Why Sting, Springsteen and other major musicians are choosing to sell their catalogs now

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It’s gone from selling out to selling off.

The notion of financially capitalizing on a body of recorded work – these audio temples crafted by artists throughout decades of career-building – used to be perceived as an act of desperation.

“It’s ironic now, seeing clients cashing in and saying, ‘I own my work and now I’m going to sell it,’ ” says Guy Blake, managing partner at Granderson Des Rochers and chair of the firm’s music publishing practice. “It’s seen as a mark of distinction.”

Indeed, the trend the past couple of years, and even more prominently in recent months, finds some of the most lauded veterans in modern music – Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Paul Simon – taking advantage of a motivated sellers market.

Why the sudden stampede?

Experts point to a combination of interest rates remaining low, significant tax breaks for the artists and buyers from record companies and music rights groups recognizing the value of owning an established commodity.

It’s a trifecta that targets not only musical warhorses, but artists still regularly notching hits, such as Imagine Dragons, Ryan Tedder and Shakira.

“Sellers are looking and saying, gee, if Paul Simon and Dylan and Springsteen sold (their catalogs), they’re no dummies so I should get on this bandwagon while it’s here,” says Lisa Alter, founding partner of Alter Kendrick and Baron, who specializes in music transactions and copyright law. “(Artists) know this may not last forever. Buyers may run out of money. And it makes a lot of sense for someone later in their career. Why not enjoy (the money) while I can? It can also create a simpler situation for heirs that they’re just inheriting money. And younger artists are looking at (the trend) and saying, my work is generating significant income today, so why not get the money now while my work is really hot?”

Blake says he routinely gets calls from clients inquiring about the potential worth of their oeuvres.

“It’s like putting a (for sale) sign on your house to see what kind of offers you’ll get. A lot of artists are exploring it,” he says. “We had a client who said, ‘I just spent 10 years creating this catalog and now I’m going to sell it and spend the next five years (creating more) and I’m going to sell it and do it all again.’ They haven’t clicked off creatively yet and feel that even though they’ve sold these rights, they’re banking on themselves.”

More music: COVID-19 is robbing musicians of their final chapter – and fans of their swan song performances

As long as market conditions remain steady, expect the great sell-off to continue for at least the next year or two.

“We’re seeing people selling now that you never in a million years would have thought they would. These assets have proven to have durability,” Alter says, adding, “Today’s new songwriter is tomorrow’s legacy."

Here's a look at the biggest recent music catalog sales:

Sting

How much it sold for? Estimated at $300 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Entire songwriting catalog, including songs with The Police and solo material. The deal includes copyrights for his more than 600 songs and royalties as a songwriter, including future music publishing.

Who bought and when? Universal Music Group, February 2022.

Notable songs: "Every Breath You Take," "Fields of Gold," "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You."

Alice in Chains

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Publishing catalog and master recording royalties.

Who bought and when? Bassist Mike Starr and the estate of late singer Layne Staley sold rights and income streams to Primary Wave; Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Mike Inez and William Duvall sold their share of the catalog to Round Hill Music Royalty Fund, both February 2022.

Notable songs: "Man in the Box," "Rooster," "Would," "We Die Young."

Travis Tritt

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Entire publishing and recorded music catalog, including Tritt's most recent album, "Set in Stone."

Who bought and when? Reservoir Media, January 2022.

Notable songs: "Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)," "The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’," "Help Me Hold On," "Nothing Short of Dying."

Luis Fonsi

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Entire publishing catalog, including songwriter and publisher share on all songs Fonsi wrote or co-wrote.

Who bought and when? HarbourView Equity Partners, January 2022.

Notable songs: “Despacito," “Aquí Estoy Yo,” “No Me Doy Por Vencido,” "Échame la Culpa."

Kenny Chesney

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Eighty percent of catalog from 1994 to 2017, including 22 albums, rights to future greatest hits, live albums and acoustic releases.

Who bought and when? Hipgnosis Songs Fund, January 2022.

Notable songs: "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," "I Go Back," "Summertime," "When the Sun Goes Down."

David Bowie

How much it sold for? Reportedly more than $250 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Publishing catalog that includes songs from 26 studio albums, as well as two studio albums from side band Tin Machine, soundtrack singles and other projects.

Who bought and when? Warner Chappell Music, January 2022.

Notable songs: “Changes,” “Let’s Dance,” “Heroes,” “Space Oddity."

Neil Young

How much it sold for? Catalog valued at more than $100 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Fifty percent of the publisher share and 50% of the writer’s share in Young’s music: 1,180 songs including solo work; Buffalo Springfield; Crazy Horse; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Who bought and when? Hipgnosis Songs Fund, January 2022.

Notable songs: “Heart of Gold,” “Ohio,” “Old Man,” “The Needle and the Damage Done.”

John Legend

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Personal share of copyrights to his compositions and recorded music royalties from 2004 to early 2021.

Who bought and when? BMG and KKR & Co, January 2022.

Notable songs: “All of Me,” “Ordinary People,” “Glory,” “Green Light.”

Nancy Wilson of Heart

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? A “significant share” of master artist royalties, administration rights on Wilson’s neighboring rights income.

Who bought and when? Round Hill Music, January 2022.

Notable songs: “These Dreams,” “Barracuda,” “Alone,” “Crazy On You.”

Bruce Springsteen

How much it sold for? Reportedly $500 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? More than 300 songs and 20 studio albums through two separate agreements that cover recorded music and music publishing rights to all of Springsteen’s songs.

Who bought and when? Sony Music Group (partnered with Eldridge investment firm on the songwriting catalog purchase), December 2021.

Notable songs: “Born to Run,” “Hungry Heart,” “Glory Days,” “Born in the U.S.A.”

ZZ Top

How much it sold for? Reportedly $50 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? The “entire music interests” of the band, including publishing catalog, income from recorded royalties and performance royalties.

Who bought and when? BMG and KKR, December 2021.

Notable songs: “Sharp-Dressed Man,” “Legs,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Got Me Under Pressure.”

Motley Crue

How much it sold for? Reportedly $150 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Entire recorded-music catalog, including nine studio albums, live albums and compilations.

Who bought and when? BMG, November 2021.

Notable songs: “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Home Sweet Home,” “Wild Side,” “Looks That Kill.”

Tina Turner

How much it sold for? Estimated $50 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? The transaction includes Turner’s artist’s share of her recordings, music publishing, writer’s share, neighboring rights and name, image and likeness; catalog includes 10 studio albums, two live albums, two soundtracks and five compilations.

Who bought and when? BMG, October 2021.

Notable songs: “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” “Private Dancer,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome),” “The Best."

Paul Simon

How much it sold for? Reportedly $250 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Complete collection of Simon’s catalog, including work with Simon & Garfunkel; more than 400 songs are attributed to him.

Who bought and when? Sony Music Publishing, March 2021.

Notable songs: “The Sound of Silence,” “You Can Call Me Al,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”

David Crosby

How much it sold for? Terms were not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? All publishing and recorded music rights including solo work, The Byrds; Crosby & Nash; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Who bought and when? Iconic Artists Group, March 2021.

Notable songs: “Déjà Vu,” “Almost Cut My Hair,” “Wooden Ships,” “Lady Friend.”

Shakira

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? One hundred percent of music publishing rights and writer’s share of income; catalog includes 145 songs.

Who bought and when? Hipgnosis Songs Fund, January 2021.

Notable songs: “Wherever, Whenever,” “Hips Don’t Lie,” “Ciega Sordomuda,” “Girl Like Me.”

Ryan Tedder

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed, but catalog valued around $200 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Majority stake of Tedder’s catalog, which includes nearly 500 songs he’s written, recorded or produced.

Who bought and when? KKR, January 2021.

Notable songs: “Rumor Has It” (Adele), “Halo” (Beyonce), “Sucker” (Jonas Brothers), “Apologize” (Tedder’s OneRepublic).

Lindsey Buckingham

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? One hundred percent publishing rights, including publishing and writer’s share of 161 songs, and 50% of any unreleased compositions.

Who bought and when? Hipgnosis Songs Fund, January 2021.

Notable songs: “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain,” "Second Hand News,” “Never Going Back Again.”

Stevie Nicks

How much it sold for? Reportedly close to $100 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? An 80% interest in Nicks’ copyrights (Primary Wave will also represent her in brand marketing opportunities).

Who bought and when? Primary Wave Music Publishing, December 2020.

Notable songs: “Dreams,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “Landslide,” “Rhiannon.”

Calvin Harris

How much it sold for? Reportedly around $100 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? Full catalog of more than 150 songs and collaborations with artists including Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Dua Lipa and Sam Smith.

Who bought and when? Vine Alternative Investments, October 2020.

Notable songs: "Feel So Close," "Summer," "This Is What You Came For," "Feels."

Imagine Dragons

How much it sold for? Reportedly more than $100 million.

Entire catalog or a percentage? The writer’s share of the band’s entire catalog, as well as a co-publishing share (the other co-publishing stake is owned by Universal Music Publishing Group).

Who bought and when? Concord Music Publishing, August 2020.

Notable songs: “Radioactive,” “Demons,” “Thunder,” “Whatever it Takes."

No I.D. (Ernest ‘Dion’ Wilson)

How much it sold for? Terms not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? One hundred percent of worldwide copyrights, publishing royalties and a share of income in the producer’s catalog of 273 songs.

Who bought and when? Hipgnosis Songs Fund, August 2020.

Notable songs: “Run This Town” (Jay-Z with Kanye West and Rihanna), “Holy Grail” (Jay-Z with Justin Timberlake), “Heartless” (Kanye West), “Kiss Me” (Ed Sheeran).

Timbaland

How much it sold for? Terms were not disclosed.

Entire catalog or a percentage? One hundred percent of producer royalties for every record Timbaland has worked on, encompassing 108 albums and songs (including all six Missy Elliott records and five Justin Timberlake albums).

Who bought and when? Hipgnosis Songs Fund, October 2019.

Notable songs: “SexyBack” (Timberlake), “Promiscuous” (Nelly Furtado), “Give it To Me” (Timbaland, with Timberlake and Furtado), “The Way I Are” (Timbaland).

Bob Marley

How much it sold for? Reportedly $50 million (Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, controls the rights to Marley’s music publishing catalog).

Entire catalog or a percentage? Eighty percent of Blackwell’s share of Marley’s songs and Blue Mountain Music, a publisher established by Blackwell in 1962.

Who bought and when? Primary Wave Music Publishing, January 2018.

Notable songs: “One Love,” “Three Little Birds,” “Could You Be Loved,” “Is This Love.”

PHOTOS USA TODAY; Associated Press; AFP/Getty Images; Getty Images Entertainment; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; 56 Hope Road Archives

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sting, Dylan, Springsteen, others are selling their catalogs. Why now?