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Universal Music to Waive Unrecouped Advances for Legacy Artists

The world's largest music company joins other majors with plans to pay through unrecouped balances for certain legacy artists and songwriters' royalties.

Universal Music Group is launching an unrecouped advances program for legacy artists, the company revealed in its environmental, social and governance (ESG) report on Thursday (March 31). The program announcement was included in the company’s annual report.

Under the “goodwill” program, UMG will cease applying unrecouped advances to royalty statements for certain legacy featured recording artists and songwriters retroactive to Jan. 1, 2022. As a result, eligible creators and their immediate heirs who have not received royalty payments since Jan. 1, 2000, will begin receiving royalties subject to certain, unspecified conditions. UMG will begin contacting eligible artists and songwriters in the coming months.

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The program’s existence was first revealed by UMG’s executive vp of market development Adam Granite at the unveiling of IFPI’s global music report on March 22.

UMG is the last of the major labels to launch such a program, with Sony Music announcing its own unrecouped advances initiative in July 2021 (under the umbrella of its Artists Forward program) and Warner following suit this past February. All three companies followed Beggars Group, which launched its own program back in 2015.

Though this marks UMG’s first company-wide legacy artists initiative, it has instituted more narrowly targeted versions in the past. Most prominently, in 2001 the company created the Motown/Universal Music Group Fund to provide financial assistance grants for health, welfare and medical purposes to artists (and surviving spouses) who had a royalty account with UMG or any of its wholly-owned labels.

The UMG initiative comes amid an unprecedented boom in catalog sales for legacy artists, with legendary names including Bob Dylan and the estate of David Bowie selling their publishing catalogs for hundreds of millions of dollars. In March 2020, Billboard reported that catalog music (songs older than 18 months) was being streamed more than current music, with catalog streams up 21.6% (171.29 billion from 140.88 billion) between the beginning of 2020 through mid-March versus the corresponding period the previous year.