Owning your masters: what does it mean for musicians

The term "master" formerly referred to the master audio source or tape from which all vinyl, cassettes, and CDs were produced for sales and music distribution.

A "master" It's the song file you have on your computer if you've composed and recorded a track. When you own the recording's masters, you have complete legal authority over what is done with it and any money made from it.

New independent artists frequently sign contracts without fully comprehending the rights they are ceding. Let’s clarify things through this article.

Differences between publishing rights and mater rights

The music industry can be confusing. A song generates 2 different rights: publishing rights and master rights.

Those rights refer to completely different things and are treated entirely separately when it comes to ownership, royalty payments, and legal disputes.

The publishing rights refer to rights in a “musical composition” (words and music). The master is the original “sound recording”. The difference is that a single musical composition (like lyrics) can feature in hundreds of different sound recordings (covers, remixes, etc). Meanwhile, a specific sound recording is unique.

The publishing rights related to a specific “musical composition” are generally owned by the original writer or composer of the song (or publisher if any and depending the publishing deal in place).

Owning your masters, on the other hand, means you own the copyright to the original sound recordings of your music. The copyright of the sound recording is generally owned by the artist or record label that they are signed to.

Owning the master: what does it mean

Owning your master recordings offers you the freedom to use them however you see fit as an artist, maximizing your earning potential. You have total control over your music with this. You can license a master recording to other parties so they can use it in things like TV shows, movies, advertising, or even for sampling by other artists.

If your master belongs to someone else, such as a record label, a music producer, or a sound engineer, they have the right to sell the recording and collect all the royalties.

Owning the master: what does it mean

If you don't own the masters, you lose control over how and where the recordings are used, as well as your right to the entire amount of royalties from their use.

The masters of all songs produced as part of a record deal are frequently owned by the label rather than the artist in typical music industry contracts. Artists are frequently granted an advance and a share of all music sales revenue in exchange for relinquishing the master rights to their songs.

Case studies

Taylor Swift

The Taylor Swift controversy is a fascinating case study in disputes concerning master ownership. Swift has accused Scooter Braun of harassing and selling her original record label, Big Machine, to him. Braun is the manager of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, among others. Braun is currently making money and controlling her back catalog.

Swift has begun to re-record her first six studio albums in order to rectify Braun's control over the masters of her older music; in doing so, she generates new masters over which she has full ownership and the authority to license for commercial usage.

Kanye west

Media coverage of Kanye West's attempt to reclaim his masters has been significant. He has raged in front of the public about Universal Music Group's control over his first six albums, even going so far as to tweet out his original recording contracts.

Those contracts reveal that he received several multi-million dollar advances; in exchange, the label received ownership of the masters "all over the world and forever.”

Kanye west

The use of these antiquated contracts may change as a result of West's mission, or at the very least, it may shed light on the situation for upcoming artists who have not yet signed a record deal.


You're better off spending some time talking to someone to understand the agreement and negotiate a contract that works for you. Before signing any piece of paper, deeply analyze the following questions:

Does the label make marketing and PR investments? How long could you potentially be bound by the agreement? What number of choices does the label offer? How long will they be able to use your music? Is it worthwhile to transfer your rights now when you may start your career on your own?

As with everything in life, choosing a record label or remaining independent has its advantages and disadvantages. Before making a decision, do all the research you need to, and, as we've already mentioned, speak with someone who is familiar with the music business.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post, and if you'd want more advice for advancing your musical career, please visit our blog area. There, you'll find a lot more helpful articles, tips, and suggestions.

Are you a music artist or label and do you want to give your music a further dimension? Do you own or co-own the master and publishing rights of your music? Consider to post it on CalypsoRoom listening to it together with your super fans, at the same time, connected by webcams.

Thanks for reading
CalypsoRoom Team


Written by CalypsoRoom Editorial Team
The CalypsoRoom Editorial Team is a skilled and diverse group of writers, researchers, and industry specialists who have access to Calypso's data and information in order to give you broad knowledge about the music industry as well as helpful advice to help you manage your music and dancing career.

Updated January 2023

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