Universal Music Publishing Group announced Wednesday (Nov. 2) that it is the exclusive worldwide publishing administrator for Prince’s entire song catalog — released and unreleased — effective immediately. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although a source tells Billboard it is a “long term agreement.”
According to the announcement, UMPG is “responsible for servicing and administering Prince’s expansive catalog of songs” and will “work closely with the artist’s estate to develop new creative outlets for his music.” Before his death, Prince and his staff managed his publishing catalog, with Peermusic handling back-office administration, after an earlier UMPG contract ended in 2013.
UMPG chairman and CEO Jody Gerson, said to be the company’s key negotiator in the deal, said in a statement, “We’re humbled to be entrusted with Prince’s catalog and I’m grateful to my entire team for their work in making this agreement a reality. With the timelessness and genius of Prince’s music, there are no limits to what we can achieve working with his estate. Prince’s popularity will only continue to grow around the world.”
Lucian Grainge, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, said, “I congratulate Jody and her team on this landmark deal. Since joining UMPG as chairman and CEO in 2015, Jody has done a remarkable job at developing and signing some of the most important songwriters and recording artists in contemporary music highlighted by the addition of Prince’s incredible catalog of work.”
Bremer Trust, the court-appointed temporary special administrator of the Prince Rogers Nelson Estate, hired longtime Prince associates Charles Koppelman (who, as head of EMI Records, signed Prince to his first post-Warner Bros. deal in 1996) and L. Londell McMillan (who was the artist’s manager and/or attorney for more than a decade) and as advisers on the musical holdings. They commented in a statement, “We are pleased that UMPG shall once again administer Prince’s music publishing worldwide and assist the estate by giving Prince’s iconic music catalog the proper care and support it deserves. 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.”
Negotiations for the licensing rights to much of Prince’s overall catalog, as well as to four decades’ worth of unreleased material, are ongoing. The advisers are considering multiple offers, McMillan confirmed to Billboard earlier this month.
Prince’s longtime label Warner Bros. announced that it had secured the rights to the first releases since the artist’s death on April 21: a 40-track greatest-hits compilation called Prince 4Ever, out Nov. 22, and a deluxe edition of Purple Raincontaining a full album of unreleased material, out early next year. The albums are likely the first of many to come from the singer’s vast archive of recordings. In the years after Prince’s initial deal with Warner Bros., which spanned from the beginning of his professional career in 1977 to 1996, the artist — who railed against the traditional label system and doggedly (and, at times, dogmatically) insisted on controlling the rights to his own work and likeness — struck many different one-off deals with labels and streaming services, and even returned to Warner Bros. in 2014 for a pair of new albums, and a renegotiation that saw him gaining at least some of the rights to his Warner catalog.
One high-placed source opined to Billboard that the recorded-music deal is “Warner’s to lose,” citing Prince’s long history with the company and the good will fostered by the 2014 deal.
Since his death on April 21, Prince has sold 1.95 million albums and 4.9 million song downloads in the U.S. through the week ending Oct. 6, according to Nielsen Music.
As for performance licensing, Prince withdrew from ASCAP effective Jan. 1 2015, but his music is still available from that PRO for licenses that were in effect as of that date. ASCAP says that some of those licenses-in-effect expire at the end of this year, while others will continue in effect for several years. So whatever PRO signs a deal, will even get the Prince catalog for ASCAP licenses expiring at the end of this year too, like the one with Radio Music Licensing Committee. A source tells Billboard that the estate is still in the process of selecting a PRO and a decision is expected in the coming weeks.
Prince apparently did not leave a will, which has made the management of the estate deeply complicated.
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Jimmy Kerr is President and CEO of the Foundation for Musicians and Songwriters. He is a tech entrepreneur who has started dozens of companies including Orbitz.com. Mr. Kerr is a musician and Berklee College of Music trained Recording Engineer and Record Producer.