Neil Young and Bob Dylan are just some of the big-name songwriters that recently sold their song catalogues. With artists deprived of revenues from tours due to the health crisis, these transactions have grown more prominently in the past year. According to Goldman Sachs this growing trend is expected to be worth US$131 billion (S$174 billion) by 2030.

Universal Music Publishing Group and Hipgnosis Songs Fund are the leading companies that have made these acquisitions. The latest to date was by investment group Hipgnosis Songs Fund, which acquired half of Neil Young’s catalogue rights. The prestigious catalogue was said to total 1,180 songs.

Neil Young
Neil Young (Image: Neil Young on Instagram)

A Boon For Artists

Although the company did not disclose the amount of the transaction, it is reported to be US$150 million (S$200 million) according to several sources. Quite a substantial sum to acquire the economic rights to one of the most prestigious repertoires of rock music, which includes pieces such as “Heart Of Gold,” “Harvest Moon,” “Rocking In The Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk.”

Hipgnosis is led by Merck Mercuriadis, who was previously Beyoncé and Elton John’s manager before creating the investment company. “I bought my first Neil Young album aged seven. ‘Harvest’ was my companion and I know every note, every word, every pause and silence intimately,” explains Mercuriadis. “Neil Young, or at least his music, has been my friend and constant ever since,” he said in a press release.

Based on the company’s latest acquisitions, it shows that Mercuriadis also appreciates other artists as well. Lindsey Buckingham, Debbie Harry, Nile Rodgers, Chrissie Hynde…these Rock and Roll Hall of Fame icons have all recently sold their song catalogues to the publicly traded investment company. And they are not the only ones.

Bob Dylan made headlines last December when Universal Music announced that it was buying the rights to his entire repertoire for an estimated US$300 to 400 million (S$400 to 530 million). Universal Music Publishing Group will now manage over 600 songs written and composed by the iconoclastic 79-year-old musician.

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan (Image: Bob Dylan on Instagram

Capitalising On Classics

Formerly strongly discouraged, selling one’s song catalogue has become an option that is increasingly seducing aging songwriters who prefer to take immediate advantage of their heritage rather than manage its commercial use in movies, TV series, commercials, video games.

“They need to manage their finances, especially since they don’t know when they will be able to resume touring to generate cash because of the health crisis. I propose to help them to monetize their assets while associating them and respecting their artistic aspirations,” Mercuriadis told French newspaper Les Échos.

So far it seems to have paid off. In recent years, the value of song repertoires has risen sharply under the impetus of music streaming platforms. This is largely due to their ability to offer a second youth to songs from the ’70s or ’80s.

“With the advent of Spotify, 30 million records woke up and got a new life,” Amy Thomson, chief catalogue officer at Hipgnosis, told The Financial Times.

For instance, the ballad “Dreams” by the group Fleetwood Mac, has recently accumulated millions of listens thanks to a viral video on TikTok. With such boosts in popularity, the band’s vocalist, Stevie Nicks, jumped at the opportunity to sell most of her catalogue to Primary Wave Music.

As tempting as they may be, these transactions are not necessarily a risk-free investment. Even more so as they must rely on the continued growth of the music industry and the ability of songs like Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” to generate ever-increasing revenues.

That said, there is no doubt that the industry will see more legendary songwriters disposing of their song catalogues. Dolly Parton and David Crosby have already announced that they are considering selling their repertoires.

Let the bidding begin!

(Main image: Fren Tanneau/ Leon Neal/ AFP)

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