February 28, 2015 7:57 PM   Subscribe

Why is such a big deal made when an artist has to "give up their master recordings to the record label"? Can't the artist just record his/her song again? as many times as they want?
posted by shipbreaker to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Studio time is money. Engineer time is money. Extra studio musicians are money. The artist's time is money. The producer's time is money, any equipment rental is money. . . those master recordings represent weeks or months of work and tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.

On a less quantifiable level, recording is incredibly hard work. I've given performances where I felt like a million bucks afterwards, but after recording those same pieces? I felt like I had lost a hammer fight. It's an exhausting, strenuous, stressful, highly iterative grind of a process, it's not like just picking up a guitar and singing a song. The thought of having to do all that work, starting over from nothing. . . it makes me want to cry just thinking about it.

Imagine someone saying "So they took your college degree away from you. Why is that such a big deal? Can't you just re-enroll and earn your degree again?" It's about like that.
posted by KathrynT at 8:11 PM on February 28, 2015 [14 favorites]

As to whether an artist can re-record songs, sometimes the answer is no. Record deals may include a provision that songs can't be re-recorded for some years after release.
posted by in278s at 8:17 PM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

They can, and they do. But they have to wait until they are not under contract (which is often hugely difficult), and beyond if their contract stipulates that they may not re-record songs for a certain number of years. By that time, in all likelihood an artist's voice has changed. If it was a well-known song, fans probably won't be happy with the re-recording, especially if the original version is still available.

I think it does make sense if the majority of an artist's income is coming from synch licensing in commercials/TV/film (plus, if the artist has synch approval rights on the original recording, they can block uses of the original), as opposed to record sales where listeners might be more apt to notice and object to differences.
posted by acidic at 8:31 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Because a sound recording is a different copyright than the copyright for the song itself. If you turn over the "master rights" (i.e. the copyright of the specific sound recording) to your label, they can do what they want with it, including earning money by having the recording used in films & TV shows (known as "synchronization" or "sync", as acidic notes above), and the artist won't necessarily get any of that money or have any control over where that specific sound recording gets used.

The songwriters will still get paid as songwriters, but not as the artists that recorded that version of the song.

See "Retaining Your Music Master Rights."
posted by soundguy99 at 9:29 PM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also, as noted in that article, if the label decides it's not worth the bother to continue to press copies of your record, you're no longer making any money from record/CD sales as the recording artist. And for all that CD sales are declining rapidly, those sales can still be worth serious money, especially to acts whose audience is older and maybe not so interested in downloading stuff. And dumb as it sounds, a label can also refuse to allow the original recordings to be available for download on iTunes or Amazon or wherever. So the artist won't get any money from that, either.

I've worked with quite a few "oldies" acts who have re-recorded their hits in order to have something to sell at their live shows, and they can't just get their hands on the original recordings because the rights to those are lost in a legal morass of labels being sold and re-sold and absorbed and gone out of business.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:48 PM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Artists can re-record their songs, and often do. But as has been pointed out, the new recordings are never exactly the same. This makes them devalued from the start. Usually, these come about to either give the artist a fresh chance to control their own work, or out of a dispute with the entity holding the rights to the original recordings.

Here are some famous cases of artists rerecording their material:
-the band Cracker was so incensed their old label would be issuing a Greatest Hits comp of their work without their involvement at the same time as their new record, they rerecorded all of the songs and put out Greatest Hits Redux on their new label on the same day
-Def Leppard recorded "forgeries" of their original hits for digital distribution when they couldn't agree on compensation for downloads with their label
-country legend George Jones found licensing all of the hits he'd recorded from myriad labels into one compilation to be a hassle, so he rerecorded them all instead
-Jeff Lynne from ELO rerecorded all of that band's hits for a new best-of comp, either because he is an obsessive perfectionist who wanted to have another go with the latest technology... or because he wanted to be the sole band member paid for Greatest Hits sales
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:53 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

When you aren't talking about solo artists, there can also BIG issues around the right to market any new recordings under the name of the band if the band has had personnel changes or even has developed disagreements among original members about financial or artistic matters. Relatively few bands earlier in their life have proper internal corporate structure to crystallize, and allocate the value of, the ownership of the brand / trademark of the band. Many never develop it.

But, by contrast, labels do a very good job in their standard contracts of locking in every member of the band individually, and securing the overall right to use the band name by the unanimity of those individual contracts, before they record each album originally, and allocating royalties indefinitely.
posted by MattD at 8:36 AM on March 1, 2015

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