Many of America’s favorite musical stars are selling the rights to all or part of their catalogs of songs–and making big money in the process. Neil Young has sold 50 percent of the worldwide copyright and income interests to his extensive, 1,180-song catalog to an investment firm for an undisclosed sum. Bob Dylan has sold the rights to his entire songwriting catalog for an estimated $300 million, David Bowie’s estate sold his catalog of songs for a reported $250 million, and now Bruce Springsteen has sold his music rights in what is reported to be the biggest deal of all–bringing in more than $500 million.
Why are the songs of these legendary artists fetching such huge sums? Basically, it is because the world has an insatiable appetite for music, and the avenues for music consumption are ever increasing, with songs now being played on streaming services, home fitness devices like Peleton, cellphone apps, and social media videos of people doing weird things to the tune of a particular song that can go viral. Those avenues for revenue go along with more traditional sources like movie soundtracks, TV shows, commercials, and of course radio play. And the purchasers apparently also hope to cash in on other potential sources of revenue, like coffee table books, biopics, and even knitting an artist’s diverse songs into a semi-coherent narrative for a Broadway musical and follow-on movie.
Still, some industry observers wonder if the purchasers–who are paying significant multiples of standard valuation metrics–aren’t overpaying for the music, and betting on ways to monetize the music that might not pan out. I’m skeptical of concerns about overpayment, though. When you are talking about songs that have been popular for 50 or 60 years, you can be pretty confident that the popularity will endure. And with the multiplication of methods for consumption of music that we are experiencing, it seems like there will be lots of opportunities to collect copyright payments for the rock music classics.
I’m glad for the artists who are realizing the financial fruits of their life’s work. I’ve loved Neil Young’s music for 50 years, and if his sale makes his life in his later years easier, I’m all for it. The sale agreements in some cases, like Neil Young’s, apparently allow the artists to exercise some continuing, contractual control over the use of their oftent highly personal songs. And if there is risk that the firms have overpaid, at least that is risk borne by a corporate entity, and not the individual artist. Let the creative spirits who have enriched our lives enjoy the benefits, and left the corporations take all the risks.