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Universal gets access to Prince’s vault, Warner catalogue heading to Spotify

By | Published on Friday 10 February 2017


Universal Music has signed a deal to rep 25 of Prince’s albums as well as, perhaps more importantly, the musician’s vast archive of unreleased material. Meanwhile, the catalogue still controlled by Warner Music – spanning albums released from 1979 to 1995 – will return to Spotify this Sunday, to coincide with the Grammy Awards.

The deal between Prince’s estate and his NPG Records label with the Universal record company was announced yesterday. It covers all of his albums from 1995 onwards, and follows previous deals negotiated by the estate with Universal Music Publishing for the musician’s song rights, and the major’s merch company Bravado to exploit his brand. Additionally, a number of Prince’s earlier albums will come under Universal control in the US early next year too. So, basically, it’s all one massive UMG party.

“Prince was one of the greatest musical talents of all time – an incomparable genius as a performer, recording artist and songwriter”, says Universal boss Lucian Grainge. “It’s an absolute honour to once again be selected by Prince’s estate to be the home for publishing, merchandise and now for so much of his incredible body of recordings. UMG is committed to honouring Prince’s legacy and vision by creating the highest quality products and experiences”.

Yes, last time Prince was signed to a Universal company – it’s publisher – it resulted in the still-running ‘dancing baby’ litigation that began way back in 2007. So I think we can all agree that there’s much to look forward to.

The new deal around Prince’s recordings has been negotiated by L Londell McMillan and Charles Koppelman, who have been leading on commercial matters for the musician’s estate since his untimely death last year. Though the court overseeing the estate opted not to appoint a permanent individual administrator, and two of Prince’s heirs are now suing McMillan, so it’s not clear what their long-term role will now be.

They were still around to give us some quotes yesterday though. “I am THRILLED the NPG catalogue and Prince’s highly sought after unreleased recordings will reside with UMG, where we have found a partner who is passionate about presenting Prince’s music with a holistic vision that celebrates his iconic status across recorded music, publishing and merchandise and will continue to deliver the highest quality experiences that fans have come to expect”, said McMillan, in an attempt to break some sort of longest sentence record.

“I’m pleased to say, with UMG, Prince’s legacy is in very good hands”, added Koppelman, not even attempting to challenge McMillan. “Lucian and his teams at Universal Music Publishing and Bravado are already generating great excitement and energy with Prince’s legions of fans who are demanding more ways to experience this incomparable talent. With UMG’s involvement, there will be so many more outlets around the world for experiencing the brilliance of this incomparable artist”.

Universal’s precise plans for the Prince recordings it now handles are still to be confirmed. So Warner Music somewhat stole its larger rival’s thunder this morning, with the announcement that Spotify will be streaming many of Prince’s more famous albums – which it still reps, for now at least – from this Sunday. The news was first broken by Bloomberg, and has now been confirmed by Spotify.

As previously reported, the estate has been frantically trying to untangle a possible streaming exclusivity deal with Tidal that Prince agreed to before his death, to make his music more accessible during and after a planned tribute at this Sunday’s Grammy Awards.

The estate argues that there is only actually paperwork for an exclusivity deal around one of the musician’s final albums. However, Tidal says that there were various other agreements, some written and some verbal, between Prince and both the streaming service and Jay-Z’s other company Roc Nation.

Of course, prior to his death, Prince’s catalogue was pulled off all streaming services except Tidal, and his final two albums were subsequently released exclusively through the service (including in download and CD formats). It seems daft to suggest this happened without the musician’s knowledge, particularly as he spoke about the arrangement while he was still alive.

“After one meeting, it was obvious that Jay-Z and the team he has assembled at Tidal recognise and applaud the effort that real musicians put into their craft to achieve the very best they can at this pivotal time in the music industry”, Prince is quoted as saying. “[Plus] Tidal have honoured us with a non-restrictive arrangement that once again allows us to continue making art in the fashion we’ve grown accustomed to and we’re extremely grateful for their generous support”.

Still, eighteen months later, and ten months after his death, the Warner-controlled portion of Prince’s catalogue will this weekend once again join that still fairly confusing Spotify-only single he put out on the rival streaming platform.

Rumours that his music would again be available on Spotify were heightened last month, when a number of purple posters bearing the streaming service’s logo appeared in New York’s Union Square subway station. That campaign was the work of Spotify and Warner alone, without the involvement of the estate, it has now been confirmed.

Indeed, indications from the estate at the time were that no deal to extract Prince’s recordings from Tidal’s grasp had been done. Although it now seems likely that this was referring to the NPG catalogue Universal has just got the rights to rep. If and when that will appear on Spotify, or other streaming services, is not clear.

In fact, it’s not clear what other plans there are for the Warner catalogue on other streaming services either, ie on your Apple Musics and the like. Though, according to NPR, Napster has confirmed that it will also have the same records as of this Sunday.

Anyway, this Prince tribute is going to happen at the Grammy Awards ceremony this weekend – as will one for George Michael. The list of performers involved is being kept under wraps until the night. The concern is always that these things will end up being a bit rubbish. Hopefully everyone’s been studying Prince’s tribute to George Harrison at the 2004 Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame inductions for tips on how to knock it out of the park: