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Sony announces deal to represent Prince’s recordings

By | Published on Thursday 28 June 2018


Sony Music has confirmed that it has signed a deal with the Prince estate to represent some, many, hey maybe ultimately most of the late musician’s recordings. And what could possibly go wrong with that? Nothing. I’m sure it will all be fine. Deals with the Prince estate never run into any bother. It’s all going to be great.

As you may remember, following Prince’s death, his estate got busy negotiating deals with all the big music companies about representing his legacy and repertoire. Well, I say “all the big music companies”. As it turned out mainly Universal, which scored three deals to respectively represent Prince’s recordingssongs and merchandise business.

However, the first of those then started to untangle. The deal covered recordings Prince had released through his own label since 1995, a load of previously unreleased tracks sitting in the Prince archive, and some of the musician’s most famous records, which had been originally released by Warner Music.

Prince famously fell out with Warner in the 1990s, of course, but had actually made up with the mini-major before his death in 2016. In a 2014 deal with Warner, Prince managed to reclaim some of the rights in some of the records he released between 1978 and the mid-1990s. But he also agreed to license some of those reclaimed rights back to Warner.

It turned out that that 2014 agreement was somewhat complex. Universal started to become concerned that some of the recordings it thought it was getting access to via its deal with the estate were actually still in the control of Warner. To that end it asked to see the Warner deal. The mega-major’s lawyers then announced that they couldn’t work out quite what rights Warner had, and therefore they didn’t know what rights their client had either.

Ultimately the Universal recordings deal was cancelled and the estate started shopping that side of Prince’s oeuvre around the other music companies again. A deal with Warner might have made most sense, given the continued confusion surrounding its 2014 deal. But then the mini-major may have sought to exploit that fact to reduce its upfront financial commitments. Either way, Sony has taken on the challenge of working out which Prince records are available for it to control and then getting on with controlling them.

Presumably seeking to avoid any future confusion, Sony was pretty specific as to which records it reckons this new deal covers when announcing the new arrangement yesterday.

That announcement stated that the deal gives its catalogue division Legacy Recordings, “worldwide rights beginning immediately to nineteen previously released album titles (originally released between 1995-2010). The list of album titles includes ‘The Gold Experience’ (1995), ‘Emancipation’ (1996), ‘Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic’ (1999), ‘The Rainbow Children’ (2001) and ‘3121’ (2006), as well as titles originally distributed by Sony including ‘Musicology’ (2004) and ‘Planet Earth’ (2007)”.

Prince’s latter albums, released after he had made up with Warner, and so some of which it distributed, will be part of the new Sony deal eventually. “Additional album titles from the 2014-2015 era will also be distributed with worldwide rights under the deal in the future”, says the major. That, of course, will also include the musician’s final two albums that Tidal had the exclusive dibs on.

It’s not all about albums though, and Sony confirms that it will also be distributing some singles, b-sides, remixes, live recordings and music videos that were put out between 1995 and 2010 – though all “previously released” it clarifies, so presumably the Legacy team won’t get to dive deeply into Prince’s vast archive of never actually released music. Some of which has already been promised to Tidal as another exclusive, of course.

But fuck all that, what about all the hits from the 1980s? That’s what we want to know about. “Starting in 2021”, the official statement continues, “Sony/Legacy’s distribution rights will be expanded to include twelve Prince non-soundtrack catalogue albums, featuring iconic music recorded by the artist from the 1978-1996 era for distribution in the United States”.

That’s what we’re talking about. In 2021, it seems, Sony will get to rep the US rights Prince negotiated away from Warner in his 2014 arrangement.

“Music from this period covered under the agreement”, Sony adds, “includes the highly renowned albums ‘Prince’ (1979), ‘Dirty Mind’ (1980), ‘Controversy’ (1981), ‘1999’ (1982), ‘Around The World In A Day’ (1985), ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ (1987), ‘Lovesexy’ (1988), ‘Diamonds And Pearls’ (1991) and ‘[Love Symbol]’ (1992) as well as hit singles ‘1999’, ‘Little Red Corvette’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’, ‘Raspberry Beret’ and much more”.

So that’s nice, isn’t it? Hey Richard Story – President of the SME Commercial Music Group – and Troy Carter – entertainment advisor to the Prince estate – say something quickly before people start questioning whether this deal also conflicts with Warner’s existing agreement and/or Prince’s heirs start moaning loudly about not being consulted and not being happy with the deal.

“A true artist and visionary, Prince changed the world with his music, bringing love, joy and inspiration to millions,” says Story. “Sony Music is honoured to play a part in keeping Prince’s music alive and making it available for generations of lifelong listeners and future fans”.

“The Sony team’s enthusiasm and deep knowledge of Prince’s music make them the ideal partner to release these iconic bodies of work”, adds Carter. “We’re looking forward to working with the heirs and Sony on giving fans what they’ve been waiting for – more great music from Prince”.