(AllHipHop Features) It’s clear the Internet changed the music game forever in so many ways, specifically when it comes to creators gaining endless access to worldwide listeners.
Former music executive Jimmy Iovine recently discussed how entertainers now have more power in their hands while record companies have less leverage than in the past.
“I like this girl SZA. Top Dawg’s girl. Five years ago, she gets 15% or 12%. They own everything and got a 70/30 split the other way because they were able to build a buzz in technology on their own,” said Iovine while speaking with Pharrell Williams’ OTHERtone. “So the record industry is going to come up against that.”
The ex-head of Interscope Records added, “You have all these artists that are getting buzz, getting action on their music. Then what happens is all the labels bid.”
The ever-evolving nature of the record business has led observers to ponder why a new act that already has a significant fanbase would even feel the need to sign to a major label.
Parroting the independent approach of 3-time Grammy winner Chance The Rapper seemed to be the productive blueprint for this era of creating music.
That’s why it came as a surprise to some people when emerging Atlanta rapper 21 Savage announced he joined the roster at Epic Records.
Especially since the ’16 XXL Freshman Class alum declared on his “No Heart” single, “Fast forward n-gga, 2016, and I’m screaming f-ck a deal.”
At the time of 21’s signing, Epic was run by established music biz insider L.A. Reid (he has since left his position as CEO/Chairman of the company after facing sexual harassment allegations by a female employee).
When asked about his decision to team with Reid, 21 Savage told the Rap Radar podcast in January, “Cause he’s black… He’s probably the last black CEO… He’s gonna understand me before anybody else understands me.”
Critics – i.e. Everyday Struggle host Joe Budden – questioned the move, suggesting Savage could have attained a level of success without accepting upfront money in exchange for sharing eventual profits.
So why would a rising star like 21 Savage sign on the dotted line with a major label in this “Age of DIY”?
A recent social media post from his manager, King Me Collective‘s Kei Henderson, could be the answer.
While responding to a DJ Booth article about SZA’s favorable deal with RCA Records, Henderson tweeted, “Similar to ours, but Savage owns his Masters. And is signed to Slaughter Gang.”
The idea of a newly signed artist reportedly owning his masters is an impressive triumph.
Typically, the label has some ownership claim to those original recordings which allows the company to continuously acquire revenue from back catalog sales and music licensing.
Eagles member/Recording Artists’ Coalition co-founder Don Henley talked to Rolling Stonemagazine in 2011 about the importance of retrieving his group’s master tapes.
“We still sell a lot of catalog. So it would mean a great deal to us and our heirs. I have four kids,” said the singer-songwriter.
Henley continued, “The future ain’t what it used to be, as somebody once said. For artists like the Eagles and others who have sold millions upon millions of records and made millions in profits for the record companies, those artists should get their creations back.”
Musical icon Prince fought with Warner Bros. Records for years over his art and likeness, a result of the deal he signed with the label as a new artist in the 1970’s.
The Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer even went as far as writing the word “SLAVE” on his face as a form of protest against the major label system.
“If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you,” Prince told Rolling Stone in 1996.
Since his death in April 2016, Prince’s music is once again at the center of a copyright battle; this time the clash is between the late musician’s Estate and the JAY-Z-fronted Tidal streaming service.
The man who once went by an unpronounceable symbol pulled his records from all streamers except Tidal because he championed the platform’s artist-owner model.
Earlier this year, Apple Music and Spotify users were finally able to stream Prince’s music following a lawsuit by his surviving family members.
JAY directly addressed the Prince Estate’s “special music industry adviser” L. Londell McMillan on the 4:44 track “Caught Their Eyes.”
“This guy had ‘Slave’ on his face. You think he wanted the masters with his masters?” rapped the Roc Nation founder.
JAY-Z is another music veteran that has been very vocal about the value of an artist having control of his or her master recordings.
“I own my own masters. You know I ain’t missing no royalty statements,” the Hip Hop trendsetter announced on “We Made It (Freestyle).”
All of the intricate details of 21 Savage’s entire record deal are not public, however, if he is truly in full possession of his masters, the 24-year-old neophyte puts himself in an economic position that many of his musical predecessors are still fighting to reach.
Chance The Rapper’s fruitful indie route could be one potent method of achieving artistic and financial control in today’s music climate.
But it appears the Slaughter Gang leader is managing a different profitable path even with a business association with Epic Records.