Music back catalogue gold rush


January 8, 2021 – The value of song catalogues is on the rise. It has accelerated in the past year, allowing musicians — who earn most of their income from touring — to continue to make music during the pandemic.

According to Billboard magazine, despite the surge in streaming, the most famous artists make over 75% of their money from concerts. Now, songwriters deprived of touring revenue are cashing in their back catalogues.

The emergence of specialist investors such as Hipgnosis Songs Fund is driving the catalogue-sales market. The British investment fund has raised £1.2 billion (US$1.66bn) since its launch in 2018 and is scooping up the rights to old hits that have been given new life in the streaming age.

Artists have sold their song catalogues in the past. In 1969, Paul McCartney and John Lennon sold their interests in Northern Songs for £3.5 million ($67 million at current rates).

David Bowie fans might not remember that, in 1997, the pop music icon sold asset-backed securities, dubbed “Bowie bonds,” which awarded investors a share in his future royalties for ten years. Bowie made $55m ($88m today) for a catalogue of 25 albums.

Bob Dylan rocked the music world in December by selling the rights to his entire songwriting catalogue to Universal Music Publishing Group for a reported $300-400 million.

Analysis company Music Business Worldwide estimates that music labels Universal, Sony and Warner Music are making $1 million an hour through streaming services.

“With the advent of Spotify, 30 million records woke up and got a new life,” says Amy Thomson of Hipgnosis.

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