In 2011, US pop star Justin Timberlake bought $35m worth of shares in MySpace. An investment that may have been inspired by his role in the 2010 film The Social Network but probably didn’t transpire as he had hoped. Over decade later, the singer took a punt on a new digital trend, saying bye-bye-bye to his music library in 2022 by selling the publishing rights to his back catalogue.
On that tip, he’s not alone. Several big artists – even the legend that is Bob Dylan – are selling up. These assets (including royalties and licensing opportunities) are being bought by investment companies like Primary Wave, and it’s mixing up the music industry.
The investment idea is that people will always consume songs, boom or bust, making them better ‘stock’ than gold or oil. But why would an artist sell the rights to their entire back catalogue?
As Sarah Joy, an agent at ATC Live representing bands such as Squid says, “It’s basically a way to cash in a lot of money.” And quickly. If royalties trickle in over time, putting you in a higher tax bracket, it makes more sense to face that tax bracket once, rather than year on year.
But other factors are at play, Joy explains: “As the pandemic brought new challenges to musicians through a loss of touring income and rising costs on the road, artists with strong back catalogues are looking to monetise on publishing deals that allow them to get a large investment up front in a time of financial insecurity.”
For a who’s-sold-to-who breakdown, from Bob Marley to Taylor Swift, read this Rolling Stone article.
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