Universal Music Group Joins Sony Music and Warner Music in Waiving Unrecouped Balances For Legacy Artists

Lucian Grainge
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Early last month, Warner Music Group (WMG) joined Sony Music Entertainment (SME) in waiving unrecouped debts for legacy artists. Now, the final Big Three label, Universal Music Group (UMG), has officially followed suit.

Universal Music Group revealed its own plans to waive unpaid advances for legacy artists and songwriters – referring specifically to “eligible creators and their immediate heirs who have not received any payments since January 1, 2000” – in a newly published 2021 annual report.

Spanning a staggering 289 pages, the all-encompassing document details Universal Music’s “worldwide goodwill program” on page 142. Multiple outlets suggested at the time of Warner Music’s aforementioned waiver announcement that UMG would do the same later in 2022, it’s worth noting here.

WMG’s move applied to artists and songwriters alike; SME unveiled an unpaid-advance waiver for artists in June of 2021 and for songwriters in July of 2021, however. “UMG is proud to initiate a worldwide goodwill program for certain legacy featured recording artists and songwriters with unrecouped balances,” UMG execs said of the subject in the annual report.

“By not applying their unrecouped advances to royalty statements for any period beginning January 1, 2022, eligible creators and their immediate heirs who have not received any payments since January 1, 2000, will begin receiving royalties, subject to certain conditions,” continued the leading label. “Within the coming months, UMG will contact eligible artists and songwriters.”

The major labels’ decisions to do away with unrecouped debts arrive as a growing number of legacy acts – including Dwight Yoakam and The Jesus and Mary Chain – are taking steps to recapture their copyrights under the Copyright Act of 1976. Of course, a multitude of legacy acts are likewise cashing out of their song catalogs.

Elsewhere in Universal Music Group’s 2021 report, which covers everything from staff statistics to workplace-diversity initiatives and stock ownership to executive compensation, the Dutch-American label touched upon an array of interesting topics.

On the diversity, inclusion, and mental-health fronts, UMG in 2021 started referring to Columbus Day as Wellbeing Day, established year-round Wellbeing Fridays (“quieter, lighter days”), and included both Gen Z and Baby Boomers on a list of “untapped communities.”

The latter refer “to groups of people with undiscovered invaluable resources of latent strength” and a need for “opportunities that create equitable access to resources and capital.” Additionally, UMG’s 9,505 team members (just 23.56 percent of whom took one or more days off in 2021) spent a cumulative total of 70,000+ hours on training last year, albeit with a nearly 56 percent participation rate for “training on harassment.”

Other noteworthy information disclosed in UMG’s 2021 annual report includes:

UMG CEO Lucian Grainge’s 2021 Salary

Grainge pulled down a decidedly healthy 2021 salary of €40,861,707/$45,237,587 in 2021, encompassing €13.19 million/$14.59 million in base salary and a €24.67 million/$27.30 million bonus – but not a separate stock-related windfall, which reportedly elevated his earnings past $200 million.

The 2021 salary figure reflects “an annual cash bonus equal to 1% of UMG’s EBITA for the relevant financial year” and “a contingent cash bonus of €8,795,220, subject to UMG meeting specific financial and non-financial targets,” both of which were established by Grainge’s pre-IPO contract.

Workplace-Accident Statistics

UMG reported two workplace accidents that resulted in lost work time (a total of five days) for 2021.

A Payday From Sony Music’s Alamo Records Buyout

“In June 2021 UMG divested its interest in Alamo Records for the total cash consideration of € 102 million [$112.82 million]. Total gain on disposal amounted to € 98 million [$108.38 million].”

(The actual value was previously a source of media speculation.)

Spotify and Tencent Music Stock Ownership

Universal Music Group said that it owned 6,487,000 Spotify shares (acquired at an average of €6.58 each, or $7.28 apiece at the current conversion rate, and representing 3.37 percent of the company) and 12,246,000 Tencent Music shares. The former saw their value dip by some €330 million/$365.02 million from 2020’s end to 2021’s conclusion, against a €119 million/$131.63 million falloff for the TME shares.

Since December 31st, 2021, though, the Spotify shares at hand have parted with another $501.83 million – for nearly $900 million wiped out in total. Tencent Music stock, with a day-end worth of $4.87 per share, has fared even worse in terms of value lost as a percentage. Since 2020’s end, UMG’s TME shares have plunged by roughly $154 million.

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