As Variety reported exclusively earlier this month, Prince’s estate and Sony Music Entertainment have inked an exclusive distribution agreement. The deal, officially announced today, includes 35 previously released album titles from the artist’s catalog — several of which are among the best-selling titles from his original 19-year stint on Warner Bros. Records. Those albums, which include “1999,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” “Sign O’ the Times” and nine others, will move over to Sony in 2021.
The Prince catalog covered under the new agreement will be distributed by Legacy Recordings, a division of SME, with worldwide rights beginning immediately to 19 previously released album titles originally released between 1995 and 2010. The list of album titles includes “The Gold Experience” (1995), “Emancipation” (1996), “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic” (1999), “The Rainbow Children” (2001) and “3121” (2006), as well as titles originally distributed by Sony including “Musicology” (2004) and “Planet Earth” (2007). Additional album titles from the 2014-2015 era will also be distributed with worldwide rights under the deal in the future.
Starting in 2021, Sony/Legacy’s distribution rights will be expanded to include 12 Prince non-soundtrack catalog albums, featuring music recorded by the artist from the 1978-1996 era for distribution in the United States. Music from this period covered under the agreement includes the albums “Prince” (1979), “Dirty Mind” (1980), “Controversy” (1981), “1999” (1982), “Around the World in a Day” (1985), “Sign ‘O’ The Times” (1987), “Lovesexy” (1988), “Diamonds and Pearls” (1991) and “[Love Symbol]” (1992), and “much more,” the announcement reads.
Prince’s two all-time top-selling albums, “Purple Rain” (1984) and “Batman” (1989), as well as “Parade” (1986) and “Graffiti Bridge” (1990), are not included in this Sony deal; they are soundtrack recordings to Warner Bros. films and are subject to different terms. Also missing are several albums from the latter half of Prince’s career, as well as a few Warner titles including “The Black Album,” originally scheduled for release in 1987 but not issued until seven years later.
According to the announcement, the agreement also includes rights to “other previously released material recorded post-1995 including singles, b-sides, remixes, non-album tracks, live recordings and music videos.”
However, the announcement includes no mention of unreleased material or Prince’s much-vaunted “Vault” containing thousands of unreleased recordings, which the estate recently moved from the artist’s Paisley Park compound to a storage facility in Los Angeles — or of an album of previously unreleased songs scheduled for a streaming exclusive on Tidal in 2019 that will be partially curated by Jay-Z. A rep for the estate did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Broadly speaking, a licensing deal for similar material was struck with Universal in February of last year, but two sources told Variety that the assets were found to have been misrepresented by the estate’s entertainment advisors at the time, resulting in the rescission of that $31 million deal. However, another source disputed that assertion, saying the estate’s current administrator, Comerica Bank, and its advisors “agreed to rescind the deal made by Bremer Trust, the former Special Administrator after Warner Bros. and new advisors to the estate created unsubstantiated arguments to prevent Universal from honoring the more profitable deal made earlier, and to allow Warner Bros. to maintain control over certain aspects of Prince’s catalog based on different interpretations of a prior agreement entered with Warner Bros. and Prince.” Sources tell Variety the main points of contention in the Universal deal were the expiration dates of Warner’s rights to certain recordings, which are significant in the case of an artist whose commercial peak was 25 to 35 years ago.
“A true artist and visionary, Prince changed the world with his music, bringing love, joy and inspiration to millions,” said Richard Story, President, SME Commercial Music Group. “Sony Music is honored to play a part in keeping Prince’s music alive and making it available for generations of lifelong listeners and future fans.”
“The Sony team’s enthusiasm and deep knowledge of Prince’s music make them the ideal partner to release these iconic bodies of work,” said Prince Estate entertainment adviser Troy Carter. “We’re looking forward to working with the heirs and Sony on giving fans what they’ve been waiting for – more great music from Prince.”