Universal Music Group has acquired Frank Zappa’s recordings, publishing catalogue of iconic songs, film archive, and the complete contents of The Vault, the near-mythic storage facility that houses the late Zappa’s life’s work.
The major signed the expansive agreement with Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva Zappa (the Zappa Trust). The contents of The Vault span the prolific four-decade career of the legendary musician, composer, virtuoso guitarist and prominent activist.
The acquisition additionally includes Frank Zappa’s name and likeness.
Catalogue division Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) and Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) will now build on the company’s track record of working with the Zappa Trust to “amplify Frank Zappa’s career as a trailblazer, iconoclast, brilliant musician and fearless artist who challenged music and culture with his unconventional and uncompromising vision and advocacy”.
Under the new agreement, UMPG has acquired Zappa’s complete publishing catalogue including Watermelon In Easter Hay, Cosmik Debris, Peaches En Regalia, Uncle Remus, Joe’s Garage and hundreds more.
The Zappa Trust said: “Ten years ago, Gail Zappa partnered with UMe to bring Frank Zappa’s music into the digital era and help expand the Frank Zappa business around the world, setting in motion a fruitful partnership that has resulted in exponential growth. Together over the last decade we made Frank’s vast catalogue of music available for streaming and download, reissued many of his pivotal albums on vinyl, created a slew of exciting archival releases and expansive box sets, including a series celebrating FZ’s legendary Halloween concerts, and were nominated for a Grammy for the 200 Motels (The Suites) orchestral album.
“UMG have more than proven their passion for Frank’s art and so the entire Zappa family – Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva – is thrilled to pass the baton to the new forever stewards for all things Frank Zappa. Old and new fans will get more of what they want – more Frank Zappa music for years to come. Frank released his first album with Verve Records in 1966 with The Mothers Of Invention’s debut album, Freak Out!, so this is a very full circle moment more than five decades later and we know that his music and legacy will be in the best possible hands for generations to come.”
UMe President & CEO Bruce Resnikoff said: “It has been a privilege to work with the Zappa family to release Frank Zappa’s music around the world, grow his audience, and protect his legacy for the past decade. Zappa was a pioneering, visionary artist who created an incredible body of work and we are incredibly proud that Gail, and now his children, have entrusted us with his important legacy.
“We will continue to develop innovative ways to celebrate his vast and influential catalogue for both longtime fans and those just discovering his genius. As a prolific artist well ahead of his time, Frank Zappa was constantly creating and recording and he left behind a treasure trove of extraordinary still-unreleased music and video in his Vault that will help us usher in the next era of Frank Zappa fans.”
Frank Zappa was a pioneering, visionary artist who created an incredible body of work
Marc Cimino, chief operating officer of Universal Music Publishing Group, said: “A powerful voice in music and culture, Frank Zappa was one of the most brilliant artists of his time. We are honoured to welcome Zappa’s influential song catalogue and that his estate has chosen UMG to uphold his artistry and to grow his immense legacy throughout the world.”
Over the last decade, the Zappa Trust and UMe have worked to revitalise Frank Zappa’s catalogue through a steady stream of archival releases, vinyl reissues of his classic albums, streaming initiatives, as well as by making his music more widely available around the world.
UMG said it has grown streams of Zappa’s music by double-digit percentages each year. Much of Zappa’s catalogue was recently made available in Hi-Res Audio for download and streaming for the first time. UMe provided the soundtrack for Alex Winter’s acclaimed 2020 feature documentary, Zappa.
In 2012, Zappa Records and the Zappa Trust – headed by his widow, Gail Zappa – made Zappa’s entire recorded catalogue available digitally for the first time through a partnership with UMe, with half of the albums remastered from the original analogue sources and the remaining albums retransferred and prepared from the original digital tapes for CD, streaming and download. Many albums were also remastered for reissue on vinyl. Shortly after, the Zappa Trust entered into an agreement with UMe for a global licence and distribution deal that saw the release of 60 of Zappa’s recordings.
In 2015, they partnered on a long-term, global licensing agreement for Zappa’s entire recorded catalogue, as well as rights management participation across the rest of his creative canon. The partnership grew into an expansive licence with Resnikoff and UMe that also includes new product releases, trademark licensing, film, and theatrical production.
“To date, there have been 122 official Zappa releases, however, that only scratches the surface of what the future holds as it represents a small fraction of the recordings in Zappa’s expansive and exhaustive Vault that have been made publicly available,” added the statement. “An obsessive documenter, Zappa recorded nearly every session, rehearsal, live performance, and even casual jam in a variety of audio and video formats across nearly his entire life.
“UMG plans to dive into The Vault for new archival projects for decades to come. Additionally, with Zappa’s name and likeness, UMG will engage existing fans and new audiences around the world with merchandise, feature films, interactive experiences, as well as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other next-generation Web3 projects.”
In his incredibly prolific career, Zappa released more than 60 albums during his lifetime, as a solo artist and with his bands, The Mothers of Invention and The Mothers.
Following Zappa’s death in 1993, there have been more than 60 posthumous releases, beginning with 1994’s Cilvization Phaze III. Zappa’s last album completed before his death, Dance Me This, was issued in 2015 as his 100th album. There have also been expanded multi-disc box sets for albums such as 200 Motels, Hot Rats, Orchestral Favorites, Zappa In New York, as well as super deluxe editions of his legendary Halloween concerts, complete with costumes, and other live favourites like The Roxy Performances.
Recent releases include Zappa ’88: The Last US Show, a box set titled The Mothers 1971, which celebrates Zappa’s 1971 line-ups, and Zappa/Erie, a six-disc collection that brings together a trio of previously unreleased concert recordings from 1974-76.
Zappa, who died of prostate cancer when he was 52, was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and awarded the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1997.