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Established artists are turning their back on major labels to take control of their own master rights. Could this model, driven by traditional publishers, prove to be the future of the record business?



rtists rarely get anywhere these days unless they’re willing to pump some serious hours into DIY.

Acts like Ed Sheeran have had to prove their

worth way in advance of the initial record company meeting; growing their fanbase on tour, racking up Twitter followers and YouTube views, dropping free mixtapes and raking in global downloads. Subsequently, impressive online figures become

direct weapons to use during negotiations in a statistics-driven, risk averse A&R environment. Yet despite these vital modern metrics the end goal for artists and managers tends to remain the same: the big label deal. The mechanics of these agreements vary, of

course, but by and large they’re signed on the same principle: the artist gets a great whacking advance, and the record company gets their mits on their recording copyrights – or master rights – for a few albums’ worth of material. However, the goalposts are beginning to shift.

Taking the DIY maxim to the next level, companies around the music business are offering artists the chance to keep control of their master rights, promising a much bigger share of royalties when (if ) their records start flying off the shelves.

ABOVE In control: Dexys released comeback album One Day I’m Going To Soar via BMG’s masters model

“[This model] can provide a level of professional support and access to global sales and marketing previously only available within major labels.” PAUL HITCHMAN, KOBALT LABEL SERVICES

Interestingly, the majority of these are

branching out from their traditional roles in songwriting publishing. Companies such as Fintage House, BMG and Kobalt are beginning to license or administer artists’ master rights – whilst offering additional services from registering recordings with collection agencies around the world, delivering them to digital services and even chasing up payments. External partners are then usually selected to mirror elements of a major label’s in-house function – whether marketing, promo or press - to best exploit the masters’ potential. The downside? In return for a significantly

bigger ongoing chunk of their royalties, artists can expect much less in the way of an eye-popping advance when they sign on the dotted line. “One big advantage of our masters model is

that it allows artists to get more money, faster – for some it even means an untapped money stream they were not yet aware of,” explains Niels Teves, co-CEO of Fintage House – best known as

a TV/film and music rights collection business and publisher, whose clients include The Elvis Presley Estate, Britney Spears and Jason Mraz. Fintage receives a licence from its clients to

register master rights with around 25 neighbouring rights and other collectives around the world. In addition, it can offer delivery to and exploitation of leading digital music platforms. Fintage’s EVP of neighbouring and digital

rights Ernst Jacob-Bakker comments: “It has become much easier to self-release a track or album with advice from specialists rather than to sign everything over to one entity. In addition to this, digital distribution can be dealt with quite easily nowadays.” Other advantages to artists and managers who

plump for masters deals include shorter-term and less stringent contracts – making it easier to walk away or drop chosen distributors or global licensing partners. Kobalt Label Services administers master rights

for its clients, becoming a facilitator that it says offers “co-operation rather than conflict”. “At Kobalt we have built a global infrastructure

for distribution (both digital and physical), campaign co-ordination, marketing and royalty reporting,” explains Kobalt Label Services MD Paul Hitchman. “Our clients can plug into this infrastructure, providing them with a level of

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