What does "Owning the Master" mean exactly?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by AstoriaJams, Feb 15, 2007.

  1. AstoriaJams

    AstoriaJams Guest

    How does owning the master recording relate to:
    - owning the copyright of the song
    - receiving performance / mechanical royalties
    - controlling points on a record deal

    As a producer and co-writer of a song, should I be a part owner, full owner, or non-owner of the master recordings? Whats the difference between these options?

    Thanks in advance for any information...
  2. multoc

    multoc Active Member

    Jun 18, 2005
    I believe all three of your points are related to owning a master. Basically the master is owned by who ever paid for the recording that is who you deliver the master tracks to. If you recorded your own music then you own the master. Plain and simple, all the rest (licensing, copyright, etc) have to do with the actual song - the structure, melody, lyrics.
  3. Mises

    Mises Guest

    As an aside, there was a discussion on here not long ago, which I disagree with (morally, if not legally). Some people were saying emphatically that if a client asks for his masters (or any material whatsoever) back... your studio is obligated to give it to them as the copyright holder.

    Copyright law should not supercede contractual obligations; if anything it should be the other way around. If your studio agreement says that you retain the right to keep all masters or scratch material, stems, whatever.... in your vault.... then its the studios to keep. The client should get their copy, and thats all they should get once the bill is paid in full.

    If the client doesnt like that deal, then they should not sign on the dotted line when they agree to use your studio.
  4. pr0gr4m

    pr0gr4m Well-Known Member

    Feb 9, 2005
    South Florida
    Home Page:
    It's when you totally beat the best chess player in the world.
  5. Mises

    Mises Guest

    Go Deep Blue. I think it should kick Kasparov's ass again because he hasn't claimed he has been 'conspired and plotted' against in a while, so I think he needs another dose of paranoia and a blow to his ego.
  6. AstoriaJams

    AstoriaJams Guest

    I think I'm still a bit unclear about what the advantages are of owning the master recordings...

    for instance, I am beginning work with a singer very soon. She will be singing a melody and her lyrics, and I will compose all other music arrangements, record, and mix the tracks.

    I charge a fee per song for providing recording and mixing services. This should not include my creative work as a co-songwriter. I don't want to sell my stake in the songs. I want to retain my share of the writer's credit... so if the songs are ever used for say television, or they end up on a selling album, I should get my share of performance / mechanical royalties.

    SO - how does holding onto the masters factor in to all of this?

    - since we are both equal writers, is there such thing as sharing ownership of the masters?

    - do we copyright the tracks in both of our names?

    - since there is no publishing company in the picture, would we register the tracks with our PRO's and specify that we should each receive 100% share?
  7. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    Passman's book has a lot of basic info on this kind of thing. (Masters, copyright, publishing, royalties) It's pretty easy to read and on the subjects where I know the answer he gives the right one. (There are lot's of subjects where I can't verify his accuracy.) It's a good primer on basic music law. (Note that you can probably get an older (cheaper) edition to answer your questions.)
  8. dougosborne

    dougosborne Guest

    - owning the copyright of the song:

    You own the exclusive Right to Copy as soon as you fix the song in a tangible medium (in your case when you record it). The ownership of the tapes has nothing to do with this.

    - receiving performance / mechanical royalties:

    Whomever paid for the recording usually owns the original recordings. They typically pay artists and producers a royalty for each unit sold. If you paid for the recording, and you are the artist and the producer, you get to keep every dime.

    - controlling points on a record deal:

    see above.

    Physical posession of the original recordings doesn't grant that posessor any rights whatsoever (other than leverage to collect payment for the session, etc.). A studio that keeps a master tape or hard drive, for example, can not profit from these, make copies, etc., without permission from the owner.
  9. AstoriaJams

    AstoriaJams Guest

    Sorry to beat a dead horse here, but let me give an example. Maybe someone can tell me if this scenerio is true, and reasonable:

    I'm a producer. I record and co-write songs with an artist. The artist pays me a fee only for using my studio. We sign an agreement that states that the artist will keep the master recordings. The artist then has the right to license the recordings for use in a film or tv commercial, or sign with a record company who will sell these recordings - all without my permission because I do not "own the masters".

    HOWEVER - Since I keep my co-writing credit and I copyright the songs in my name (as does the artist), I can still collect potential royalties from these recordings if they appear on a television show, or on a selling album.

    ...am I missing something?
  10. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Distinguished Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    If you are really concerned about this problem I would go and talk to a lawyer and have him or her draw up a binding legal contract between you and the rest of the people on the creative team. In the old days things could be handled by a friendly handshake but those times are gone and if this is an ongoing concern I would spend some money and hire a legal specialist. What ever you do by yourself is NOT going to stand up in a court of law unless it is very well written and all the "t's" are crossed and all the "i's" dotted and only a lawyer will know for sure how it would play out if you had to go to court. Best of luck.

  11. dougosborne

    dougosborne Guest

    You are correct.

    And yes, you should see a lawyer.

Share This Page