Why Younger Musicians Are Getting Their Estates In Order Early

Artists like Anderson .Paak and Taylor Swift are already planning out their legacies as a means of keeping control of their music catalogues as their careers continue to develop.

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Musicians in general have always had a hard time managing the business aspect of their careers. We hear time and time again how some of the biggest names in music still don’t have full creative control over their music and what happens with it. 

The most recent examples of this are Megan Thee Stallions’ battle with her label 1501 Certified Entertainment over a remix with BTS that they were attempting to block. Additionally the late Aaliyah’s catalogue is about to be released on all streaming platforms despite her estate’s public lack of support over doing so. 

Anderson .Paak recently got a tattoo asking for “no posthumous albums or songs” with his name following the release of late-rapper Pop Smoke’s posthumous album. Lana Del Rey claims to have the same request written in her will, and Taylor Swift is famously re-recording all of her first six studio albums so that she can have total control over the masters.

“This shift in consciousness is partly due to the power of the artist in the age of social media, and the availability of educational information on the ins and outs of the music business online.”

Independent artists have been on the rise as of late due to the very public disputes that these artists have had with their labels. If someone as big as Taylor Swift can’t legally get the rights to her own music, what chance does an up-and-coming artist trying to make it in the industry have?

In 2019, artists releasing their own music took a 4.1% market share of the global music industry, which is a 1.7% increase from 2015. Independent labels and artists releasing through a DIY market account for a 32.5% share. Exploitative contracts and an overall lack of control from the artist in general has led many artists down the path of independence. 

The lack of control is what really impacts the artist themselves. A group of individuals can simply decide to release whatever music they want, whenever they want, and use that music for any other professional project without even asking the artist. 

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“When artists die, and all the recordings are in the hands of a record label that’s keen to satisfy shareholders, carefully constructed careers can be tarnished.”

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Anderson .Paak’s tattoo suggests that the quality of an artists legacy can become tarnished by the greed and desires of professionals who didn’t even know the artist when they were alive. .Paak’s tattoo specifically regards demos and unreleased projects that labels feel the need to put into the world once an artist dies. 

Pop Smoke’s posthumous album received amazing critical reviews, however, social media was quick to criticize the album and the label for releasing an album that felt like it was full of Pop Smoke features, as opposed to honoring the artist. A majority of the collaborations on the album were with artists that Pop Smoke didn’t even know personally, so fans felt it was a completely disingenuous album that tarnished the amazing legacy he was just beginning when his life was cut short. 

In ‘Leaving the Building’ by Eamonn Forde, Forde details the “lucrative nature of artists’ estates along with the sticky results of disputes over control and non-existent, or dated, wills. The message is clear: organize your assets in life so that they’ll be protected, and respected, in death,” and that’s what most young artists are now doing.