Of Master Recordings, Masters In Grammar & Noisy Empty Vessels
Themba Sonnyboy Sekowe aka DJ Maphorisa‘s ongoing twar with Prince Kaybee and Lady Zamar after he namedropped the two along with Mafikizolo for allegedly not owning the elemental rights to their music has everyone researching one phrase: “master recordings.” The term, which is at the heart of contracts between musicians and record labels, is also at the root of various artists frustrating situations across the world.
A swift recap for those just joining the fiasco now, Phori, as the streets affectionately call the DJ, was confronted by social media users on popular microblogging site Twitter for his lack of humility and enabling Kabza De Small’s alleged alcohol problem. The toffee-nosed Maphorisa then posted a series of tweets defending himself while also self-validating his contribution to the South African music industry.
As is always his doing, he boasted about some of his many accomplishments. This time he blew his trumpet by saying he that he owns all of his master tracks and seems to know best when it comes to managing his artists.
“Samthin Soweto Owns His Masters
Kabza De Small Owns His Masters
Dj Maphorisa i own my Masters(sic),”
If he had ended there, one would have thought it only apt for the world of black Twitter to give the “Phoyisa” hitmaker some expansive room to jiggle over his success. You know, like let the man and his guys have their special moment.
The moonwalk moment was however not as slippery as anticipated and was largely left unrealised because he also made sure to bash other artists in his boasting by mentioning a few much-loved musos who don’t own their master recordings.
“Lady Zamar doesn’t own Their Masters
Prince Kaybee doesn’t own Their Masters
Mafikizolo doesn’t own Their Masters
do you know wats the difference?
i empower n the world doesn’t.
Prince Kaybee, notorious for not taking cyberbullying lightly, and Lady Zamar along with a regiment of other tweeps were far from being thrilled with Dj Maphorisa seemingly puffing himself up at the expense of others. The general consensus was in harmony that Phori could have shared the importance of owning one’s masters without involving other artists.
Kaybee was swift to romp as he quote-tweeted his peer and disclosed that while he may not own his masters, he has an impressive list of income streams under his sleeve:
•Prince Kaybee owns shares in a short term insurance company that exists in 3 African Countries
•Prince Kaybee owns a trucking company with a fleet of 15 horses and 8 SideTippers
•Prince Kaybee owns flats “Willow Glen Bloemfontein” with 12 Units https://t.co/n8z5FynoqJ
— K A B I L L I O N (@PrinceKaybee_SA) February 24, 2020
With a good defence comes a good clap back. The “Charlotte” hitmaker also went on to “politely” take Phori through a canvas public Grammarly tutorial that got many thinking perhaps it’s good to have a masters in grammar over owning one’s master recordings.
And we don’t use “their” when referring to individuals, thats one part of ur life that needs empowerment 😊
— K A B I L L I O N (@PrinceKaybee_SA) February 24, 2020
Lady Zamar was also awakened by the tweet but was very much reluctant to quote-tweet or tag anybody in her comeback. She just sent a spicy sub-tweet.
“Empty vessels make the most noise… ALL THE TIME,”
wrote sis, and also added that she “just don’t have the energy for this” up in a follow-up tweet.
In his response to the comebacks, DJ Maphorisa said people can ridicule his crass and unrefined English all they want but he wasn’t ill-intended in the tweet. In fact, he thought his post would inspire the named artists to think about finding ways to win their masters from capitalistic music labels.
Ahhh u successful mos go buy ur masters back like Jay Z Hau its not personal just facts n vele u have strongs arms @PrinceKaybee_SA
— LawdOfTheHits LOTH (@DjMaphorisa) February 24, 2020
To this day, the two are still trending, with Maphorisa’s fans arguing that Prince Kaybee and his collaborator Lady Zamar had missed the pertinent point.
But trends aside, perhaps we need to concentrate more on what “master recordings” is as it is the animal that’s bringing out the worst human traits on our favourites artists.
A “master” refers to the elemental rights to a song. In literal terms, the “master recording” is the original version from which everything else stems. A CD, a stream on Spotify or iTunes, an appearance on a film soundtrack, being released publicly at all — all of those are licensed by the holder of the master rights. This also means that the holder of the master has control over the financial gains from the recordings as well. Put simply, controlling the master rights essentially means you have control over what is done with the song or album.
When Enzo Ishall signed with TeeMak Promotion last month, we ran a piece entitled, “Of Enzo Ishall’s New Deal With Teemak Promotions & The Lingering Question Of Who Owns The Master Recordings” in which I argued that music labels and promotional entities are notorious for leveraging the allure of a full-time music career to ink deals that swipe copyrights from artists. This forfeiting or sharing the legal rights to the master recording usually happens when for instance, an artist needs the financial support, marketing and promotion of a label for the recording and release of their work, and for short-term financial stability, a majority of artists have sacrificed their creative control and ownership of master recordings to make it.
The conventional music industry often structures deals so that the label, not the artist, owns the masters of all songs created during a deal. In exchange for signing over the master rights to their recordings, artists are often given an advance and a royalty percentage from all profits made off the music. The royalties only begin coming to the artist after they’ve earned back their advances or whatever their agreement says.
Because artists don’t own their own masters, labels can simply do what they want with them, without consulting the artist at all. They could theoretically license out the songs for things an artist wouldn’t want their music associated with, and the artist couldn’t do anything about it; a situation that many other artists find themselves in.
Just like Cassper Nyovest, Dj Maphorisa and Jay Z, other artists and independent musician advocates institutions like Artists Without A Label (AWAL) — a London-based distribution company and record label — have for years criticised this kind of deal, saying it is never in an artist’s favour.
Nevertheless, there have been other voices that have argued that signing over your master recordings can work in a case that an artist is just starting up or breaking out, but they must make sure that such an arrangement is shortlived. Music can take a long time to pay off, so it may be absurd to turn down an advance to try to confer a better long-term deal, the argument goes.
It has also become a popular practice that producers and sound engineers make such deals with up and coming artists to produce and record their songs for a part split of ownership over the masters. For a featured artist, the deal usually is to co-own the masters since they contribute their own intellectual property in the form of lyrics to the song. Recording studios and production houses sometimes claim the argument that since their music equipment and expertise are used on the work, they deserve some rights to the masters. However, this argument is thought of as weak as studios can only claim their price or fee per time spent.
In summation, all we could say is that the artists can themselves decide to share or give up some share of masters to whoever they deem necessary and feasible in the business of music. But they should always remember the late Prince‘s iconic advice that “If you don’t own your masters, the master owns you.”