Rock Legends Are Starting To Sell Away Their Publishing Rights – Here’s Why
Bob Dylan - NERGAL BELZEBU' / Youtube
Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, and David Crosby are among the newest additions to the growing list of artists signing away the publishing rights to the songs they’ve written, even if it is one of the most profitable avenues in the music industry.
Nicks disposed of 80% of her catalog to Primary Wave, encompassing her Fleetwood Mac and solo material, and was estimated to run for about $100 million. Dylan’s entire catalog of more than 600 songs was sold to Universal Music Publishing, amounting to about $300 million according to the New York Times.
Some of the reasons being responsible for this mass selling of rights comes in the form of royalties and tax implications mixed with estate planning. Crosby also cited the pandemic to have played a key role in his decision. “I can’t work, and streaming stole my record money. I have a family and a mortgage and I have to take care of them, so it’s my only option. I’m sure the others feel the same,” he wrote on Twitter.
Moreover, the London-based Hipognosis Songs Fund, founded in 2018 by artist manager Merck Mercuriadis, has seen a rise in market capitalization as of late, amounting to around $1.6 billion. They have over 60,000 songs in their portfolio, including ones by Journey, Blondie, Richie Sambora, Chrissie Hynde, Nikki Sixx, and Steve Winwood, along with ten of the Top 30 most-streamed songs on Spotify.
The upside to these deals is the added exposure of artists by licensing their songs for movies, TV shows, and video games. As streaming services aren’t giving them much profit, these lump-sum deals will benefit the artists more than the corporations.
Mercuriadis said to Rolling Stone” “I’m not in the publishing business; I’m in the song-management business. There’s a paradigm that I’m a catalyst for changing, paradigms that have existed for decades and people think are OK and normal. … The three big recorded-music companies use their leverage of owning the song companies to ensure those companies don’t advocate for songwriters, and they push the economic improvement we’ve seen with streaming so they, not the artist, get the lion’s share of the money at the songwriter’s expense. If nothing else, we’re a catalyst for changing that.”
Sambora also took the deals seriously, saying: “These songs are very important to me and I feel very strongly that Merck is the only person I could have entrusted my babies to.” Sixx shared the sentiment, calling Hipognosis “an artist-friendly, forward-thinking company,” and that he was “grateful that they will treat my music with great care and respect.”
Mercuriadis also notes how music was in greater demand in the time of the pandemic, revealing in a Music Week interview that: “The year 2020 has been one of challenges which the world has never before experienced, with a devastating impact on society and much of the economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown has also significantly changed music consumption, with more listeners reaching for songs they grew up with for comfort and escape. This leaves us perfectly placed during these challenging times with a portfolio concentrated around incredibly successful and culturally influential proven hit songs that are in high demand.”
He also said the company prefers to work with hitmakers who have control over their master tapes versus publishing companies that took advantage of naive songwriters. “These are the houses that the artists built and paid for and therefore, if they choose to sell their house, that’s on them. I’m empowering them when I write them a check and I’m empowering them when I go after improving their place in the economic equation,” he said.