Pour Some Sugar On Me... Again
In a case of Def Leppard vs. Goliath (AKA Universal Music Group), the band famous for songs such as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Rock of Ages” is bypassing their record label by re-recording some of their biggest hits and self-releasing them to digital music distributors for download and streaming. Going forward the band is planning to record what they have referred to as forgeries of their entire catalog for the same purpose.
The move comes following a breakdown in discussions between the band and their label - the aforementioned Universal Music Group - regarding compensation, particularly for the digital exploitation of their catalog. Def Leppard is in the enviable position of having approval rights for many of the ways in which their label may want to exploit their music, and they are currently taking the position that they will not give their approval to UMG for any of them. Rather than agree to terms that they deem unfair, they would prefer to release the music — albeit newly recorded versions of the originals — on their own terms.
For Def Leppard, this decision seems to be based on principle as much as it is out of financial consideration. Given the current state of the industry, it is doubtful that it is borne of a desire to get rich (again?) by circumventing the label system. However, for Def Leppard, and for other artists who might be in a similar position, the opportunity to make money is certainly there.
In addition to the revenues from digital distribution, there is also the lucrative synchronization market. For example, in most agreements, if a record company licenses an artist’s master for use in a film, the record company retains half the fee and pays the other half to the artist. With their newly recorded masters, Def Leppard will retain 100% of the synchronization fees, which in many cases can be quite substantial.
This opens up some new avenues for artists — even those who do not have the contractual right to block exploitations of their work by their record company. Most contracts have re-record restrictions: generally a window of time following the original recording and release of the master in which the artist can’t re-record the same song. However, if that window of time has closed, there is nothing stopping the artist from re-recording a new version of their original master and working with their representatives to get the recording out into the market, either for regular distribution or synchronization uses.
Of course, they will be competing with both the record company and the fans’ connection with the original master. Def Leppard is taking meticulous care to ensure the re-records sound identical to the original. The music fan is not easily fooled and will want the recording to sound exactly as they remember.
Any consideration to re-record should start with an analysis of the costs involved in recording the new masters versus the potential revenue, yet for some artists, it may be an analysis well worth undertaking.