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How Metallica Regained Ownership of ‘Master of Puppets’ and Scored That ‘Stranger Things’ Synch

"We try not to deal in schlock, since we own this stuff," says the band's manager.

Warning: light spoilers ahead.

In addition to landing back-to-1986 hits as plot devices in the latest Stranger Things season, Kate Bush and Metallica have an unusual thing in common: Both own their master recordings, and no longer have to split revenues with the record labels that signed them years ago. That means Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” which helps Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) avoid psychological torture in the Netflix hit, and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” which Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) covers to lure demonic bats away from his friends, draw all of the synch revenue from the masters.

“[Stranger Things] came to us and said, ‘We want to do this thing with “Master of Puppets,” but we’re not sure how much of the master we want to use,'” says Cliff Burnstein, the band’s longtime co-manager and co-founder of Q Prime Management. “We try not to deal in schlock, since we own this stuff. We don’t want to be associated with bad shows. This was a good show.”

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The first conversation about “Master of Puppets,” between Nora Felder, the show’s music supervisor, and Hannah Davis, Q Prime’s director of creative sync licensing, happened in November 2020; the band agreed to a deal within 24 hours. Burnstein calls prominent synchs in hit movies and games “major money,” while TV series are generally “a small amount of money,” so a series “has to appeal to us in some way.” He adds: “Nobody said to us, ‘This is going to be the climactic scene.’ I don’t know if they knew how the show was going to be edited.”

On June 20, Netflix invited the band to view the scene “under strict security,” according to Burnstein, the first time Metallica knew the song would be central to the plot. “The Kate Bush story had become massive at that point. None of us were thinking, ‘This is going to be the next Kate Bush,'” Burnstein says. “We were all blown away by the clip.” (In an new Instagram post, the band said it was “beyond psyched.”)

Bush’s reps did not respond to a request to discuss how the British singer came to own her masters, but Burnstein tells Metallica’s story in an interview. “I’ll try to edit it down,” he says.

After the band’s pop breakthrough Metallica in 1991, Robert Krasnow, the longtime chairman of Metallica’s 10-year label, Elektra, promised to restructure its deal into a joint-venture partnership. But in August 1994, Robert Mergado took over as chairman of Elektra’s parent company, Warner Music Group, and reneged on the deal, as Metallica alleged at the time. In the Los Angeles Times, drummer Lars Ulrich called Mergado’s actions “greedy and arrogant” and added, “Our faith in this company has been flushed down the drain.”

Citing California’s “seven-year statute,” which movie stars had used to break free from long-running studio contracts, the band sued Elektra in September 1994. A Warner executive at the time, Mel Lewinter, helped steer Metallica into a settlement: In exchange for its masters, Metallica would fulfill its contract for two remaining albums, then add two more — these became Garage Inc., S&M, St. Anger and Death Magnetic. “It took a long time — much longer than we had hoped — to record all those albums,” Burnstein says. “You watch the documentary Some Kind of Monster and you see why it took so fucking long.”

In 2013, Metallica took control of its own master recordings, and today Q Prime handles the band’s affairs, sometimes with help from Warner-owned Rhino Records in a distribution deal. So, it was a management company, not a record label, that secured the Stranger Things synch.

Since the show debuted last Friday, the eight-minute-and-36-second track “Master of Puppets” has become a 36-year-old catalog hit. It’s No. 6 on Spotify’s U.S. chart as of Thursday (July 7), and total on-demand plays among all streaming services grew 465% from 253,000 on June 30, the day before the Stranger Things episode, to 1.43 million on July 4, according to Luminate. Due to the ’90s settlement, the band gets to keep almost all of that streaming revenue from the master recording. And add new fans. “Our goal is always to reach the younger audience,” Burnstein says. “It was like, ‘Stranger Things is going to get a lot of looks, and we’ll solidify our base with our young fans, and maybe grow it some.'”