After signing a multi-year agreement with Prince’s estate, Universal Music Group now owns all of the late icon’s music released between 1994 and 2016, including previously unheard material from his vault.
The news came on Feb. 9 when Michele Anthony, executive vice president of UMG, said the following in a statement: “It’s an honor professionally and personally to be entrusted with these cherished recordings, including his storied ‘vault’ of unreleased music, and to partner with his estate and heirs to preserve and expand Prince’s legacy.”
In 1994, Prince founded his own record label, New Power Generation Records, and began releasing music both independently and in joint deals with other labels. Most of these albums have gone out of print and are unavailable online, creating a high demand for them.
Prince’s posthumous releases are arguably the most anticipated since Michael Jackson’s Michael and Xscape. The albums were released in 2010 and 2014, respectively,w under a similar deal that Jackson’s estate signed with Sony Music Entertainment for a record-breaking $250 million.
With UMG as a home, Prince’s catalog finds itself in the company of artists like Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift and Prince’s business partners at TIDAL, Jay Z, Kanye West and Madonna.
The rights of the music released before 1994, however, belong to various labels. While UMG announced that it will attempt to gain as many of those rights as possible starting next year, the albums released under Warner Bros., such as 1999, Purple Rain, Dirty Mind and Sign o’ the Times, became available on streaming services on Feb. 12 under the ownership of Warner Bros.
In order to compete with Warner Bros. in terms of profiting from album sales and streams, UMG will likely focus its attention to unreleased music from the vault instead of the 25 albums released since NPG’s inception. The vault is said to contain hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings spanning from instrumentals and lyrical concepts to fully completed songs.
“I can hear five albums in my head right now,” Prince once stated in a 2014 Rolling Stones interview. “I’ve never said this before, but I didn’t always give record companies the best song. There are songs in the vault that no one’s ever heard.”
Though fans all over the world are rejoicing, one person close to Prince admitted that the seven-time Grammy Award winner and Academy Award winner would not be happy with the decision to release the music in his vault. Leisl AuVante, who worked with Prince in Graffiti Bridge said “I know the loss of control of his work would make him very upset. He worked really hard to protect his music and the rights to his music.”
Prince built his career around the future. He was ahead of his time and always broke boundaries whether he was in the studio or on stage. In his unfortunate death, the world has been given the opportunity to look back on his career and on the songs, albums and moments that have made him iconic.