BMG finds disparities in royalty payouts to Black and white artists

Matthew Allen

Black artists on some BMG labels were paid royalties at a rate as much as 3.4% lower than was paid to their white counterparts

After conducting a months-long internal investigation into contracts, music recording and publishing conglomerate BMG discovered that Black artists have not been paid at the same rates as white labelmates.

BMG, after launching a review of their catalog in June, on Friday revealed some truths concerning “inequities or anomalies” in music contracts, realizing “significant differences” in royalties paid to Black artists versus white artists on four of their dozens of labels, BBC reports. Black artists were paid royalties at a rate as much as 3.4% lower than royalties paid to non-Black artists.

BMG’s umbrella of artists includes names like Quincy Jones, Nina Simone, John Lee Hooker and Lenny Kravitz.

American pianist and jazz singer Nina Simone performs October 18, 1964 in an unidentifed location. (Photo by Getty Images)
American pianist and jazz singer Nina Simone performs October 18, 1964 in an unidentifed location. (Photo by Getty Images)

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Hartwig Masuch, CEO of BMG, acknowledged the decades-long history of Black artists getting unfair contracts and invited other labels to launch similar audits to rectify potential discrepancies.

“Since before the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, virtually all pop and rock music has its roots in black music,” Masuch stated. “Yet music’s history books are littered with tales of discriminatory treatment of black musicians.”

Ben Katovsky, COO of BMG Rights Management who led the investigation, did not disclose what labels were involved.

“While difference is not necessarily evidence of bias, there were instances of differences that are significant enough that they warrant closer attention,” Katovsky said.

Black artists getting short-changed out of royalties has been common for generations. In a previous report by theGrio, the late singer Little Richard spoke of how he missed out on millions of dollars in royalties from his first hit “Tutti Frutti.” He sold his publishing to Specialty Records head Art Rupe for $50 and only received $25,000 from the first 500,000 copies sold.

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Such unfair returns of profit have prompted numerous artists to get large returns for selling their publishing and masters. Grammy-winning rapper Lil Wayne recently sold the masters to his catalog as well as his label’s, Young Money, to Universal Music Group for $100,000,000, according to Music Business Worldwide. This reportedly includes the catalog of Drake and Nicki Minaj.

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