Prince’s estate gained some clarity today. A judge has nullified Universal Music Group’s $31 million contract to issue non Warner Music albums and releases. Universal wanted out and so did the controlling part of the Prince estate. The Universal deal had been conducted by former Prince lawyer Londell McMillan and former Michael Jackson lawyer Charles Koppelman.
Prince’s music will stay with Warner Music via a deal Prince oversaw in 2014. That deal was a surprise since Prince had dislodged himself from the old Warner Music Group back in 1996, took a glyph symbol as a name and wrote the word “Slave” on his cheek.
But that was when the old WMG people he knew had departed for Dreamworks Records, and Edgar Bronfman, Jr. bought the company. Prince– maybe sensing the chaos to come– bailed. He issued records on his own label, on Arista, Universal, and miscellaneous venues.
But the only non Warner Music record Prince ever had a hit with was “The Most Beautiful Girl.” After that, his sales slowly sank. His main catalog, from 1977-94, would always be identified with some form of Warner Music.
When Prince died in 2016, suddenly everything that wasn’t signed up looked valuable. So McMillan and Koppelman were able to cut a deal with Universal for all that miscellany. But when the smoke cleared, even UMG knew they had overpaid for material no one wanted. What Prince fans desire is the main catalog. Witness the “Purple Rain” 25th anniversary reissue currently on the charts. Few fans want that other stuff.
So now UMG is off the hook and presumably gets back whatever they paid out from the $31 million. With the deal unwound it’s unclear how much McMillan and Koppelman get to keep. The canceling of the UMG contract solidifies the Prince estate’s representation by Troy Carter and Comerica Bank.