What Does Catalog Mean In Music?

Catalogs some times spelled as catalogues have changed the landscape of how record labels operate.

Record labels now more than ever want to own music catalogs because the value has certainly changed with the introduction of new technologies in music like streaming.

Music now has more value and copyright holders are now able to cash in on more licensing opportunities.

So, what does catalog/catalogue mean in music?

A catalog simply refers to all musical works that belong to a catalog owner like an artist or a label. The catalog of an artist makes up their entire discography. On the other hand, Catalogs owned by record labels could be of several different artists music that could be certain select works and not always full discographies.

What is an artists catalog?

An artists catalog refers to their entire works which is also termed as their discography. The discography are all the musical works that an artist has done. For example if an artist has released 4 albums and 10 singles through out their musical career. The 4 albums and 10 songs make up their discography and their catalog.

Throughout the career of an artist they’ll record music and put out projects. These projects basically form a trail of the artists career path. This is why it’s called their discography.

Catalogs serve a very important role in the music business and will usually play a significant role in all matters that affect the success of an artist.

For example, record labels will negotiate deals with artists to help them build on their catalog for a percentage of the copyright of that music.

Why are musicians selling their catalogs?

Selling of catalogs in the music business is not something that is unheard of. The truth is….. it is quite common and has been going on in the industry for decades.

We’ve heard catalogs being sold and this usually brings about the question of why… Why would a musician sell their catalog if it is their original work…

Catalogs are usually sold for a lot of money, usually in the millions or billions for well established artists. Therefore an artist may choose to sell their catalog for financial gain. In situations where the artist weighs their options and it makes more sense to sell their catalog, they’ll in most cases go ahead and do so.

Another reason why musicians may choose to sell their catalog is a situation where the only way to leave a record label would be sell their catalog to the label.

In most cases record labels may own over 80% of an artists work…. and the only way that the artist would be able to exit their record label agreement would be to either sell their 20% of their catalog to the label or buy back 80% of the labels ownership of their music.

The price to buy back 80% of the artists catalog may be too high and it would therefore make sense for them to sell their 20% ownership in order to exit the record label agreement.

Catalog Vs. Catalogue

Catalog and Catalogue mean pretty much the same thing and these spellings are both acceptable. Catalog is usually the american way of spelling while catalogue is used by other countries.

Why do musicians sell their masters?

The most common reason why musicians sell their masters is to get out of record deals. This has become so common in the hip-hop genre… artists that are usually looking for a fresh start, or looking to start their own record labels may find it difficult to leave their record labels due to the legal ramifications that breach of record agreements may bring.

Selling masters to labels usually becomes an easy way out even though the artist has to literally give up their master rights.

Why don’t musicians own their masters?

One fact of the music industry is that most artists and musicians don’t own their masters. The main reason for this is them being signed to record labels.

Upon signing an artist, record labels usually give terms to the artist….. with regard to the advance they’ll give to them and how the profit sharing among the two parties will be.

Record labels will usually offer to own part of the artist masters as a way to keep part of the copyright of the music and be able to have a say on what can be done with the music.

This leaves the artist in a bind, because they have to agree to either giving away part of their master rights in order to get the needed help from the label or go the independent route and get to keep all of their master rights.

Why is owning masters sought after?

Owning masters in music is one of the most sought after things. You have surely come across the term “owning your masters”.

Well the underlying fact to master ownership is that having master rights to music allows the rights holder to pretty much do anything they want with the music.

They can monetize it in whatever way and be able to keep all their revenue. This is the reason why most record labels want to own atleast half or more than half of your masters.

They want to keep the rights to the music in order to enjoy part of the benefits that come with owning the rights.