Bob Dylan Sells His Total Songwriting Catalog to Common Music

Bob Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, opened in 1962 with the signing of his first music publishing deal – an agreement on the copyrights of the aspiring songwriter’s work. The terms of this agreement, brokered by Lou Levy of Leeds Music Publishing, were approved by the young Dylan.

“Lou paid me a hundred dollars in future royalties to sign the paper,” he wrote, “and that was fine with me.”

Fifty-eight years, more than 600 songs, and a Nobel Prize later, the cultural and economic value of Dylan’s songwriting corpus has grown exponentially.

On Monday Universal Music Publishing Group announced that it had signed a landmark deal to purchase Dylan’s entire songwriting catalog – including world-changing classics like “Blowin ‘in the Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “Like.” “a Rolling Stone” – in what is perhaps the largest takeover of the music publishing rights by a single songwriter.

The deal, which spanned Dylan’s entire career from his earliest songs to his latest album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” was made directly with Dylan, 79, who has long controlled the vast majority of his own songwriting copyrights.

The price has not been disclosed, but is estimated at more than $ 300 million.

“It’s no secret that the art of songwriting is the fundamental key to all great music, and it’s no secret that Bob is one of the greatest practitioners of the art,” said Lucian Grainge, executive director of Universal Music Group in one Opinion.

The deal is the newest and most recognizable in this year’s music catalog market as artists young and old have sold their songs while publishers and investors have raised billions of dollars from public and private sources to encourage writers to say goodbye to their creations .

Last week, Stevie Nicks sold a controlling interest in their songwriting catalog for an estimated $ 80 million to Primary Wave Music, an independent publisher and marketing company. Hipgnosis Songs Fund, a UK company that quickly gained a foothold in just two and a half years, recently announced that it spent approximately $ 670 million from March to September seeking rights to more than 44,000 Blondie songs , Rick James, to acquire. Barry Manilow, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and others.

However, Dylan’s catalog is a special gem, revered in ways that perhaps no other popular musician has achieved. His song book has changed folk, rock and pop, and he has an almost mythical status as a contemporary bard. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 “because he created new poetic forms of expression within the great American singing tradition”.

To a degree that still amazes and shocked his audience, Dylan has long been aggressive about marketing his music, including pursuing licensing agreements to get his songs on television advertisements.

In 1994, Dylan had the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand – predecessor of the current giant PricewaterhouseCoopers – use Richie Havens ‘rendition of his 1964 protest hymn “The Times They Are A-Changin'” in a television commercial. Fans, media commentators, and even other artists reacted in horror; Time magazine headlined the controversy, “Just in case you haven’t heard, the 60s are over.”

The Coopers & Lybrand spot was a long way from Dylan’s last commercial license: he made a prominent deal for a Victoria’s Secret TV spot in 2004 and later worked with Apple, Cadillac, Pepsi, and IBM. Two years ago he started a high-end whiskey brand, Heaven’s Door.

With Universal now in control of his work, Dylan will no longer have a veto over how his songs are used. After the deal was announced early Monday, users on Twitter had a field day of hackneyed puns hinting at how Dylan’s work could be used. “Pay Lady Pay,” quipped one user. “Involved in Blue Cross / Blue Shield,” wrote another.

Even so, Universal insisted that using Dylan’s work it would be tasteful.

Jody Gerson, general manager of Universal’s publishing division, said, “It is both a privilege and a responsibility to represent the work of one of the greatest songwriters of all time – whose cultural significance cannot be overstated.”

Dylan is the kind of writer whose music publishers tend to calm down. Not only has it proven itself, but most of its songs were written by Dylan alone and frequently covered by other artists – each use generating royalties. According to Universal, Dylan’s songs have been recorded more than 6,000 times.

Music publishing is the side of the business that deals with songwriting and composition copyrights – the lyrics and melodies of songs in their most basic form – that are different from what is required for a recording. Publishers and authors collect royalties and royalties when their work is sold, streamed, broadcast on the radio, or used in a film or commercial. (The recent sale of Taylor Swift’s first six albums only covered recording rights for that material. Swift signed a separate release agreement with Universal in February.)

Streaming has helped boost the entire music market – US publishers raised $ 3.7 billion in 2019, according to the National Music Publishers’ Association – which attracted new investors from the steady and growing revenue from music rights get dressed by.

Dylan’s deal includes 100 percent of his rights to all songs in his catalog, including the income he receives as a songwriter and his control over the copyright of each song. In return for paying Dylan, Universal, a division of the French media conglomerate Vivendi, will collect all future revenue from the songs.

Dylan had no comment on the deal.

Music publishing has been a little-known cornerstone of Dylan’s career. The songs he recorded with the band in 1967, for example, which were widely available at the time and were later collected in Dylan’s 1975 album The Basement Tapes, were intended as demos to be passed on to other recording artists.

Much of Dylan’s business empire is run by the Bob Dylan Music Company, a small New York office that manages its publishing rights in the United States. (Elsewhere in the world, his catalog was managed by Sony / ATV, which will remain so until his contract expires in a few years.)

The deal includes more than 600 songs spread across a number of publishers that Dylan had over the years. With the exception of his original Leeds Music deal, which included seven songs, including “Song for Woody” and “Talkin ‘New York,” Dylan eventually took full control of all of his copyrights from these catalogs. Leeds was sold to MCA in 1964, which became Universal.

The Universal deal also includes Dylan’s interest in a number of songs he wrote with fellow songwriters. Of the more than 600 tracks included in the deal, there is only one that Dylan is not a writer on but still owns the copyright: Robbie Robertson’s “The Weight” as recorded by the band.

However, the agreement does not include any of Dylan’s unreleased songs. It also doesn’t cover work that Dylan will write in the future, leaving open the possibility that he might choose to work with another publisher on that material.

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