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What’s behind the boom in iconic boomer musicians selling their songs


Paul Simon performs onstage throughout The Nearness Of You Benefit Concert at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on January 20, 2015 in New York City.

Ilya S. Savenok | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

From Bob Dylan plugging in his electrical guitar for the first time to Super Bowl commercials, there have at all times been moments in music historical past when the most die-hard followers will accuse their idols of doing the unthinkable: selling out. But proper now “‘selling out” has a brand new connotation, and it’s a boom marketplace for each traders and celebrity recording artists.

A wave of boomer rock icons are selling out of their tune catalogs. The strikes, the newest of which was made by Paul Simon final week, level to an easy reality about the intersection of artwork and cash: Music has at all times been a enterprise, and one the place artistic genius deserved to be rewarded with riches. And it’s a enterprise that proper now could be seeing main modifications attributable to streaming, and additional disruptions attributable to the pandemic. The offers from Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Neil Young (in Young’s case a 50% stake) and Stevie Nicks (80% of the rights to her songs), spotlight main developments in the leisure trade, capital markets and wealth administration.

Music publishing firms like Hipgnosis Songs Fund and Primary Wave Music, and conglomerate gamers like BMG, Sony, Warner Music Group and Vivendi‘s Universal Music Group, are shopping for up premier tune catalogs in huge offers fueled by report low rates of interest with the perception there shall be extra profitable returns in the future from selling the rights to these songs throughout leisure platforms.

Record low charges gas music offers

Larry Mestel, CEO of Primary Wave Music, the firm that simply acquired a majority stake in the catalog of two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Stevie Nicks, advised CNBC the financial atmosphere that the Coronavirus pandemic has created has labored in favor of firms trying to buy massive belongings. These low rates of interest make it simpler to borrow cash, and excessive charges of return have created an ideal alternative for acquirers.

“You’re talking about a low interest rate environment and you can achieve a 7% to 9% … and then increase that through marketing and generate mid-teen returns. That’s a very attractive place for people to put money,” he stated.

Music catalogs even have confirmed to be recession-proof, and the pandemic has solely heightened the quantity of offers being made as the music trade goes via a large disruption attributable to the shutdown of dwell venues and touring.

Streaming music’s rise

The offers additionally come at a time when streaming music — for all of its controversy and skepticism on the a part of the musicians themselves about getting a uncooked deal — has proved to be an financial juggernaut, not less than for the report firms. In 2020, Goldman Sachs forecast that international music income would attain $142 billion by the finish of the decade, reflecting an 84% enhance when in comparison with the 2019 stage of $77 billion and streaming seize 1.2 billion customers by 2030, 4 occasions its 2019 stage, and primarily benefiting firms like Sony, which purchased Simon’s catalog, and Universal, which acquired Dylan’s songs.

Global streaming music income hit an all-time excessive as share of the trade final yr (83% in accordance with a current report) and it favors the superstars, too. Spotify has stated its mission is “giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art,” however as a current New York Times evaluation famous, Spotify’s knowledge exhibits solely about 13,000 generated $50,000 or extra in funds final yr.

It’s not simply streaming, although. The rights to greater acts catalogs, as soon as acquired, can be utilized in sync placements that license music throughout numerous types of media, together with movie, tv exhibits, ads, and video video games.

“From a publisher’s perspective, it is extremely valuable to obtain the rights to a certain catalog that we can pitch for synch,” stated Rebecca Valice, copyright and licensing supervisor at PEN Music Group. “A catalog can do its own pitching just because of its legendary success.”

Valuing rock icons

Boomer technology estate-planning

Some followers aren’t too comfortable about listening to hits like Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” or Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” selling vehicles and garments — although Dylan has achieved a number of Super Bowl commercials courting again a few years for GM and IBM, and his songs have been featured alone in others — however the selections to promote catalogues may assist musicians keep away from posthumous authorized battles like the estates of Tom Petty, Prince, and Aretha Franklin needed to endure.

BMG acquired the catalog pursuits of Nicks’ bandmate, Mick Fleetwood, of Fleetwood Mac early this yr and famous some stats in its announcement that present that as previous as boomer acts could also be, they’ll get renewed life from viral streaming hits. The Fleetwood Mac tune ‘Dreams’ generated over 3.2 billion streams globally (throughout an eight-week interval September 24 to November 19, 2020) as a result of a video with a cranberry juice-loving fan, and launched a brand new technology, extra accustomed to TikTok, to Fleetwood Mac. The band’s album “Rumours” reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart 43 years after its launch.

Dylan’s deal is the greatest reported thus far, estimated at $300 million although no sale value was formally disclosed and Universal solely stated in a launch it was “the most significant music publishing agreement this century.”

Mestel believes the boom is not nearing an finish.

“It seems like anybody that has a relationship in the music business that knows anybody is trying to raise money. But that doesn’t mean that they can go out an identify assets to sell or even know what they’re doing.”

BMG and personal fairness big KKR not too long ago signed a deal to exit and make a serious musical rights acquisition, and as one government advised Rolling Stone, “We’re not chasing hits from January 2021. We’re looking at repertoire that’s proved itself about being part of our lives.”

KKR has been in on huge music offers in the previous, and the pattern of shopping for rights will not be new, however the present boom is notable, and suits inside the asset class appreciation happening throughout so many elements of the market as traders search extra methods to place their cash to work. While the boomer offers are the greatest headlines, current acts are seeing huge paydays as effectively. Earlier this yr, KKR purchased a stake in the catalog of OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder for a reportedly excessive sum.

Companies like Primary Wave are working with artists like Nicks to attempt to maintain them as a part of the deal, and make that deal even higher for them in the future, in accordance with Mestel, who says many did not perceive that they might enter right into a partnership, promote a bit of their catalog, and that piece probably turn out to be extra priceless in the future than the 100% they owned earlier than.

“If all goes well, [artists] get the most out of what they’re trying to sell it for, and it’s usually a win-win scenario for the buyer and the seller,” Valice stated.



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