Universal buys Frank Zappa recordings, song catalog and complete contents of ‘The Vault’ housing 1,000+ hours of film and video


“Iconic works and iconic writers. Works that have defined and have moved culture.”

That’s how Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, defined his firm’s criteria for acquiring music catalogs this month.

Speaking at an NMPA event in New York, Grainge added that UMG is only interested in acquiring underlying rights with such buyouts. He plainly stated: “We don’t buy income streams.”

Those words all ring true today, as Universal Music Group announces a multi-rights and career spanning acquisition deal for the life work of music icon Frank Zappa.

UMG has acquired Frank Zappa’s recordings, publishing catalog, film archive, and the complete contents of The Vault, the storage facility that houses the late Zappa’s life’s work.

The acquisition also includes Frank Zappa’s name and likeness. UMG hasn’t disclosed the price of the deal.

According to Universal, Zappa, who died of prostate cancer when he was 52, “was a composer, virtuoso guitarist, songwriter, artist’s rights champion, provocateur, anti-censorship advocate, a musical pioneer, and one-time cultural ambassador to Czechoslovakia”.

He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and awarded the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1997.

With the acquisition, UMG says that its global catalog company Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) and Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) will now “build on the company’s already successful track record of working with the Zappa Trust to amplify Frank Zappa’s career”.

According to UMG, over the last decade, the Zappa Trust and UMe “have revitalized Frank Zappa’s catalog” through a stream of archival releases, vinyl reissues of his classic albums and streaming initiatives.

UMG says that it’s grown streams of Zappa’s music by double-digit percentages each year and recently, much of Zappa’s catalog was made available in Hi-Res Audio for download and streaming for the first time.

On the heels of UMe and the Zappa Trust’s work together, and Alex Winter’s 2020 feature documentary Zappa, of which UMe provided the soundtrack, UMG says that “Zappa and his music have experienced a newfound popularity that only continues to grow nearly two decades after his death”.


Zappa released more than 60 albums during his lifetime, as a solo artist and with his bands, The Mothers of Invention and The Mothers.

Some of those albums include the early psychedelic rock of The Mothers Of Invention’s 1966 debut album, Freak Out!, plus 1969’s’s Hot Rats, the 1969 release Uncle Meat and 1971’s surrealistic film and soundtrack, 200 Motels.

In addition to those albums, some of the highlights of Zappa’s discography of studio and live albums include We’re Only in it for the Money (1968), Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970), Chunga’s Revenge (1970), Apostrophe(‘) (1974), Zoot Allures (1976), Zappa In New York (1978), Joe’s Garage (1979), Sheik Yerbouti (1979), Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (1982), Jazz From Hell (1986) and the final album to be released in his lifetime, The Yellow Shark (1993).

Under the new agreement with Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva Zappa (the Zappa Trust), Universal’s publishing division UMPG also acquires Zappa’s complete publishing catalog, including Watermelon In Easter Hay, Cosmik Debris, Peaches En Regalia, Uncle Remus, Joe’s Garage and hundreds more.

Also as part of the deal, Universal acquires The Vault, Zappa’s storage facility that houses more than 1,000 hours of film and video.

UMG notes that 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. Universal says that it now plans to “dive into’ The Vault for new archival projects.

Additionally, with Zappa’s name and likeness included in the acquisition, UMG says that it 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.


News of the agreement with the Zappa Trust forms part of an emerging trend at Universal to strike multi-rights acquisition deals.

In February, for example, Universal Music Group acquired the entirety of iconic artist and songwriter Neil Diamond’s song catalog (via Universal Music Publishing Group), as well as the rights to all recordings from his career.

Other acquisitions made by UMG this year include a huge deal with Sting, who sold his entire song catalog to Universal’s publishing division UMPG in a deal one expert industry source tells MBW reached a final acquisition fee north of $300 million.

“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.”

The Zappa Trust

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 catalog 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.”

“We will continue to develop innovative ways to celebrate his vast and influential catalog for both longtime fans and those just discovering his genius.”

Bruce Resnikof, UMG

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 catalog 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.”

“We are honored to welcome Zappa’s influential song catalog and that his estate has chosen UMG to uphold his artistry and to grow his immense legacy throughout the world.”

Marc Cimino, Universal Music Publishing Group

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 honored to welcome Zappa’s influential song catalog and that his estate has chosen UMG to uphold his artistry and to grow his immense legacy throughout the world.”


Following Zappa’s passing in 1993, there have been more than 60 posthumous releases, beginning with 1994’s Cilvization Phaze III and spanning from Zappa’s last album completed before his death, Dance Me This, released in 2015 as his 100th album, to expanded multi-disc box sets for such albums 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 favorites like The Roxy Performances.

Recent releases include Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show, a box set titled The Mothers 1971, which celebrates Zappa’s 1971 lineups, and Zappa/Erie, a six-disc collection that brings together previously unreleased concerts performed in Erie, Pa. and the surrounding area between 1974-1976.

In 2012, Zappa Records and the Zappa Trust – headed by his widow, Gail Zappa – made Zappa’s entire recorded catalog available digitally for the first time through a partnership with UMe, with half of the albums remastered from the original analog sources and the remaining albums retransferred and prepared from the original digital tapes for CD and 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 license 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 catalog, as well as rights management participation across the rest of Zappa’s work.

The partnership grew into an expansive license with UMe President & CEO Bruce 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, according to UMG, that “only scratches the surface of what the future holds as it represents a small fraction of the recordings in Zappa’s expansive Vault that have been made publicly available”.Music Business Worldwide



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