Prince’s estate near accords needed to stream hit records

Flowers lie on a T-shirt signed by fans at a makeshift memorial for musician Prince outside the Apollo Theater in New York

The estate of Prince Rogers Nelson, one of the few musicians unavailable on most streaming services, is closing in on deals that will pave the way for the artist’s music to play at major outlets like Spotify and Apple Music, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Representatives of Prince, who died in April at age 57, have all but finished a deal for songs like “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” to be played in public, said the person, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. The estate is also nearing a deal with a record label, the person said, without being more specific. Both are preludes to streaming agreements.

The estate is trying to close those deals quickly and clinch streaming accords ahead of the Grammy Awards in February, according to three people. The ceremony is a great promotional opportunity and is bound to include a tribute to the late entertainer. The estate won’t license the catalog until it has all the rights represented, and talks could fall apart at any time, the people said, especially given the number of parties involved.

Universal Music Group’s publishing division recently won an auction to represent the rights to songs written by Prince in a deal with the Bremer Trust, the court-appointed administrator of Prince’s estate. Warner Music Group represents many of his biggest recordings, but not the entire catalog. Tidal already has some streaming rights.

If the labels, the estate and the services can reach a deal, they would restore Prince’s music to most streaming apps almost two years after the artist yanked them off. His departure from streaming services was reminiscent of when he broke ranks with his record label in a compensation dispute. 

Prince was a prolific and idiosyncratic genius, with sales exceeding 100 million albums. He constantly challenged fans and business associates by changing his name, appearance and contracts – all with an eye toward controlling his works.

In doing so, he inspired other artists to demand more from their labels, though few would go so far as to release music independently. In recent years, top artists Taylor Swift and Thom Yorke have assailed streaming services for using the popularity of their work to amass large customer bases without sufficiently compensating musicians. 

In recent years Pandora Media Inc. and Spotify Ltd. have worked to improve their relationship with the music industry, and artists in particular. Pandora, which can play Prince music on its web radio service, is also seeking rights for a forthcoming on-demand streaming service, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Record labels have warmed to paid streaming services because they’ve exploded in the past couple years and helped the industry recover. The U.S. music industry has grown two years in a row for the first time in almost two decades. 

The popularity of streaming has all but forced artists to make deals. The Beatles licensed their music to streaming services in time for Christmas in 2015, while Neil Young and The Black Keys have made more of their songs available for streaming in recent months.

“After five years of struggling with this we agreed to put the keys songs on Spotify,” Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney tweeted Dec. 19. “I’d rather people hear our music than not.” Lucas Shaw, Bloomberg


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