Posted on April 14, 2022

Why the Music Industry Must Remove the Racist Term ‘Master Recording’ From Its Vocabulary — Now

Dina LaPolt, Variety, April 11, 2022

During the spring and summer of 2020, as protests across the country illuminated the systematic injustices Black Americans have faced and continue to face, the music industry was one of many that was called out to take accountability and action for its treatment of a group of people that is largely responsible for its many decades of profitability. While the industry’s unfair treatment of Black Americans is longstanding and deep-seated, one seemingly simple course of action is to cease all usage of the term “master recording,” which may sound innocuous but, as detailed in Variety’s expansive August 2020 interview with Pharrell Williams, derives from the words “master and slave.”

For those not aware, the terms have long been used to distinguish between a source recording (the “master”) and the subsequent copies made (the “slaves”), which has led to a pervasive use of both terms in many industry contracts. Although these charged words have been normalized to indicate a dominant/ subservient relationship, it does not negate the weight that they carry, especially in context of the music industry.


Some attorneys feel that removing the phrase “master recording” is unnecessary because it is only interpreted negatively by a few people, so they personally do not feel the need to stop using it. This blatant and short-sighted disregard for the psychological and emotional impact that this phrase can have on others speaks exactly to what many people marched for in 2020: You cannot detach the word “master” from its roots in American Chattel Slavery, regardless of the other word with which it is combined. Thus, using the term “master recording” while being aware of its racist inception is a microaggression, whether it is being used maliciously or not.  Words have an undeniable impact, and the continued use of this racist language reinforces the negative connotation of the term’s origin. There are plenty of words that can be used in place of “master” and still convey the same unambiguous meaning, such as “sound” recording, which is the official terminology used by the U.S. Copyright Office for registration of these works.


Whether the phrase offends a handful of people or thousands is irrelevant: It is a point-blank racist term that must be removed from our industry’s vocabulary if we want to continue to work to rectify our past injustices. {snip}