The list of classic rockers who have sold off their royalties in recent years includes such industry heavyweights as Def Leppard, Journey and Stevie Nicks.
Control of one’s publishing has long been considered the most important rights a songwriter could own. For starters, publishing is far more lucrative than the mechanical royalties paid to artists based on sales, airplay and streams.
The history of rock music is filled with stars who sold away their publishing without knowing precisely how it works, only to discover after scoring big hits that their bank accounts weren’t as big as they had thought.
Publishing also gives the owner control of whether or not to license the songs for commercials, movies and television shows. The most notorious example of this came a few years after Michael Jackson’s 1985 acquisition of the Beatles catalog and the band’s recording of “Revolution” appeared in a Nike commercial.
See the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ Used in a Nike Ad
But as song placement has become commonplace and sales have decreased due to streaming, many classic rockers have reconsidered their position on publishing. Another factor is their own mortality. The lump sums being offered by publishing firms are more tax-friendly with regards to estate planning under current laws.
The current trend of rockers selling their publishing has its origins in 2006, when Primary Wave, founded by former Arista and Virgin executive Larry Mestel, purchased 50 percent of Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain’s copyrights through Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love. Other artists, like Chicago and Hall & Oates, followed suit, and Primary Wave has since branched out into other aspects of the entertainment industry, including talent management and marketing.
But more recently came the creation of Hipgnosis Songs Fund in July 2018 by Merck Mercuriadis, a former artist’s manager who quickly became a big player by purchasing many pop and rock catalogs, including the works of Lindsey Buckingham, Nikki Sixx and Richie Sambora.
As 2020 came to a close, Hipgnosis’ portfolio contained 60,000 songs and was worth $1.66 billion.
Long-established publishing houses like Universal and BMG have also made several big purchases, as you’ll see in the below list of 40 Rockers Who Have Sold Their Publishing Rights. We’ve also included several big-name producers who’ve made similar deals for their royalties.
In 2007, Julian Lennon sold his portion of his father John’s songwriting royalties to Primary Wave. The deal did not affect the publishing rights of the Beatles or Lennon’s solo material. These royalties were sold six years later to BMG in a $150 million deal that also included Primary Wave’s rights to the catalogs of Steven Tyler, Hall & Oates and Kurt Cobain.
Bob Dylan took a different route when he sold his publishing rights in December 2020. Instead of Hipgnosis or Primary Wave, he went with Universal Music Publishing Group. It was believed that Universal paid $300 million for more than 600 Dylan songs, but a source close to the situation told ‘Rolling Stone’ that Dylan rejected an offer of $400 million from Hipgnosis.
Primary Wave purchased an interest in the copyrights of Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler in 2008. But those songs were transferred to BMG as part of a $150 million agreement between the two companies in 2013.
The entire songwriter and performance royalties for 305 songs Nikki Sixx has written for Motley Crue and Sixx:A.M. were bought by Hipgnosis in August 2020. Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis called Sixx the “catalyst and architect” behind the band that was “single-handedly responsible for the Los Angeles rock explosion” of the ’80s.
In March 2020, Hipnosis bought the rights to 100 percent of Richie Sambora’s copyrights on the 186 songs he wrote for Bon Jovi, his solo albums and other projects. “These songs are very important to me, and I feel very strongly that Merck is the only person I could have entrusted my babies to,” Sambora said. “I believe the work he is doing that has transformed the way that the world looks at the power of great songs and the songwriting community is very special.”
(Check out the rest of the list here.)