The catalog of Bowie bought by Warner Music, last act of a heavy trend

(AFP) – The rush towards the timeless repertoires of music giants, synonyms of hard and fast tokens, continues: the American group Warner Music announced Monday that it had bought the rights to all the work of David Bowie, last act of ‘a strong trend driven by streaming and Covid.

The agreement sealed between the heirs of Bowie and Warner Music, for an amount, not officially confirmed, of more than 250 million dollars according to the site Variety, adds to other transactions which marked the music industry for month.

In mid-December, it was the “boss”, Bruce Springsteen, who sold Sony the rights to his entire repertoire for more than $ 550 million. A few months earlier, Tina Turner was doing the same with BMG.

For its part, Warner Chappell Music (WMC) has acquired the property of an exceptional repertoire: from the very first “David Bowie” in 1967, to the posthumous opus “Toy”, released in November 2021, the accord includes 27 albums and hundreds of songs, including the legendary “Space Oddity”, “Heroes” or “Let’s Dance”.

– “Milestones” –

“These are not just amazing songs, but milestones that have forever changed the course of modern music,” WCM boss Guy Moot said in a statement.

A precursor of glam-rock, creator of the universe as much as a musician, with his characters such as Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie remains one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Died in January 2016, the Briton had left behind a unique imprint and a discography rich in hits, such as “Life on Mars”, “Ashes to Ashes”, or “Rebel Rebel”.

With this agreement, Warner, one of the three big world “majors” with Sony and Universal, is supposed to receive rights for each broadcast or use of a Bowie track on a streaming platform, in a movie or in an advertisement.

After a difficult phase during the 2000s, the music industry took off again with the streaming revolution, a major source of income for catalog owners. Once the preserve of a few major record labels, the sector is now invested by investment funds like Hipgnosis.

“Songs of extraordinary success and with cultural impact produce reliable and long-term income streams and are therefore very lucrative assets,” writes in a recent report from the company one of its founders, Merck Mercuriadis, former manager by Elton John.

Hipgnosis claims to own 146 catalogs – including those of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and part of the work of Neil Young acquired in 2021 – or more than 65,000 songs, for a value that it estimates at more than 2.55 billion dollars.

– Risk for creation –

According to Merck Mercuriadis, while the closures of bars and concert halls may have had a negative effect on revenues from younger artists, “old catalogs” recorded “exceptional streaming revenues as consumers turned towards the classics during confinement “.

By the end of 2020, Universal had acquired the entire Bob Dylan catalog, for an estimated amount of $ 300 million.

Hipgnosis also sees revenue prospects on newer platforms like TikTok or Roblox.

As for artists, especially the older ones, there is a tax interest, reminds AFP radio host and music analyst Alan Cross, because the tax on a lump sum sale will be lower than on a regular income in the States -United.

But this wave of catalog sales and the abandonment of rights to companies tempted by speculation is not unanimous. Taylor Swift, one of America’s most popular singers, has had resounding success with new versions of two of her old albums, after promising to re-record the first six in order to control the rights.

“If I were a successful artist, I would also be looking to own everything I can and sell later,” says Alan Cross, who advocates for artists’ rights to profit from their work.

It is creation, he says, that is likely to suffer as rights holders seek to capitalize on their investments, as old classics still dominate shows, movies and commercials.