Warner Music Group scraps unrecouped debts for heritage artists

It comes after Sony's historic announcement last year that it would begin to pay royalties to heritage artists that were yet to recoup their advances

Warner Music Group has today (February 1) announced that it will be scrapping any unrecouped debt for artists who signed to the label before the year 2000.

The move follows Sony Music’s announcement last year that it would begin to pay royalties from streaming and other revenue streams to thousands of artists who signed deals with the label before 2000 and were yet to recoup their advances.

WMG, the world’s third largest music rights company, issued a statement confirming it would be following suit with the introduction of a “legacy unrecouped advances program”, which is set to be put into effect on July 1.

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“[We’ve] announced a legacy unrecouped advances program where, for our artists and songwriters who signed to us before 2000 and didn’t receive an advance during or after 2000, we won’t apply their unrecouped advances to royalty statements for any period beginning July 1, 2022 or after,” Warner said in a statement (via Music Business Worldwide).

“The program will also benefit other artist royalty participants such as producers, engineers, mixers and remixers.”

Universal
Will Universal Music Group be next to disregard unrecouped balances? CREDIT: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

This means that for any heritage artist whose monthly royalties were being kept by Warner due to them having not recouped their original label advances, they will now begin to receive these payments retroactively from this summer.

This move is the latest in a series from WMG with artists and writers in mind. Since 2009, the label has been sharing all advances and minimum guarantees from streaming services with artists – “treating breakage like other digital revenue”.

In 2016, Warner became the first major music company to confirm it would be sharing any proceeds from the sale of its equity in Spotify with its artists.

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In a joint statement, David Martin, CEO of Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), and Annabella Coldrick, Chief Executive of Music Managers Forum (MMF), said: “Warner Music Group’s announcement is a positive step towards the artist-centric music industry that we advocate for.

“The FAC and MMF have long campaigned for artists’ un-recouped balances to be written off after a fixed time period. In light of this we are pleased that two of the world’s major music companies have now implemented this policy, recognising that such steps do not harm their business and help to create a fairer music economy.”

They continued: “We welcome this move and hope the positive changes to ensure artists are properly paid in the streaming era will continue. We would like to see old unrecouped debts written off in full, not just disregarded, and would like to see this implemented on a rolling, annual basis so all artists will eventually benefit.”

According to MBW, sources have claimed that Universal Music will also be introducing a policy that will effectively wipe unrecouped balances for many heritage artists and songwriters on the label’s books. This policy is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Both the MMF and FAC previously recommended wiping unrecouped balances to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing on streaming that took place in 2020.

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