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Hits for sale: Notable recording artists sell their music catalogs for lots of money

Two-thirds of all music streamed is made up of catalog music

By Associated Press
Published: April 11, 2024, 6:03am
4 Photos
Bob Dylan in 2020 sold publishing rights to his catalog of more than 600 songs to the Universal Music Publishing Group.
Bob Dylan in 2020 sold publishing rights to his catalog of more than 600 songs to the Universal Music Publishing Group. (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

Last week, it was announced that American rock band Kiss had sold their catalog, brand name and IP to Swedish company Pophouse Entertainment Group in a deal estimated to be over $300 million. They’re the latest to participate in an ongoing trend of blockbuster acts and their rights holders inking deals to sell their back-catalogs, often for impressive sums.

It’s big business — especially considering that two-thirds of all music streamed is made up of catalog music, and streaming accounts for 84 percent of all music industry revenue. Not every artist disclosed the amounts involved but some deals have been estimated at as much as half a billion dollars. (A figure that could be eclipsed when the Michael Jackson estate sells the singer’s catalog.)

Let’s take a look at some notable cases.

Bruce Springsteen

The singer known for such hits as “Born to Run” and “Hungry Heart” sold his music catalog to Sony Music Group in late 2021 for an estimated $550 million, The New York Times reported.

Bob Dylan

The Nobel Prize-winning songwriter in 2020 sold publishing rights to his catalog of more than 600 songs to the Universal Music Publishing Group. The singer’s collection includes modern standards like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” Industry experts estimated the deal was in the range of $300 million to a half-billion dollars.

Paul Simon

In 2021, Sony Music Publishing acquired Simon’s catalog for an undisclosed amount, including his solo work and Simon & Garfunkel hits such as “The Sound of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson.”

Neil Young

Long known for his refusal to license his music for commercial use, Young sold a 50 percent stake in his catalog to Britain’s Hipgnosis Songs Fund in 2021. The deal covered some 1,180 songs, including “Heart of Gold” and “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

David Bowie

In 2021, Warner Music Group reached a deal with Bowie’s estate for worldwide rights to the prolific singer’s recorded music catalog from 1968, including “Space Oddity” and “Let’s Dance.” Terms were not disclosed.

Taylor Swift

In June 2019, music manager Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings announced that it had acquired Big Machine Label Group, which was led by Scott Borchetta and home to Taylor Swift’s first six albums, for an estimated $300 million to $350 million, the New York Times reported. In response, Swift started to re-record and release new versions of those albums, labeled “Taylor’s Version,” in an attempt to reclaim her masters.

The following year, Braun sold Swift’s catalog to private equity firm Shamrock Capital for more than $300 million.

Kiss

The hard rock quartet sold their catalog, brand name and IP to Swedish company Pophouse Entertainment Group in a deal estimated to be over $300 million, it was announced last week.

Justin Bieber

The Canadian sensation in 2023 sold the rights to his catalog, including hits “Baby” and “Sorry,” also to Hipgnosis. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Billboard Magazine reported the deal, which includes his output through 2021, was worth about $200 million.

Sting

In 2022 the former Police frontman sold the rights to his music catalog, including the hits “Every Breath You Take” and “Roxanne,” to Universal Music Group for an undisclosed sum.

Phil Collins

Also in 2022, The Wall Street Journal reported that the former Genesis singer and drummer, along with bandmates Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, sold the rights to their catalog to Concord Music Group for $300 million. Collins’ solo music was ubiquitous in the 1980s, including “In the Air Tonight,” with its memorable drum fill, and MTV staple “Sussudio.”

Shakira

Early in 2021, Hipgnosis announced that it had acquired 100 percent of the Grammy-winning international superstar’s music publishing rights for an undisclosed amount. Shakira’s catalog of 145 songs includes “Hips Don’t Lie” and “She Wolf.”

Stevie Nicks

In late 2020, Fleetwood Mac star Stevie Nicks sold an 80 percent stake in her music to Primary Wave for a reported $100 million. Her bandmates soon followed suit: Hipgnosis acquired all of Lindsey Buckingham’s publishing rights across 161 songs in January 2021; a week later it was announced Mick Fleetwood sold his entire recorded music catalog to BMG.

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