Music industry rallying thanks to streaming … and back catalogues


THE MUSIC industry might be in the same Covid-shaped slump as (pretty much) all the others — but nine-figure deals are still being struck.

These are not supergroup signings. As Ikea ditches the 70-year-old hard-copy of its catalogue in a nod to a worldwide move to digital access, folk legend Bob Dylan has sold his own — for an estimated $300m — to Universal Music. Dylan, 79, was the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel prize for literature. His global album sales are estimated to amount to more than 125 million.

Lockdowns and cancelled concerts aren’t the only flies in the musical ointment; streaming has been the catalyst for just as much change. That’s good news for organisations such as Apple, Amazon and Spotify (which has seen a 29 percent year-on-year increase users in 2020). CD sales may have fallen, but this matters not a jot to the owners of song rights. And the industry is seeing something of a boom, with music sales (as opposed to CD sales) steadily growing and said now to be worth more than $20bn.

Dylan isn’t the only one to recognise the value of a back catalogue; in recent days, ex-Fleetwood Mac vocalist Stevie Nicks sold a majority stake in her publishing catalogue to the music publisher Primary Wave — for another nine-figure sum again, this time a cool $100m.

Less happy about a sale — this time of master recordings — is Pennsylvania-born pop darling Taylor Swift. Her first six albums, owned by Big Machine, have been sold to private equity group Shamrock Holdings. Nine figures again, matching Dylan buck-for-buck at $300m, but some believe Swift’s songs could net even more; a figure of $450m has been mooted.

Not that this has made Taylor Swift happy; the masters were sold by her former manager, Scooter Braun. Swift — also a Universal Music client — is reportedly furious, and has announced her intention to re-record each and every track to stop Braun seeing any of the profits.

Universal is the biggest music company in the world, home to Dylan, Swift, Lady Gaga and The Beatles, among others. Its publishing arm deals with Elton John and (songwriter) Bernie Taupin, British singer Adele and the Bee Gees. Universal has called the acquisition of Dylan’s catalogue “the most significant music publishing agreement this century”.

Catalogues are becoming the latest music goldmine. London-listed Hipgnosis Songs Fund offers investors the opportunity to make money from royalties paid to musicians — and has reportedly spent more than £1bn on 117 catalogues.