March 4, 2021 | Written By Peter J. Speroni
As a producer, songwriter, or artist you have probably heard the word “Master” used. The Masters are the original recording made in the studio with your creative team. For the last 15 years or so, Masters have been almost exclusively multitrack. The “Multitrack” method involves recording separate tracks and incorporating the individual tracks into one final recording. A multitrack Master typically involves separate tracks for vocals and each individual instrument. Each overlay is an individual track and when incorporated into the final recording, they make up the Master.
The individual tracks composing the multitrack are referred to as the “stems”. Stems are used in derivative works such as dance remixes of your songs. Often, there are disputes over the stems themselves; the fight over ownership of the stems generally involves situations where the producer and the songwriter did not have an agreement in place before the recording process. For this reason, it is imperative to understand who owns the physical components of your recording, (not just the underlying composition) and it is vital to have that detailed in your contracts with your production and engineering teams. An experienced copyright attorney can help advise you on this part of your career to ensure your interests are protected.
Once you have your multitrack, three main techniques take place: Editing, Mixing and EQ’d. The editing process involves the cutting and splicing of parts that you wish to remove and those you wish to add to a particular part of the recording. The mixing process involves changing the levels in which each track within the multitrack is played. This can also involve enhancing the track and increasing or decreasing the volume at which each individual track is played. EQ’d or “Equalizing” is a process in which the treble, bass and midrange are adjusted to the right levels.
The disputes between artists, songwriters, engineers, and producers arise from a lack of clarity in production and songwriting agreements. By understanding the individual components of your recordings, you can protect your interests as the song is developed. Traditionally, the stems would be owned by the Producer of the song; however, absent an agreement acknowledging ownership, a Producer who put significant effort into creating the stems might end up finding out he/she has no ownership of them at all.
If you are a Producer and are charging an up-front fee for your work, it is extremely important that your Production Agreement lay out the ownership of the stems and the final recordings i.e. The Masters. Otherwise, you may end up with no legal claim to the work you should be entitled to.
Peter Jay Speroni is counsel with the Parlatore Law Group and practices in the fields of copyrights, copyright infringement litigation, and trademarks. Mr. Speroni brings over fifteen years of music industry and entertainment experience to the firm including artist development, music publishing, media promotions and music consulting. His specialty is intellectual property licensing, including, complex music publishing, production, film and soundtracks, record label and artist management contracts. His passion and creativity help him to provide his clients with valuable and robust strategies, whatever their entertainment-based business needs. For more about Peter, click here.
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