"The Man Who Sold The World" has been sold
Another day. Another blockbuster deal reached for the music of a legacy artist. Warner Chapell music has purchased the publishing rights to David Bowie’s entire catalog of songs, which includes ubiquitous hits like “Space Oddity,” “Heroes,” “Let’s Dance,” “Rebel Rebel,” and many more. The deal, reportedly worth more than $250 million, was struck almost exactly five years after the enigmatic and beloved singer’s death.
The sale of Bowie’s music is the latest in a run on the catalogs of big-name artists. In early 2021, Bob Dylan sold the publishing rights to his songbook for a reported $300 million, only to be topped by Bruce Springsteen, whose own catalog earned a reported $500 million dollars. Several other artists have sold the publishing rights to all or some of their catalogs in recent years, including Neil Young, Stevie Nicks and Paul Simon.
Some of these deals include only the publishing rights to the artist’s songs, while others include the master recordings, themselves––a substantial difference. Even so, the Bowie sale would seem to indicate Wall Street’s enduring interest in music rights, as well as a changing financial landscape for musicians. JME contributor Glenn Michael Van Dyke discussed many of these trends, as well as the uniquely inequitable payment structures offered by digital streaming services like Spotify, in our feature “Buckets of (Making It) Rain.”
With many older living artists still apprehensive about touring, and the relatively meager revenue artists are earning from consumer purchases of their music, catalog sales have undoubtedly become more appealing in recent years. For investors, such a purchase represents the potential for years, if not decades of revenue via the licensing the artist’s music in tv, film or commercials; not to mention the value of these catalogs is only estimated to appreciate.
Bowie is the 33rd best-selling musician of all-time, according to Chart Masters, an organization that analyzes the music industry. Which begs the question: What’s The Beatles’ catalog worth? How about Michael Jackson’s? Madonna’s? Led Zeppelin’s?
2022 may be the year we find out.