Prince Estate Selects Universal to Manage NPG Records Catalog, Unreleased Works

Craig Blankenhorn/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Prince on NBC News Today in 1996.

As expected, the Universal Music Group has announced a multi-year agreement with Prince's estate and NPG Records, granting the major label group exclusive licensing rights to much of the late artist's catalog of released and unreleased works. Much of the material dates from the latter part of Prince's career, after he parted ways with Warner Bros. Records in 1996. 

Under the deal, the estate is licensing the 25 albums Prince released under the NPG Records label, including Emancipation, Musicology and 3121, plus UMG can now work with the estate on the artist's vault of career-spanning unreleased works.

Beginning next year, UMG will obtain the U.S. rights to what it describes as "certain renowned albums" released by Prince between 1979 and 1995 -- though that's as specific as they're getting. That time period comprises Prince's initial deal with Warner Bros. -- by far his most commercially and critically successful era, comprising some 19 albums including Purple Rain, 1999, Diamonds and Pearls, Sign O' the Times, Controversy, Parade and Batman  -- although it seems likely that UMG would be licensing lesser-known albums such as 1995's Chaos and Disorder. 

Warner announced a deal late last year to release some of Prince's most popular recordings from that era, including an expanded edition of Purple Rain featuring unreleased materlal. Warner's rights to that material are complex -- with differing terms for different territories (and different terms for film soundtracks like Batman and Purple Rain), and some rights being held in perpetuity and others set to expire in 2021, a source close to the situation tells Billboard.  

"Prince was one of the greatest musical talents of all time -- an incomparable genius as a performer, recording artist and songwriter," said UMG chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge. "UMG is committed to honoring Prince’s legacy and vision by creating the highest quality products and experiences."

The agreement means UMG is now the home for much of Prince's recorded music, plus publishing rights and merchandising. Universal's publishing arm, UMPG, announced in November that it had become the exclusive worldwide publishing administrator for Prince's entire catalog. At the time, negotiations for the licensing rights to much of Prince's overall catalog, as well as to four decades’ worth of unreleased material, were ongoing.

Longtime Prince associates L. Londell McMillan and Charles Koppelman represented the estate in both negotiations. "I am thrilled the NPG catalog and Prince’s highly sought after unreleased recordings will reside with UMG, where we have found a partner who is passionate about presenting Prince’s music with a holistic vision that celebrates his iconic status across recorded music, publishing and merchandise and will continue to deliver the highest quality experiences that fans have come to expect," commented McMillan. "I'm looking forward to seeing Lucian and Michele achieve great things for Prince’s fans, his estate and heirs."

Billboard will have more on this story as it develops.