Sony Music Entertainment Is Waiving Unrecouped Debts for Legacy Artists

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Sony Music Entertainment (SME) is officially preparing to waive unrecouped debts for legacy artists, as part of its newly announced “Legacy Unrecouped Balance Program.”

New York City-headquartered Sony Music unveiled the plan to waive unrecouped debts for legacy acts – as one component of a broader initiative called “Artists Forward,” it bears noting – in a letter addressed to “Sony Music Partner.” The message, which is dated today, was shared with Digital Music News.

Through Artists Forward, Sony Music will look to prioritize “transparency with creators in all aspects of their artistic development,” according to the letter. And for veteran acts who signed with SME “prior to the year 2000” and haven’t taken an advance “from the year 2000 forward,” the text indicates that the Big Three record label “will no longer apply existing unrecouped balances” to royalty payments.

The policy will specifically cover royalties from January 1st, 2021, onward, though Sony Music emphasized that it is “not modifying existing contracts, but choosing to pay through on existing unrecouped balances to increase the ability of those who qualify to receive more money from uses of their music.”

Creators who qualify for the Legacy Unrecouped Balance Program are set to receive notification “separately in the weeks ahead,” and these individuals will also have the option of drawing “advances on projected earnings using Real Time Advances, a new feature available through the Sony Music Artist Portal.” Currently available in the U.S. and the U.K., Real Time Advances is expected to arrive in “additional markets around the world later this year.”

Needless to say, given the prevalence of streaming as well as the presence of Bandcamp and similar platforms, it’ll be worth following the advance-related pivots that the Big Three labels make moving forward.

With a multitude of options available for releasing and distributing music – not to mention selling merchandise, vinyl records, and even NFTs – some artists may well be compelled to forgo major-label deals (and the potentially debilitating advances that come with them) in favor collecting earnings upfront.

Kanye West last year posted approximately 100 pages of his past recording contracts to Twitter, shedding light upon profit-sharing provisions, multimillion-dollar advances, and more. However, the deals also appeared to specify all manner of costs that were to be recouped by the label.

West addressed the subject in a follow-up tweet: “90% of the record contracts on the planet are still on a royalty A standard record deal is a trap to NEVER have you recoup, and there’s all these hidden costs like the ‘distribution fees’ many labels put in their contracts to make even more money off our work without even trying.”

More recently, Pharrell Williams last month compared record-label advances to “illegal loans,” telling UnitedMasters founder and CEO Steve Stoute: “We’re so used to being owned in some way, shape, or form. No one should own you. No one should own your actions. No one should own your creations.

“You shouldn’t walk into a company and say, ‘I’m gonna make this record.’ They give you an advance. Then, for the tenure of the entire time that your album is out, you’re working to pay back that advance.”

5 Responses

  1. Smells Like

    Someone needs a tax break!!!

    Remember they gave DMX a break then an album

    Where’s he now?

  2. John Brown

    Legacy (old) artists generally don’t have unrecouped balances. It’s a nice headline for a press release, but the total dollar amount can’t be that much.

  3. Paul Resnikoff

    By the way, I’d heard from a source at Sony Music that legacy artists were having a piece of their CD royalties shaved off because of Sony’s broader R&D efforts developing the format. Sort of a stretch in the ‘recoupment’ equation.

  4. Robots Have Run Amok On The Factory Floor

    This means Sony is still keeping 85% of streaming revenue.

  5. Bobby

    Nobody forced Pharrell to sign his contract. What a whiner.