It’s been nearly 6 years to the day since David Bowie died. However, his legend lives on through his music and the spark he lit in fans. Now, Bowie’s music may be getting new life after Bowie’s estate announced that they were selling his entire songwriting catalog. It’s a surprising move that has nonetheless become more commonplace in recent years. What’s behind the movement to sell an artist’s catalog? Bowie’s estate isn’t alone.
Bowie’s Estate Sells Catalog
$250 million – that’s the cost of David Bowie’s songwriting catalog. After months of back-and-forth negotiations, the deal was struck between Bowie’s estate and Warner Chappell Music. The deal includes music from the 26 albums Bowie released over his life along with posthumous albums, including the one being released Friday, titled, “Toy.”
Variety reports, “The deal brings nearly all of Bowie’s music into the Warner system. Last September, the estate announced a global partnership with Warner Music that will bring the late artist’s vast recorded-music catalog from 1968 through 2016 under the company’s umbrella; the deal includes Bowie’s albums from 2000 through 2016, which were originally released via Sony Music. News that Bowie’s estate was in negotiations to sell his publishing was broken by Financial Times in October.”
We are just days away from Bowie 75 – the January 8 celebration marking what should have been the singer’s 75th birthday. The celebration involves the new album release, pop-up stores selling Bowie merchandise, and the upcoming release of a movie culled from thousands of hours of rare performance footage.
Per Variety, “In a statement confirming the news on Monday, Warner Chappell Music Co-Chair and CEO Guy Moot said: ‘All of us at Warner Chappell are immensely proud that the David Bowie estate has chosen us to be the caretakers of one of the most groundbreaking, influential, and enduring catalogs in music history. These are not only extraordinary songs, but milestones that have changed the course of modern music forever. Bowie’s vision and creative genius drove him to push the envelope, lyrically and musically – writing songs that challenged convention, changed the conversation, and have become part of the canon of global culture. His work spanned massive pop hits and experimental adventures that have inspired millions of fans and countless innovators, not only in music, but across all the arts, fashion, and media. We are looking forward to tending his unparalleled body of songs with passion and care as we strive to build on the legacy of this most extraordinary human being.’”
Bruce Springsteen and Others
Bowie’s estate isn’t the only case of an artist’s entire catalog rights being sold, especially in the past two years. NPR writes, “The announcement follows a string of similar ones over the past two years; Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks and Neil Young are just some of the stars who have recently sold off substantial rights to their music.”
They add, “It should be noted: There are huge differences between royalties for songwriting and performance. Some of these deals are just for publishing, as with the Bowie deal; others also include the original recordings, known as masters.”
Springsteen sold his entire back catalog, which includes songwriting and records, to Sony last month, to a tune of around $500 million according to results.
Selling Music Rights – On the Rise?
Sony joins Warner in investing a lot in artist catalogs over the past few years. Sony Music Group’s chairman Rob Stringer self reports having spent around $1.5 billion on song rights in the last year, including works from Springsteen, Paul Simon, and other major artists.
It’s an investment opportunity that seems to be on the rise. NPR shares the thoughts of Serona Elton, professor and associate dean at University of Miami Frost School of Music who says this trend is super hot right now. “‘All of a sudden the market is crazy and everyone’s paying ridiculous sums of money,’ she says. ‘And people worry it’s a bubble. Maybe it’s the right time to sell.’
But we’re talking about huge musicians who are not exactly starving artists, and famously careful about creative control. Why sell of so much of their precious back catalogs?
‘The pandemic is part of it,’ explains Tatiana Cirisano, a music analyst at MIDiA Research. ‘Touring has been stalled for some time. It could be stalled again.'”
Many of the artists selling their catalogs are getting older. They have little time to perform and create new music ahead – but a wealth of history to cash in on. With their golden years looking increasingly complicated for touring due to the pandemic, now is the time to convert their careers to cash and retire, planning for their family’s future after they’re gone. It’s a creative way to keep their music flowing and fresh and turn their lifetime of skills into new money.