Selling merchandise and touring earns musicians money. However, one of the most lucrative businesses is selling a catalog of established music. According to The Wall Street Journal, music catalogs can easily fetch prices ranging from 10 to 18 times their annual value. That means music earning $50,000 a year can fetch between $5 million and $40 million.
From Bob Dylan to John Lennon and Stevie Nicks, these musicians sold their catalogs and earned millions in profits. Some catalogs were sold directly by the artists, others were sold by record labels and agents, and some were sold following a musician’s death.
Bob Dylan’s Catalog Fetched An Estimated $300 Million For 600 Songs
Bob Dylan decided to sell the publishing rights to more than 600 songs in December 2020. The sale to Universal Music Publishing Group was valued at $300 million. In an interesting twist, it was reported that the “Rolling Stone” singer actually turned down a bigger $400 million deal offered to him by Hipgnosis.
Dylan’s songs are regularly used in TV and Film and radio continues to play his songs regularly. It was a large sum that might actually be a steal given the artist’s longevity and the sheer size of his catalog.
50% Of Kurt Cobain’s Rights Sold For $50 Million, A Fraction Of What His Estate Is Worth
In 2006, Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain’s widow, sold 50% of her late husband’s publishing rights to Primary Wave for $50 million. The company then turned around and sold those rights to BMG in 2013 for an estimated $150 million.
The singer’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, controls one-third of the Cobain estate which has a total estimated worth of $450 million. Cobain’s music rights are still among some of the most protected in the music industry.
Steven Tyler’s Music Is Worth At Least $150 Million
Primary Wave approached Steven Tyler in 2008 and convinced him to sell the publishing rights to some of his biggest hits. We don’t know how much he generated from the sale but five years later Primary Wave agreed to sell those same rights to BMG as part of a $150 million agreement.
The entire Aerosmith catalog, with all included rights, is worth arguably far more than the $150 million Steven Tyler received for his personal rights to the band’s music.
One Republic’s Ryan Tedder Scored $200 Million For His Publishing Rights
One Republic’s Ryan Tedder received $200 million from Wall Street investment firm KKR for the rights to his music. It’s important to keep in mind that Tedder has collaborated on more than just One Republic songs.
Tedder’s hits have included work he has produced for the likes of Colbie Caillat, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Adele, and even Beyonce. Tedder will likely pen more deals like this as he continues to provide his hitmaking skills to more artists.
Imagine Dragons Scored A $100 Million Payday
The Imagine Dragons’ catalog of music was picked up by Concord for around $100 million in 2020. That’s a pretty big sum of cash for a band that released their debut album in 2012.
The group has sold more than 20 million records and has released three more number one rock albums since scoring big with 2012’s Night Visions. For that amount of money, Concord scored the writer’s share of the catalog along with a share of co-publishing rights in perpetuity. That sum doesn’t even include the co-publishing stake owned by Universal Music Publishing Group.
Richie Sambora Sold His Bon Jovi Rights
When Jon Bon Jovi teamed up with Richie Sambora in the 1980s they penned some of the biggest songs of the decade. Since that time, “Livin’ On A Prayer,” and “It’s My Life” have remained in the mainstream while the band has continued to turn, albeit without Sambora in recent years.
In 2020, after leaving the band, Sambora sold his catalog of both Bon Jovi and personal tracks to Music Mogul. In total, Sambora sold 186 tracks. We don’t know what type of money he received but it was likely very significant given the popularity of his Bon Jovi work.
Taylor Swift’s Catalog Sold For $300 Million But She Didn’t See That Cash
Taylor Swift’s former manager Scooter Braun sold her entire catalog of music for $300 million. Braun, who owned the rights to the music, made out like a bandit. The sale angered Taylor Swift whose relationship with Braun has been anything but pleasant.
In response, Swift recently re-released all-new recordings of her tracks from her first six albums, a move that some analysts believe may change the way the recording industry operates.
Barry Manilow Sold His Entire Catalog In 2020
Barry Manilow sold the recording royalties to his entire storied catalog to Hipgnosis in August 2020. The sale includes his entire catalog of music which includes 50 songs that hit the Billboard charts top 40. In total, Manilow sold the rights to 917 songs that he penned.
While the deal’s terms were undisclosed, it was likely in the tens of millions given the continued use of the singer-songwriter’s songs in TV and Film, along with regular radio play across oldies stations.
Jack Antonoff Likely Made A Killing With His Catalog Sale
Jack Antonoff, frontman of Bleachers and a founding member of the platinum-selling band Fun, sold part of his music rights to Hipgnosis in 2020. The singer-songwriter didn’t sell all of his rights, instead, choosing to work directly with the company.
We’re willing to bet that Antonoff’s music rights were worth in the tens of millions. Antonoff has written and co-written songs for Taylor Swift, Lana Del Ray, Pink, Lorde, and many others. Antonoff produced much of the work on Swift’s first three albums, which likely generated a windfall on its own.
Hall & Oates Sold A “Significant Portion” Of Their Catalog
When Primary Wave Music was first starting out they purchased a “significant interest” in the hits of Hall and Oates for an undisclosed sum. The deal includes a catalog with eight number one hits and hundreds of songs.
While the total sum was never disclosed, some sources have placed a price tag of between $25 million and $50 million. That sum doesn’t include the publishing rights that are still owned by the group’s members.
Neil Young Sold Half His Publishing Rights For $150 Million
Neil Young and Hipgnosis are partners in the singer’s catalog of music that includes tons of number one hits and top 10 songs. Hipgnosis paid $150 million for 50% of Young’s songs.
In a unique moment, the company promised that none of Young’s songs would be used in commercials, a request that was made directly by the singer. The deal showcased the power Young had been able to maintain over his music for decades.
Smokey Robinson Sold Only Certain Songs For $22 Million
Smokey Robinson signed a deal with Primary Wave in 2016 that scored the performer $22 million with a rather unusual music publishing term sheet that included blackout dates on songs that Robinson wrote.
A big caveat was placed on Robinson’s publishing rights. Sony/ATV has ownership in Motown’s Jobete Music and Robinson’s numerous collaborations, so the deal only included songs that Robinson wrote that are more than 56 years old or written after 1978.
Shakira Sold Her Entire Music Catalog In 2021
Colombian singer Shakira didn’t try to retain any of her music publishing rights in early 2021 when she offered 100 percent to investment firm Hipgnosis. The terms of the deal were not disclosed at the time of sale.
It’s likely Shakira walked away with an eight-figure deal given the impressive catalog she has developed. Among the 145 songs she sold are the hits “Hips Don’t Lie,” “Whenever, Wherever,” and “She Wolf.”
The Beach Boys Sold Their Entire Catalog In 2021
In early 2021 The Beach Boys signed a deal with Iconic Music Group that offered a controlling interest in their intellectual property. The deal ensures that the group’s heirs will continue to receive interest from future Beach Boys royalties.
The Beach Boys have a catalog that spans hundreds of songs including numerous number one hits. Rolling Stone estimates that the catalog of tracks could be worth north of $100 million. The deal with the Beach Boys is unique in that it also includes brand, select compositions, and memorabilia,
Ray Charles’ Estate Received Millions Of Dollars
In 2020 the estate of Ray Charles came to terms with Primary Wave Music to sell a majority stake in Charle’s earlier works. The deal only included music produced before 1964 and is believed to have fetched millions of dollars.
Before 1964, Charle’s produced such hits as “I Got a Woman” and “Ain’t That Love.” The prolific performer’s entire estate is estimated to be worth around $75 million as of 2021.
David Crosby Sold His Music Catalog In 2020
David Crosby’s storied career spans hundreds of songs with the likes of the Byrds, Crosby & Nash, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. That work likely brought in millions when he sold his current and future rights to his entire catalog.
Interestingly, Crosby said he only sold his catalog to provide needed income for his family after the pandemic put a stop to his touring schedule.
Mark Ronson Scored Big With Hipgnonsis
While Mark Ronson has released five solo albums, it’s his work with other artists that likely scored him a massive amount of cash from Hipgnonsis. Ronson has written and produced songs for the likes of Amy Winehouse, Adele, Miley Cyrus, Bruno Mars, Christina Aguilera, and many other A-list stars. His song “Uptown Funk” reached number 1 in 19 countries when it was released.
The seven-time Grammy-and-Oscar winner will retain 30% of the rights to his music. Following the acquisition, Ronson said he was excited to be working with long-time friend and Hipgnonsis founder, Merck Mercuriadis.
Stevie Nicks And The $100 Million Deal
Stevie Nicks sold 80% of her publishing rights to Primary Wave in 2020. The publishing copyrights include time from her Fleetwood Mac day’s and from her solo career.
The deal was likely motivated by Nick’s song “Dreams” going viral thanks to a TikTok video. The Wall Street Journal said the deal was worth an estimated $100 million. Scoring nine figures and maintaining 20% of your music rights seems like a good deal to us.
Mick Fleetwood Sold His Publishing And Recording Rights To BMG
Mick Fleetwood sold his publishing and recording rights to BMG in early 2021 in a deal that was likely worth tens of millions.
Given the price set by Stevie Nicks, it’s likely that Mick received a similar deal. He is a co-writer and producer on 300 of the band’s recordings that span the entire length of the Fleetwood Mac portfolio. Mick sold the rights to all of his work with Fleetwood. The only two albums not included are the LPs for 1968’s self-titled album and “Mr. Wonderful.”
Lindsey Buckingham Rounds Out The Fleetwood Mac Music Catalog Sale
After talking about the music rights sales from Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood, we couldn’t leave off legendary guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. In 2020, he also inked a deal with Hipgnosis to sell his published works.
Not only did Buckingham sell his own work and the work he did with Fleetwood Mac, but he also provided 50 percent of his future works to the music investment group, a sale that was likely worth eight-figures.