Artists trying to get their master recordings from record labels have usually been met with failure. This power dynamic has on more than one occasion led musicians to compare label owners with slave owners.
In fact, Prince famously wrote the word “Slave” on his face in 1993 when he felt his Warner Bros. label was controlling him.
“If I can’t do what I want to do, what am I?” he asked a Rolling Stone reporter three years later. “If you don’t own your masters your masters own you.”
If a record label owns an artist’s master recordings he or she controls what can be done with that music. Many labels offer an advance when an artist first signs a deal, which later needs to be recouped, and that money is given in exchange for the masters. Ray Charles was the first Black musician to own his master recordings.
The latest person to speak on the topic and call label owners slave masters is Meek Mill, who sent a tweet on Wednesday.
“All records labels should start letting artist have ownership or you will be viewed as a slave master!” he wrote. “Make it even for both sides the ones putting money up and the creator!!! Is even too much?”
The Philly rapper sent another message on the subject a few hours later.
“And I was speaking for the new artist the young 18 year old kids that’s prolly in poverty that get preyed on by big companies with offers for a small fees like a million dollars knowing they will make 50 million back off them and still not offering ownership,” he tweeted.
The “Championships” creator is the second rapper this month to blast record label owners for making it difficult for artists to own their masters.
On Feb. 11 Lupe Fiasco slammed longtime music executive Lyor Cohen for trying to strong-arm him when he wanted his masters from Atlantic Records.
“Once asked Lyor for my masters in exchange for signing a 360 deal & he said ‘Do I want them like in a suitcase to carry around?’” tweeted Fiasco. “A greatest hit from Among all the other wild sh– some of these white record execs have said 2 me with a straight face in private.”
A lot of people thanked Fiasco for telling his story, as fans did Mill for relaying his message.
Some agreed with the Philly native and said there should be an even split between artist and financier, while others said the one putting up the money deserves a bigger cut. There were also those who said they would never sign a record deal regardless of the terms.