Why the Music Industry Needs to Delete the Racist Term “Master Recording”

In the spring and summer of 2020, as protests across the country highlighted the systematic injustices black Americans have faced and continue to face, the music industry has been one of many to be called to account and take action for his treatment of a group of people. which is largely responsible for its many decades of profitability. While the industry’s unfair treatment of black Americans is long-standing and deeply rooted, a seemingly simple course of action is to cease all use of the term “master recording”, which may seem innocuous but, as detailed in VarietyThe extensive August 2020 interview with Pharrell Williams, derives from the words “master and slave”.

For those unaware, the terms have long been used to distinguish between a source record (the “master”) and subsequent copies made (the “slaves”), leading to widespread use of both. terms in many industry contracts. While these loaded words have been normalized to indicate a dominant/servant relationship, that doesn’t negate the weight they carry, especially in the context of the music industry.

For as long as the music industry has existed, black artists have often been in a subordinate position to label executives, the majority of whom are white, even though their music is the vital resource on which this industry is based. Digging deeper, when you consider that most of these artists didn’t have control or ownership of the underlying copyrights to their music, parallels can easily be drawn to how slaves didn’t have no autonomy over their lives since they were their own property. Many of these artists, including Prince and Kanye West, have bluntly stated that their experiences in the music industry resemble modern slavery.

This business has been dominated by white men since its inception, so when paired with the well-known exploitation of black artists, the already callous use of the phrase “master recording” carries an even more sinister sting. Artists such as Williams have expressed discomfort at reading these words in their contracts and have asked for changes to be made.

As soon as I realized the origins of the term, I implemented a policy in my firm to no longer use the term “master” in our contracts and to implement this change in all agreements we negotiate on behalf of of our customers. Sony, Universal, Warner Music Groups and Sound Exchange have removed or committed to removing this language from their contracts and license applications in the future; the board of directors of the American Association of Independent Music voted unanimously to also remove this language from their contracts prospectively. While this is a crucial step in the right direction for the industry as a whole, I am appalled at the reluctance of other lawyers to embrace this change.

Some attorneys feel there is no need to remove the term “master record” because it is only interpreted negatively by a few people, so they personally don’t feel the need to stop using it. . This blatant, short-sighted disregard for the psychological and emotional impact this phrase can have on others is exactly what many people have been marching for in 2020: you can’t tear the word “master” from its roots in American sex slavery, whatever other word it is combined with. Thus, using the term “master recording” while being aware of its racist design is microaggression, whether used maliciously or not. The words have an undeniable impact and the continued use of this racist language reinforces the negative connotation of the origin of the term. There are many words that can be used in place of “master” that still have the same unambiguous meaning, such as “sound” recording, which is the official terminology used by the US Copyright Office for the recording of these works.

To be frank, it’s easy for many of my white male colleagues to dismiss the use of these words as “no big deal” when it never affected them.

Whether the phrase offends a handful or thousands is irrelevant: it is an outright racist term that needs to be removed from our industry’s vocabulary if we are to continue working to rectify our past injustices. Sylvia Rhone, the first African-American female CEO of a major record label, said it well when she said, “If it bothers even one person, we take it out.

I hope this sheds light on the issue – enough that more can and accept this impactful change. Removing such language is a simple but meaningful step that can make our industry a more welcoming and inclusive space and allow us to reinforce the principle that music is for everyone – regardless of race, identity gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or origin. .

Dina LaPolt is the founder and owner of LaPolt Law, PC, one of the industry’s leading law firms and the only firm of its stature founded and led by a single female attorney. Dina also sits on the board of directors of the Black Music Action Coalition and was also one of the recipients of their 2021 Agent of Change award at their Music in Action awards gala.

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