Rock Legends That Sold Their Publishing Rights
Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan / Youtube
Classic rock artists have slowly sold off the publishing rights to their music over the years. While control over one’s publishing is one of the most vital powers a songwriter could ever wield in the industry.
First and foremost, publishing rights provide more profit versus mechanical royalties like sales, airplay, and streams. Moreover, it gives the artists control over licensing their music for commercials, TV shows, and movies.
Sadly, a lot of artists didn’t realize what they were doing when they sold rights to their publishing, only to know what really happened when they hit it big with hits that their earnings didn’t match what they expected. With that, here are some figures in rock music who sold their publishing rights in hopes of better compensation and opportunities.
Bob Dylan turned to Universal Music Publishing Group in December 2020 to sell his publishing rights, with reports saying he allegedly received $300 million for over 600 Dylan songs. A close source to the transaction told Rolling Stone that Dylan rejected Hipgnosis’ offer of $400 million, however.
Nikki Sixx’s songs written for Motley Crue and Sixx:A.M. were bought by Hipgnosis, amounting to over 305 songs sold in total in August 2020. Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis calls Sixx “catalyst and architect” of the band that was “single-handedly responsible for the Los Angeles rock explosion” by the ’80s.
Julian Lennon sold a part of his father’s songwriting royalties to Primary Wave in 2007. This did not affect the publishing rights of the Beatles or Lennon’s solo works, however. After six years, his royalties were again sold to BMG in a $150 million package that included Primary Wave’s rights to Steven Tyler, Hall and Oates, and Kurt Cobain’s material.
The rights to Steven Tyler’s songs were purchased by Primary Wave in 2008 and was sold again to BMG in 2013 after the two companies struck a $150 million deal.
Neal Schon/Jonathan Cain
Journey primary creatives Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain sold all of their interest rights to Hipgonis by June 2019 and February 2020, respectively. Moreover, Hipgnosis also bought a 65% share of Journey’s master artist royalties on top of the 357 songs by Schon and 216 by Cain. These royalties are paid when recordings are bought or streamed.
Def Leppard signed with Primary Wave at the end of 2009, with the agreement allowing the company to market their catalog and collect royalties on their behalf. “I am confident that Primary Wave is the best partner to tastefully market our catalog of songs to a wider popular culture audience,” frontman Joe Elliot said of the deal.
Steve Perry went with another company when he sold rights to his songs in 2012. He signed a deal with Universal for his Journey compositions and solo songs, saying, “I so look forward to being a part of the Universal Music Publishing Group. I know they really get what songs are about and they still believe in the magic of music.”
Hipgnosis acquired the rights to all of Richie Sambora’s copyrights for 186 songs he wrote for Bon Jovi, along with his solo and side projects. “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. I believe the work he is doing that has transformed the way that the world looks at the power of great songs and the songwriting community is very special,” he said when he sold his rights in March 2020.
By December 2020, Primary Wave purchased an 80% share of publishing copyrights from Stevie Nicks, both during her time with Fleetwood Mac and her solo career. The deal was signed shortly after “Dreams” went viral thanks to a TikTok video, which also created a program where she could sign new songwriters. It is estimated that Nicks made $100 million on the deal according to The Wall Street Journal.
Neil Young is a part of Hipgnosis’ lineup of artists whom they bought rights from, with his amounting to over $150 million for 50% of Young’s songs. Mercuriadis made a promise that he will honor Young’s request to not use his songs on commercials. “We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs. There will never be a ‘Burger of Gold,” but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms,” the founder said.