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Owning Masters.... What does it mean?
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AnalogBrain
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13th October 2011
Old 13th October 2011
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Owning Masters.... What does it mean?

Hi Guys,

So I understand the concept that many record companies (since they fund the recording) want to own the master tapes (files).

But if it is in the band's record contract, and publishing contract, that the band's performances can not be used unless the band approves... why does it matter where the physical masters actually are?

As an artist why should I care if the tapes are sitting on my bookshelf or in a label's vault?

I understand the point from the engineers side, that masters don't leave the studio until the balance is paid off. I am just wondering what does it mean to actually "own" the masters?

Thanks,
-Neil
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13th October 2011
Old 13th October 2011
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Generally your publishing deal will spell out who OWNS the masters
and what rights are included.

If there is a break between management/publisher and the songwriter,
then that's where things can get very complicated.

I many cases, your songs are not yours any longer in some cases' for
5 years or what ever is specified in the agreement.
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13th October 2011
Old 13th October 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogBrain View Post
But if it is in the band's record contract, and publishing contract, that the band's performances can not be used unless the band approves... why does it matter where the physical masters actually are?


-Neil
He who owns the master controls it. More often then not the artist doesn't get to approve.
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14th October 2011
Old 14th October 2011
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Start reading up on Copyright
U.S. Copyright Office - Frequently Asked Questions
U.S. Copyright Office

FYI, there's actually two copyrights when talking about recorded music.
There's the underlying composition, the "PR" copyright (public Performance)
and there's the "SR" copyright, or the song fixed to a medium (Sound Recording)

The SR copyright (otherwise known as the 'master') is that particular recording of the song. There can be many SR copyrights for any given song (think cover bands, the 'acoustic' and/or 'live' recordings ect.)
but there's usually only ONE PR copyright (the composition itself)

Again, if you're a musician, or in any way working or wanting to work in the music biz... you'd better know and fully understand copyrights, what they are, how they work, what they're not, ect. Otherwise you're fighting with one hand tied behind your back.
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14th October 2011
Old 14th October 2011
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...wrd.

He who controls the Masters controls the Spice. You own 'em, you get ALL the money, you don't, you DON'T.

You WANT to own your own Masters.
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14th October 2011
Old 14th October 2011
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I know this sounds Naive, but when does it start to matter?
There are two royalties payed out, the publishing royalties to the songwriter, and the mechanical royalties for the band (if everyone agrees to equal share amongst members).

Am I right about this?

So how does the location of the masters effect royalties.

Wait a minute (thinking out loud)
Is it important when the contract is up? If the label owns the masters, and the contract has expired, they can use the masters to make a "remixed" or "remastered" version of the album (essentially re-releasing it) and they don't have to pay the band anything?

I am kinda confused.
-Neil
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14th October 2011
Old 14th October 2011
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Owner of the master makes the most.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogBrain View Post
I know this sounds Naive, but when does it start to matter?
There are two royalties payed out, the publishing royalties to the songwriter, and the mechanical royalties for the band (if everyone agrees to equal share amongst members).

Am I right about this?

So how does the location of the masters effect royalties.

Wait a minute (thinking out loud)
Is it important when the contract is up? If the label owns the masters, and the contract has expired, they can use the masters to make a "remixed" or "remastered" version of the album (essentially re-releasing it) and they don't have to pay the band anything?

I am kinda confused.
-Neil
The master is an asset which can be bought/sold/licensed/borrowed against.

A good example is when a song gets used in a TV commercial. Assuming a $30k deal, Who gets paid?
1. songwriter ($5k)
2. publisher ($5k)
3. owner of the master ($20k)

The artist may or may not be entitled to a small piece, somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.


Another example: iTunes $.99 download

$.30 - iTunes
$.10 - songwriter/publisher ($.05 each)
$.06 - artist royalty (8% of .$70)
$.53 - Owner of the master
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14th October 2011
Old 14th October 2011
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Chris, this makes sense.
Thanks for the breakdown.

So if a band has a record deal. The label funds the recording, they own the masters.

Could they then use one of the band's songs for a cheesy beer commercial without the band's consent?

Only paying the band an extremely small amount for mechanical royalties?

Thanks,
-Neil
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14th October 2011
Old 14th October 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisgraff View Post
The master is an asset which can be bought/sold/licensed/borrowed against.

A good example is when a song gets used in a TV commercial. Assuming a $30k deal, Who gets paid?
1. songwriter ($5k)
2. publisher ($5k)
3. owner of the master ($20k)

The artist may or may not be entitled to a small piece, somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.


Another example: iTunes $.99 download

$.30 - iTunes
$.10 - songwriter/publisher ($.05 each)
$.06 - artist royalty (8% of .$70)
$.53 - Owner of the master
In the case of a sync license, like an ad or movie, these are actually most commonly executed on an MFN basis. This means no party would get more than the other. So in your example of 30K, that means essentially two parties agreed on 15K. The publisher gets 15 and the master owner gets 15. Understand also that the artist usually shares, by contract, up to 50% of that sync fee on the master license. If the artist is also the writer of the song, they would get up to 50% of the publishing as well. This all depends on an individual contract, but these are pretty common terms.

As far as iTunes goes- that's all negotiable and the more powerful artist gets a better deal.
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15th October 2011
Old 15th October 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogBrain View Post
Chris, this makes sense.
Thanks for the breakdown.

So if a band has a record deal. The label funds the recording, they own the masters.

Could they then use one of the band's songs for a cheesy beer commercial without the band's consent?

Only paying the band an extremely small amount for mechanical royalties?

Thanks,
-Neil
Both the owner of the recording and publisher of the song would have to agree for the song/recording to appear in a commercial. The scenario you describe is very possible.

Dita...interesting about the most-favored-nation bit.
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20th December 2011
Old 20th December 2011
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Ok... let me present a scenario to you guys, who are more than likely more experienced in this sort of thing than I am. Mind you, between my band and I, we have worked in quite a few studios and have never ran into an issue with this sort of thing.

Until now...

My band was 7 songs into a record in which we recorded/overdubbed at three different studios. We own all of our masters, we think that is very important. We were entered into a raffle for a radio station in which we ended up winning 16 hours of free studio time. The studio is legitimate and we used the time to cut two songs with the engineer who owns the studio. THEN since we weren't done tracking we started being charged on the clock. No worries, you know?

So, we end up giving that particular engineer a generous sum of money to finish overdubs, and mix the session, under the understanding that when the session was finished we were going to need the masters, as in all honesty we didn't really need him to mix it, or overdub, but we felt as if we owed it to him to let him put his touch on the two songs that we tracked there. We are fully capable of mixing our own stuff, as we had mixed the other seven songs ourselves, almost to the point of naseum. We had a handshake sort of agreement. We finish the songs, we pay him off and on we were. He was in the midst of actually moving into a new building and I knew it may be minute getting the masters from him.

Well, it has been almost two months, we have listened to those mixes next to the other seven and we really think they need to be stripped down and remixed ourselves, simply so they match up with the characteristics of the other seven mixes. We have contacted him numerous times and it is obvious to us that he is ducking us. We are a LLC, with a federal tax id code, a state tax id code, a bank account, and an attorney. I'm not at all trying to brag, please dont misinterpret that, but what I am saying is: we aren't stupid, we have been around the block. We understand that music is a business and that you have to really watch your back, and you have to treat it like a business. It's sad, but true. There are some reeeeeeeally shady people out there. I truly like the engineer. He is a really cool guy to track with, and has a good grasp on what he is doing. It's just disappointing.

I don't understand why our engineer who we trusted would think in any way that he owns our masters, or why he at least couldn't get back to us to explain his reasoning on this issue. It's part of the business I guess. If we didn't pay the guy, I would understand if he truly thought he owned the stuff. The problem is that he was payed for services, and he needs to give us what we payed for, and what in my mind is rightly ours.

Has anyone here ever had this problem with an engineer or a studio, and if so, please elaborate...
#12
21st December 2011
Old 21st December 2011
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What are you trying to get out of your engineer exactly? Individual tracks? Or the actual masters? Either way this doesn't sound like a copyright problem so much so it does one of negligence on the part of the engineer. It would squarely be a copyright issue if you found him selling the recordings on iTunes or something.
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22nd December 2011
Old 22nd December 2011
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We are wanting the individual tracks (the broadcast .wav files) so that we can import them into a daw and remix the song. For whatever reason, this seems to be a problem...
#14
22nd December 2011
Old 22nd December 2011
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Just keep requesting the masters. They are yours - not his in ANY shape or form.
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22nd December 2011
Old 22nd December 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by coachcdobbs View Post
Has anyone here ever had this problem with an engineer or a studio, and if so, please elaborate...
We have had the opposite problem, of engineers not being bothered to give the customer the one thing they needed the most, but rather seeing themselves as the bringer of magic mixes that the customer does not want or need. If these people are working on my dime, they do not get invited back.

Some customers want a mixed project, but even those that do, end up re-editing and mixing the whole thing in the long run, if the project is worth anything at all.

As Narcoman points out, those tracks are your property. They are as much your property as your car or the clothes you wear. Not only should you have possession of them, but the studio is under a legal obligation to take reasonable care of them. i.e. not delete them and keep a back-up, etc.

In this particular case, you must point out to your pet engineer that you are fully aware of your property rights. There still are a few engineers and others in the business that honestly think that the tracks are not your property, but the property of the studio or the producer or whatever they have in their heads. They are being paid for a service, in EXACTLY the same way that a garage is being paid to repair your car, or the US Mail is paid to deliver a package, or a vet is paid to operate on a horse.

In all these cases, possession of the property does not mean ownership. Just as it is necessary for the US Mail to possess your package, the garage to repair your car and the vet to hold your horse, it is obviously necessary for the studio to possess the tracks. Once the service has been completed and no other arrangements have been agreed upon, all the above have to hand back the property to the owner. Not only does the studio have to hand over the tracks, but they have to be handed over in a proper and fitting manner. Just as the garage has to hand back your car so that it is foit to drive, the US Mail has to keep the package intact and the vet has to hand your horse back in one piece, the studio has to hand you the tracks AS THEY WERE RECORDED and as time stamped (AKA 'broadcast') WAV or AIFF files - and not doctored or altered in any way (unless agreed upon by you).

And that applies, even if the bill has not been settled!

Failure to hand property to the owner can result in a prosecution for theft.

As in all things, there are exceptions (look up the word 'lien') but in the US a lien has to be exercised by an officer of a court of law and only in those states where such a measure is possible. The misuse of a lien (e.g. to apply pressure for more money than agreed upon) is a criminal offence.
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22nd December 2011
Old 22nd December 2011
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absolutely right - in fact to further invite the analogy; a garage cannot keep your car if you do not pay the bill. GETTING the car might be tough but the law is on the owners side in so far as possession is concerned. You are the owner in this case.
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23rd December 2011
Old 23rd December 2011
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ownership of masters can be overrated depending on the terms of the deal.

for example if I let you own the masters, but I make 75% on every transaction, and I have approvals rights, than you owning the masters is of little consequence.

generally speaking master ownership is preferred because historically that's where the best part of the deal is, but not always...

master ownership is equity, like owning any other piece of property, but equally as important is how the revenue earned from that property is distributed - that's the real important issue.
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23rd December 2011
Old 23rd December 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rack gear View Post
ownership of masters can be overrated depending on the terms of the deal...
It's no more over-rated than home ownership. When push comes to shove, owning the master puts one in a much stronger negotiating position should any problems with a distributor arise.

Most of the well-known artists I've known own their masters and many have owned them from before they were well-known. Something that has always amused me is how many seem to think they are almost the only one who owns their masters!
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3rd January 2012
Old 3rd January 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by narcoman View Post
absolutely right - in fact to further invite the analogy; a garage cannot keep your car if you do not pay the bill. GETTING the car might be tough but the law is on the owners side in so far as possession is concerned. You are the owner in this case.
not quite true
they have a mechanics lien on the car if you dont pay

they can repo it just as fast as you took it back
(which is not clear that you can legally do if you owe them)
and they can keep it then until you do pay

all you can do is make them file legal paperwork and hire the repo man -- which will be added to your bill
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3rd January 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Byre View Post
We have had the opposite problem, of engineers not being bothered to give the customer the one thing they needed the most, but rather seeing themselves as the bringer of magic mixes that the customer does not want or need. If these people are working on my dime, they do not get invited back.

Some customers want a mixed project, but even those that do, end up re-editing and mixing the whole thing in the long run, if the project is worth anything at all.

As Narcoman points out, those tracks are your property. They are as much your property as your car or the clothes you wear. Not only should you have possession of them, but the studio is under a legal obligation to take reasonable care of them. i.e. not delete them and keep a back-up, etc.

In this particular case, you must point out to your pet engineer that you are fully aware of your property rights. There still are a few engineers and others in the business that honestly think that the tracks are not your property, but the property of the studio or the producer or whatever they have in their heads. They are being paid for a service, in EXACTLY the same way that a garage is being paid to repair your car, or the US Mail is paid to deliver a package, or a vet is paid to operate on a horse.

In all these cases, possession of the property does not mean ownership. Just as it is necessary for the US Mail to possess your package, the garage to repair your car and the vet to hold your horse, it is obviously necessary for the studio to possess the tracks. Once the service has been completed and no other arrangements have been agreed upon, all the above have to hand back the property to the owner. Not only does the studio have to hand over the tracks, but they have to be handed over in a proper and fitting manner. Just as the garage has to hand back your car so that it is foit to drive, the US Mail has to keep the package intact and the vet has to hand your horse back in one piece, the studio has to hand you the tracks AS THEY WERE RECORDED and as time stamped (AKA 'broadcast') WAV or AIFF files - and not doctored or altered in any way (unless agreed upon by you).

And that applies, even if the bill has not been settled!

Failure to hand property to the owner can result in a prosecution for theft.

As in all things, there are exceptions (look up the word 'lien') but in the US a lien has to be exercised by an officer of a court of law and only in those states where such a measure is possible. The misuse of a lien (e.g. to apply pressure for more money than agreed upon) is a criminal offence.
not in the usa

you need to talk to a real lawyer

if you owe money the service provider CAN LEGALLY keep the item they worked on until you pay.

you agreed to a lien when you gave them the item. read the fine print. nobody except maybe a noob studio has a contract without that clause in there.

trying to get "your" property back before you pay will only create BIG legal problems and expense for yourself.

in this case they said they paid. so the engr needs to hand over the materials.
may be a copying fee involved so just pay it and get the tracks. band claim they are llc with a lawyer. get the lawyer to write a nice FIRM letter. that should bust loose the tracks real quick. if not have the lawyer do his legal thing and make the guy see the light. then bill him for the legal fees.
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