Elvis Presley Music - the man and his music
Elvis Presley is the single most important figure in American 20th century popular music. He was simply the best, no one could argue with the fact that he was the musician most responsible for popularizing rock & roll on an international level. Viewed in cold sales figures, his impact was phenomenal. Dozens upon dozens of international smashes from the mid '50s to the '70s, as well as the steady sales of his catalog and reissues since his death in 1977, make him the single highest-selling performer in music history.
Who owns Elvis Presley's music?
RCA Records owned all of Elvis' music recordings. The RCA Records Label was bought by BMG in the 1980s and in 2004 BMG merged with Sony Music Entertainment to become Sony BMG. Sony BMG owns Elvis' recordings and they continue to use the RCA Records label for issuing Elvis releases. They also have a special Elvis collectors label, Follow That Dream Records. The various composers/publishers own the songs themselves. People get confused about the ownership of the recordings with that of the songs.
Also, they get confused about a deal Elvis and his manager made with RCA in 1973.
Here is our attempt to sort it all out for you:
Elvis began his recording career with Sun Records in Memphis in the summer of 1954. Sun Records owner/producer Sam Phillips sold Elvis' recording contract and the catalog of Elvis' Sun recordings to RCA in the fall of 1955. Elvis began recording for RCA in January 1956 and continued under contract with RCA for the rest of his life. Elvis never had ownership in his Sun or RCA recordings. Elvis received an artist's royalty on record sales, per the terms of his contracts with the record company. That's typically how it's done.
The March 1973 Deal
In March 1973, Elvis and and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, went to the record company proposing that Elvis get a large lump sum payment in lieu of all his future artist's royalties for ongoing sales of anything he had recorded up to that time. The deal was made. RCA paid $5.4 million, which Elvis and the Colonel split 50-50. That meant Elvis no longer got (EPE today does not get) his artist's royalties for the ongoing sales of any recordings created before the March 1973 deal. However, Elvis did continue (EPE today continues) to get his artist's royalties on sales of recordings created after the March 1973 deal. Some people misunderstand and think that Elvis had a share in the ownership of his recordings and that this is what he sold to RCA. He did not.
Elvis Presley Music Publishing
Totally separate from the ownership of Elvis' recordings is the ownership of the songs themselves. Elvis recorded over 700 songs. Elvis, through his own publishing companies (Elvis Presley Music, Gladys Music, Whitehaven Music and Elvis Music, Inc.) was part owner (typically half or third) of a great many of the songs he recorded and even some songs he did not record. Hill & Range Music, owned by brothers Julian and Jean Aberbach, was his publishing partner for the most part. Typically, in the deals made with the publishing companies, the composers retain a share. The publishing companies manage the material.
Elvis did not sell his publishing interests. EPE still holds those interests and they are one of our major assets. Thus, the 1973 deal regarding Elvis' artist's royalties had no effect on his publisher's royalties. Elvis continued to get (EPE still gets) his publisher's royalties on sales of recordings of songs he had publishing interest in, no matter what date they were recorded. Elvis also recorded many songs that he did not have publishing interest in. Once in a while, per the contracts signed in Elvis' lifetime, his publishing interests expire on some songs.
For the person who wants lots of detail, Peter Guralnick's books Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love explain the evolution of Elvis' recording and publishing deals rather well. These two books, together with Ernst Jorgensen's Elvis Presley, A Life in Music, The Complete Recording Sessions, are recommended reading for the person who wants to dive off into the details and complexities of these topics.
Read more about Elvis Presley.
Books about Elvis' Music