams. However, labels may have another challenge on the rise, re-recordings.
What is re-recording and why is it potentially problematic for labels? A re-recording is as easy as it sounds, with a musician re-recording their songs or albums. Typically, when an artist signs a recording contract, the label owns the âmaster recordingâ or original recording of an artist’s music. Along with master recordings (called masters), labels allow music to play in commercials, movies, TV shows, etc. If the artist writes or plays instruments on the song, he receives a percentage of the royalties from the licensing agreements, but he does own the actual recording (masters) the label does.
Re-recordings could be seen as particularly damaging to the benefits of labels. If a major recording artist no longer has a particular contract and chooses to re-record their old material, the label may lose licensing opportunities, streams, and other benefits.
The lion’s share of the labels’ musical profits come from their best-known musicians. When huge record artists acquire ownership from their masters, labels lose larger profits over time. Yet most artists never acquire ownership of their recordings. Icons like the most legendary recordings of Etta James or Whitney Houston have never belonged to them.
In 2019, pop-country musician Taylor Swift set out to re-record her old material after an unsuccessful attempt to buy her masters, losing to music entrepreneur Scooter Braun in a controversial public battle. She has re-recorded two full studio albums so far, with incredible success, with both Taylor re-recordings topping the Billboard 200-album chart in 2021. The success of Taylor’s re-recordings is a signal to other artists who are able to do the same, but also for the labels to prevent this from happening.
Recently on Power 105’s Breakfast Club show, R&B veteran Ashanti discussed similar issues regarding getting her main recordings for her upcoming tours and performances. In Ashanti’s case, she wasn’t looking for ownership, just the original recording files to use for touring. After being turned down by her old label, the singer decided to re-record her studio albums.
One prospect is that established independent musicians like Ashanti now have another reason to reintroduce themselves to new audiences while capitalizing on the nostalgia. And with the massive success of Taylor Swift’s re-recorded albums, re-recordings can become repackaged or reimagined nostalgic moments to look forward to, similar to Swiss Beatz’s Versuz battles.
Many people remember Prince’s very public protest against label ownership of artists and their creations. For a while, Prince refused to use his stage name and was referred to as “the artist formerly known as Prince”. Therefore, in the years from his feud with his label until his death, Prince routinely refused to record music with artists who did not own their masters.
“The most valuable lesson I have learned is that this is” the music business. If you’re good at business, but have no taste for music, someone is going to take your money. If you know music well, but don’t understand the business, someone is going to save you money. Both are very important. No bank gives a loan to a company and leaves with copyrights, trademarks, etc. – Pharell Williams
Record transactions are not bank loans. Record companies deal with the ownership of artists’ equipment and their brand, not just recouping their monetary investments in a musician’s career. I am essence, labels offer leverage and opportunity in return for ownership and stake in an artist’s brand. Artists sign their contracts in the hope of achieving popularity and success with music – weight has always been the motto.
While re-recordings are a nifty way for established artists to gain ownership of their most beloved songs, it will likely only benefit very famous artists like Taylor Swift, as small bands may not have the connections to. take full advantage of license opportunities, nor influence to influence the listening audience.
Record companies are businesses and from that point of view artists are their products. Of course, they want to own their products. Plus, labels foot the bill for much of their biggest artists’ recording careers, music videos, marketing, and more. Ownership of an artist’s career to this degree is debatable for many, but is it not?
Right now, artists like Ashanti, Frank Ocean and Taylor Swift are taking advantage of their position and outsmarting the labels. However, for now, re-recordings can only be of benefit to great artists who have the means to promote their re-recordings and get listeners to buy and stream their re-recorded content. In short, artists just need to understand their options and contracts before signing any deals.
Roderick Thomas is a New York-based writer, filmmaker and Hippie By Accident Podcast host.
(Instagram: @Hippiebyaccident, E-mail: email@example.com, Site: roderickthomas.net)