By Chris Cooke | Published on Tuesday 8 December 2020
What do you do when the likes of Hipgnosis and Round Hill have made buying up music rights a popular past-time among those super-rich city types and you’re meant to be a pro at that sort of thing? I know, get $300 million out of the cash box and buy up the entire songs catalogue of a songwriter so good he won a Nobel prize for his lyrics. So, yes, Universal Music has bought up the entire songs catalogue of Bob Dylan.
“This landmark agreement encompasses more than 600 copyrights spanning 60 years, from 1962’s cultural milestone ‘Blowin In The Wind’ to this year’s epic ‘Murder Most Foul’”, said the Universal Music Publishing Group yesterday. It didn’t sully itself talking about money in its official announcement of the deal, though sources who spoke to the New York Times reckoned the $300 million price tag was a decent estimate.
There has been increased interest in owning music rights, and especially song rights, in recent years, of course, even as songwriters express frustration that they are yet to see the benefit of the streaming boom in financial terms. With the music rights industry at large in steady growth, some investors – especially those with a more long-term perspective – see the value of having an interest in music copyrights, or even just an artist or songwriter’s royalty rights stemming from copyrights they helped create.
Companies like Hipgnosis and Round Hill have exploited that interest to raise significant funds and acquire significant catalogues, usually via mega-bucks deals that secure a career’s worth of copyrights or royalty rights from established songwriters.
Of course, more traditional music publishers like Universal are signing deals and acquiring rights all the time, however many of the big long-term wide-ranging career-spanning acquisitions involving major artists and writers have been led by the likes of Hipgnosis in the last couple of years.
But Universal just secured one of the biggest. And while song rights ownership can be complicated – so that those acquiring the rights aren’t always actually acquiring all the rights – sources suggest this deal is pretty all-encompassing.
Says the boss of Universal Music Publishing, Jody Gerson: “To represent the body of work of one of the greatest songwriters of all time – whose cultural importance can’t be overstated – is both a privilege and a responsibility. The UMPG global team is honoured to be Bob Dylan’s publishing partner. We look forward to working with Bob and the team in ensuring his artistry continues to reach and inspire generations of fans, recording artists and songwriters around the world”.
Meanwhile, the overall chief of the Universal Music Group, Lucian Grainge, adds: “It’s no secret that the art of songwriting is the fundamental key to all great music, nor is it a secret that Bob is one of the very greatest practitioners of that art. Brilliant and moving, inspiring and beautiful, insightful and provocative, his songs are timeless – whether they were written more than half a century ago or yesterday”.
“It is no exaggeration to say that his vast body of work has captured the love and admiration of billions of people all around the world”, he goes on. “I have no doubt that decades, even centuries from now, the words and music of Bob Dylan will continue to be sung and played – and cherished – everywhere”.