Most Valuable Music Catalogs Sold by Famous Musicians
Many of the famous musicians you know and love are selling their catalogs for top dollar, but why? Well, the people on this list aren't getting any younger, and rights to recordings and publishing are complex. These rockers would rather cash out and give their heirs easier access to their money when they pass.
Some artists sell all their rights, while others sell only a percentage. This allows them to become partners with the buyers and have some say in how their music is used.
So, how much are these song collections worth? Here are the biggest music catalog deals in recent years.
10. ZZ Top
Value: $50 million
Bottom line: "The Little Ol Band from Texas" sold its entire music catalog to international music company BMG. The company has worked with ZZ Top for decades as co-publishers and administrators of its music.
The sale includes its publishing catalog and royalties from the band's recordings and performances.
9. James Brown
Value: $90 million
Bottom line: In 2021, Primary Wave Music purchased the remainder of James Brown's assets from his estate, including rights to his music and how his name and likeness will be used in the future.
The deal between Brown’s estate and Primary Wave took about four years to come to fruition. Its proceeds will be used to endow Brown's scholarship trust going forward.
8. Stevie Nicks
Value: $100 million
Bottom line: In 2020, Nicks sold 80 percent of her catalog to Primary Wave. The publishing company and the singer are still partners in marketing, branding and digital strategies for her music.
The deal includes not only her Fleetwood Mac-penned songs but also those she wrote and recorded as a solo artist.
7. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Value: $140 to $150 million
Bottom line: The members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers sold the rights to their song catalog to UK-based music investment company Hipgnosis (not to be confused with the album art design collective of the same name, which disbanded in 1983.)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers' catalog currently makes between $5 and $6 million a year in publishing alone.
5. Neil Young (Tie)
Value: $150 million
Bottom line: Hipgnosis also purchased half of the rights to Neil Young's back catalog in 2021, which includes about 1,200 songs.
Young is one of the few artists who has never licensed any of his songs for commercial use. Hipgnosis is aware of his stance on this and intends to work with him regardless, according to company founder Merck Mercuriadis.
He said, "I built Hipgnosis to be a company Neil would want to be a part of. We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs ... there will never be a ‘Burger Of Gold’ (based on Young's song 'Heart of Gold'), but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear [the songs] on Neil’s terms."
5. Neil Diamond (Tie)
Value: $150 million
Bottom line: Universal Music Group purchased Neil Diamond's entire catalog in early 2022. Aside from his already-released music, the deal includes 110 unreleased songs, an unreleased album and several long-form videos.
The deal also states that any future releases from the singer will be through Universal Music Group.
4. David Bowie
Value: $250 million
Bottom line: Warner Music acquired Bowie's entire music catalog in early 2022. This includes all 26 albums released in his lifetime and the posthumous studio album, “Toy," released in 2021.
In September 2021, Bowie's estate gave Warner Music worldwide rights to his music from 2000 to 2016. The latest deal only adds to Warner's ownership rights.
Value: $300 million
Bottom line: Genesis members Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford sold their publishing rights and some of their recorded music to Concord Music Group in September 2022.
The deal includes the Genesis albums that all three appeared on as well as their solo efforts and Rutherford’s band, Mike & the Mechanics.
The catalogs of Genesis's former band members, including Peter Gabriel, were not included in the deal.
2. Bob Dylan
Value: $300 to $400 million
Bottom line: Sony Music won the rights to Bob Dylan's entire recorded back catalog in 2022, beginning with his 1962 self-titled debut album through the 2020 “Rough and Rowdy Ways." The deal also includes rights to any future releases.
Dylan also sold rights to all his song lyrics and compositions for more than $200 million to Sony the previous year.
1. Bruce Springsteen
Value: $550 million
Bottom line: The Boss sold both his publishing and recording rights to Sony Music in what is the biggest deal of its kind to date in 2022. The sale gives Sony ownership of one of the most sought-after catalogs in rock history, spanning 300 songs and 20 studio albums.
Springsteen continues to make money writing, recording and performing. He is set to hit the road again for a worldwide tour in 2023.