a quote about importance of owning your masters in music

What does it mean to own your masters in music


Owning your masters in music means having full control over the rights and usage of your original recordings, enabling you to make decisions about distribution, licensing, and revenue generation, ultimately allowing you to make money from your work.

In the music industry, the concept of owning your masters is a crucial aspect of an artist’s career. As the landscape of music evolves, it is increasingly important for artists, especially independent ones, to understand the significance of owning their masters and how it can impact their work. In this article, we will explore what it means to own your masters in music, why it matters, and how artists can maintain control over their creations.

Defining Masters

Masters, or master recordings, are the original, finalized recordings of a song or album from which all other copies are made. They represent the complete, authorized version of a piece of music. When an artist owns their masters, they have full control over the rights to their music, including licensing, distribution, and usage in various media, such as films, commercials, etc

Difference: Publishing rights vs master rights

Publishing rights and master rights are like two sides of a musical coin. Publishing rights refer to the ownership of a song’s composition, including lyrics and melodies, allowing the owner to license and collect royalties for various uses. Master rights, on the other hand, pertain to the ownership of the recorded version of a song or album, granting the owner control over licensing, distribution, and royalties for that specific recording. So, think of publishing rights as the catchy tune stuck in your head and master rights as your favorite artist’s unique rendition of it – both important, but with a different groove!

The Importance of Owning Your Masters

There are several key benefits to owning your masters in music, which include:

Creative Control

Owning your masters grants you the ability to maintain creative control over your music. This means you can decide how and where your music is used, ensuring that it aligns with your artistic vision and integrity.

Financial Benefits

By owning your masters, you are entitled to a larger share of royalties when your music is streamed, sold, or licensed. This can lead to a higher potential for earning income as a musician. However, it’s important to note that royalty rates can vary depending on the streaming platform, as illustrated in our article on Spotify’s pay per stream in 2023.

Long-term Sustainability

When you own your masters, you have the ability to monetize your music for years to come. This can create a long-term, sustainable income stream and provide greater financial security for you as an artist.

Master rights and label deals

Traditionally, music labels have been the gatekeepers of the music industry, offering artists recording contracts that provide resources and support for their careers in exchange for a significant portion of their earnings and control over their music. These contracts often favored the labels, with artists typically surrendering their master rights and, at times, even their publishing rights.

In the past, signing with a label was considered the ultimate goal for an artist, as it provided access to funding, promotion, and distribution channels. However, the music industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, with the advent of digital platforms, social media, and independent distribution services. This evolution has provided artists with more options and opportunities to build their careers without relying solely on traditional record deals.

Today, artists can release and promote their music independently, leveraging streaming platforms like Spotify, social media, and digital marketing tools to reach their audience directly. This shift has empowered artists to retain ownership of their masters and publishing rights, allowing for greater creative control and a larger share of their earnings.

Despite these changes, some major labels have been slow to adapt, often continuing to offer contracts that lack transparency and favor their interests. This reluctance to change has led to a growing distrust among artists, who are increasingly seeking alternative avenues to advance their careers, such as independent promotion strategies and engaging with fans.

The traditional model of music labels and their contracts is being challenged by the rapidly evolving music industry, which now offers artists more options for building their careers independently. As a result, artists are gaining more control over their music and the ability to make informed choices about their future, while labels are facing the need to adapt and offer more transparent and equitable contracts.

Strategies for Retaining Ownership of Your Masters

To ensure you retain ownership of your masters, consider the following steps:

  1. Educate yourself: Gain a thorough understanding of copyright laws, music licensing, and the legal aspects of the music industry. This knowledge will help you protect your rights and make informed decisions.
  2. Choose the right collaborators: Work with like-minded individuals and industry professionals who share your goals of retaining ownership of your masters. This can include producers, engineers, and independent labels.
  3. Stay independent: Remaining an independent artist or signing with an indie label that allows you to maintain ownership of your masters will enable you to better control your career and artistic vision.
  4. Invest in your career: Be prepared to invest time, money, and effort into creating, recording, and promoting your music. This commitment will help you achieve your goals and retain control over your music.

Case Study: Taylor Swift Re-recording Her Masters

One notable example of the challenges and importance of owning your masters is the case of Taylor Swift. Swift’s experience demonstrates that even high-profile artists can face issues with masters ownership and the implications it has on their career.

In 2019, Taylor Swift’s former record label, Big Machine Label Group, sold her masters to Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings. Swift was not given the opportunity to buy her own masters, leaving her without control over her early music. As a result, she faced limitations on how she could use her earlier works and potential financial losses.

To regain control over her music, Swift made the bold decision to re-record her early albums. By doing so, she created new master recordings that she owns, allowing her to exercise control over her music and capture more of the financial benefits. This move also sent a strong message to the industry about the importance of artists owning their masters and protecting their rights.

Taylor Swift’s case highlights the significance of owning your masters, even for well-established artists. It also emphasizes the need for artists to be proactive in protecting their rights and pursuing creative solutions when faced with challenges surrounding the ownership of their music.

By understanding the implications of owning your masters and learning from high-profile cases like Taylor Swift’s, you can make informed decisions about your music career and work towards retaining control over your artistic vision and financial future.

Case Study: Kanye West and His Struggle with Universal to Control His Masters

Another high-profile example of the challenges surrounding masters ownership is the case of Kanye West. West’s struggle with Universal Music Group (UMG) to regain control of his masters illustrates the complexities and power dynamics that even successful artists can face when trying to secure their rights.

In 2020, Kanye West took to Twitter to express his frustration with UMG, claiming that they refused to sell him his masters. He likened the music industry to a form of modern-day slavery and demanded the return of his masters to regain control over his music. West’s struggle with UMG highlights the power imbalance between artists and major record labels, who often retain ownership of masters as a means to control revenue streams and leverage over artists’ careers.

Kanye West’s public fight for his masters sparked conversations about artists’ rights and the need for more equitable contracts in the music industry. It also drew attention to the importance of transparency and fair negotiations between artists and record labels, emphasizing the need for artists to be proactive in protecting their rights and understanding the implications of masters ownership.

By examining Kanye West’s struggle with Universal and the challenges he faced in his quest to control his masters, artists can learn valuable lessons about the importance of ownership and the need to be vigilant when negotiating contracts and agreements with record labels. This awareness can empower artists to make informed decisions and ensure that their creative vision and financial future remain protected.


Owning your masters is an essential aspect of a successful music career, as it provides creative control, financial benefits, and long-term sustainability. By taking the necessary steps to retain ownership of your masters, you can pave the way for a fulfilling and rewarding career in the music industry. To continue learning about the music business and gain valuable insights, check out our articles on songwriting tips

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