Prince's estate is gearing up to unleash his music catalogue to Spotify and other digital music platforms this weekend, bringing one of music's highest-profile holdouts back to streaming services at a time when they are helping the industry reverse its long sales slide.
Music companies and Spotify are planning a splashy marketing campaign to debut the return of hit albums such as Purple Rain to streaming sites, almost two years after the late musician pulled his music from most online services.
Prince's songs are set to return to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Deezer and other sites around the time of the Grammy Awards on Sunday, which is expected to pay tribute to the late musician, according to people familiar with the plans.
Warner Music holds the licensing rights to the majority of Prince's hit songs recorded before 1996, through a deal the singer-songwriter struck with its Warner Bros label in 2014.
The rest of his music, including his albums after 1996 and unreleased songs, are being auctioned off by Prince's estate, with offers in the range of $40m to $50m, said one person familiar with the matter. The three major labels, Vivendi-owned Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner are vying for the coveted catalogue. "It's a very hot auction," one executive said.
Charles Koppelman, an administrator of Prince's estate, declined to comment. Spotify also declined to comment, although the company has put up purple billboards in New York subway stations, prompting speculation of Prince's return.
Clashes with labels
Prince, one of the most successful pop stars of his generation, had clashed for decades with record labels, and later digital music companies, as he sought to fiercely protect his work. In 2015 he pulled his music from Spotify and other streaming sites except for Tidal, the company led by Jay Z. "Spotify wasn't paying, so you gotta to shut it down," he said at the time.
Other big stars have also hit out at sites such as Spotify and YouTube, which offer music for free – notably Taylor Swift, who pulled all her songs from Spotify in 2014. Her work has still not returned to the service.
However, the record labels and some artists have warmed to streaming as more people sign up for access to 30m songs on services like Spotify and Apple Music. Sales from digital streaming grew more than 50 per cent last year, powering revenue growth at the big music companies, which receive royalty payments each time their songs are streamed. Some analysts say the growth in streaming will drive a turnround for the industry after more than a decade of falling album sales.
Prince’s contract with Warner Bros expired in 1996, after which he released several albums using his own label and experimented with selling music directly to fans through his website. In 2014, he re-signed with Warner and regained ownership of his catalogue, leaving the music label in prime position to benefit from his music becoming more available online.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017