If Dylan and Springsteen can cash in on their songbooks, maybe I can?

·3 min read
Scott Sharpe/ssharpe@newsobserver.com

Like many Americans, I believe in the power of love, rock and roll and free markets. Huey Lewis has addressed the power of love, so that leaves rock and free markets. These topics aren’t as unrelated as they might seem.

They’ve actually been in the news together recently. Investors are buying up classic-rock music portfolios, a perceived high-growth and recession-proof asset, with the enthusiasm of American teenagers watching the Beatles first perform on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Bruce Springsteen, a man seemingly born to monetize, sold his portfolio for a reported $550 million. Meanwhile $150 million was the going rate for an interest in the songbook of Neil Young, whose commodities account now matches his long sought-after heart of gold.

At $50 million, ZZ Top can afford to remain sharp dressed men, and perhaps even splurge on some beard wax. Stevie Nicks’ catalog went down in a landslide of around $100 million, and Bob Dylan? Let’s just say with $300 million in his pocket, he doesn’t need to work on Maggie’s farm anymore.

All of this got me thinking. In so frothy a market for melodies, what might my personal songbook fetch? Sure, I have unique obstacles to overcome. My catalog is not over 600 songs, like Mr. Dylan’s. It’s not even six songs deep, but what if the next “Like a Rolling Stone” is among them?

Nor am I a known commodity like the talented artists above. But I’m not expecting to see their rich pricing, either. I’m not looking to be compensated as if mine were the portfolio of Al Green, Al Jarreau, or even Weird Al Yankovic.

Surely some investor will hear early Tom Petty in my lyrics and want to get in on the ground floor; even the losers get lucky sometimes. The way I see it, when it comes to investing in songbooks, there are no good or bad deals in an absolute sense. There’s only one question: What did you pay for it?

This was my approach to the well-heeled Carolinians I targeted to put my dependents and me in deep clover. Alas, interest from Ed in Eastover, Mary in Myers Park, Chuck in Charleston and Debbie in Debordieu was not overwhelming, or even whelming.

Who could fall in love with mere words on paper, I figured. “American Pie” was probably nothing before Don McLean first belted it out. I shifted focus to those who’ve heard me sing — the friends and family who sit nearest me on Sundays at St. Gabriel Catholic Church. This, too, ended poorly. It seems whenever I sing hymns, nobody can abide with me.

The market had spoken: I’m no Bob Dylan, neither as a songwriter nor a performer. Like a wet towel snapped by a gym-class bully, the truth stung. My love of rock and roll remained intact, but I began to question the efficiency of markets.

A chance conversation with a friend who farms made me realize what I’ve been doing wrong. Farmers are sometimes paid not to plant undesirable crops. Money for nothing, as Mark Knopfler put it. This must be my “to-market” strategy.

Going forward, I shall entertain bids only to cease and desist future singing and songwriting. If I cannot sell my musical talent, I’ll sell my lack of musical talent. No reserve price.

Kerrigan is an attorney in Charlotte and a regular contributer to the Opinion pages.