Ten months after Prince’s death, the last piece of the business puzzle for his music has finally been reached. Prince’s estate has made an agreement with the Universal Music Group for his music recorded after 1995, as well as material from Prince’s storied recording vault, Universal and the estate announced on Thursday.
The deal covers 25 albums that Prince released through his NPG Records label after going independent in the mid-1990s, including “Emancipation,” “Musicology” and “3121.” Prince started NPG after feuding with Warner Bros., his first label and the home of virtually all of his biggest hits, like “Purple Rain” and “1999.” The contents of Prince’s vault — legendary among fans — have never been fully revealed; the announcement on Thursday said only that it included outtakes as well as live and demo recordings.
The agreement, whose terms were not disclosed, is the latest in a series of deals that Universal has struck with Prince’s estate to secure rights connected to his music and celebrity brand. In November, Universal’s music publishing division became the administrator for Prince’s songwriting catalog, and in January the company struck a merchandising deal with the estate.
Lucian Grainge, the chairman of Universal, said in a statement that the company’s series of deals with the estate were “an absolute honor” and said that Universal was “committed to honoring Prince’s legacy and vision by creating the highest quality products and services.”
These deals give Universal a powerful position in the posthumous business of Prince, but it has competition: Warner Bros. retains many rights to release much of his most popular music for at least several more years in the United States, through its original contracts with Prince and a renegotiation three years ago. (For soundtrack albums like “Purple Rain,” the company has much more extensive rights.) But the unusual level of control that Prince maintained over his work — which is now in the hands of his estate — means that for many of those albums, Universal will eventually put them out, and profit from them.
The music industry at large is eagerly awaiting the Grammy Awards on Sunday, when most streaming services have plans to finally release the Warner Bros. portion of Prince’s music. But the material covered under Universal’s new deal is not set to be part of that release.
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