Recently Rihanna took a move to secure her financial future and bought back the masters of her recordings. For an artist at her level this is a very big move that many have not or could not take advantage of.

To put more context on this, when a recording is made ownership falls into two categories: who owns the song and who owns the recording. Usually the songwriter owns the copyright to the song and the record label owns the recording copyright (and the masters). The masters are the final recording from which all the subsequent recordings are made. Back in the day this used to be a big roll of magnetic tape. In today’s music industry the masters are the audio files and the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) mixed and mastered file from the recording session.

If someone wants to license the song in a movie or commercial they have two options: they can obtain a license from the record label to use the sound recording or if this is too expensive, they can obtain a license from the songwriter and get a band to re-record the song and use the new sound recording.

Usually when a song is a hit getting the license to the sound recording is going to be more expensive than getting a license for the song because that’s the “version” people are more familiar with. Similarly, the value of the master to that sound recording is going to go up because the potential future revenue is going to be substantial.

Ray Charles was the first R&B artist to own his masters and for him to negotiate that deal in the time period that he did was unprecedented. It is still not common for artists to do this because the label is in effect giving up future potential earnings from a project they helped to build.

I’m sure it wasn’t cheap for Rihanna to buy back her masters but it is a worthwhile investment, not to mention that those were the songs that made her career.