Prince Catalogue Inches Closer to Streaming with License Deal
For months, the most closely watched contest in the music industry has been for the songs of Prince, who died in April.
Now, the first major deal for Prince’s music has been reached: The star’s songwriting rights are going to the Universal Music Publishing Group for an undisclosed sum, the company and the Prince estate announced Wednesday.
The deal gives Universal long-term administration rights for Prince’s hits like “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry,” and raises the possibility that the songs — which Prince withheld from many online services — could become more widely available.
“The idea is that we are going to work very closely with the estate on the catalogue of about 1,000 Prince songs to make sure that his fans from all over the world will be able to hear it and access it,” Jody Gerson, the chief executive of Universal Music Publishing, said in an interview.
The arrangement is an administration deal, meaning Prince’s estate retains ownership of the songs. It also does not cover Prince’s recorded music rights, which are the subject of aggressive bidding on their own.
The rights to Prince’s publishing catalogue — the lyrics, chords and melodies of his songs — are particularly valuable. Prince maintained tight oversight over this, and in 2014 he managed to regain full control of his publishing, an unusual arrangement since most songwriters assign these songwriting copyrights to publishers.
In addition, Prince used his publishing rights to restrict where his music could he heard online. For years, he refused to allow his music on YouTube, and in 2015 he removed his music from all streaming services except Tidal.
In another sign of his unusual control, Prince also withdrew from the major performing-rights societies, which collect money for artists whenever their music is publicly performed; the estate will have to make a new such deal, or radio stations and even streaming outlets may lose the right to play his songs.
Prince died without a will and, apparently, without any instructions for how his music empire should be managed. Estimates of the value of his estate have varied widely, reaching as high as $300 million, with his music presumably making up the largest part of the total.
In June, the estate appointed two seasoned music executives, L. Londell McMillan and Charles Koppelman, to manage Prince’s music catalogues and set up new deals for his songs, which, by the usual measures, were underexploited. Tidal, for example, is available in only 52 countries, according to its website.
In a statement, McMillan and Koppelman said, “With this major agreement, the estate maintains ownership of Prince’s music, and now legions of fans from around the world will have even greater opportunities to continue to delight in his incomparable songwriting and musical expression.”
Bremer Trust, a Minnesota bank, acts as the special administrator for the Prince estate, and its actions have been closely watched by the music industry. Last month, a plan to open Paisley Park, Prince’s recording studio, as a public museum, was temporarily snared by a zoning vote by the city council of Chanhassen, Minnesota.
Universal Music Publishing, which is a division of the Universal Music Group, had rights to Prince’s music publishing catalogue from 2001 to 2014, when he took control of it himself.
Gerson, who took over at Universal last year, said that as an executive at other publishing companies, it was always her dream to have the Prince catalogue in her roster.
“I was always hoping we could get it,” she said. “Now we got it.”