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The 5 Biggest Music Catalog Sales of All Time

The 5 Biggest Music Catalog Sales of All Time

You might have noticed that a trend has been happening in the music industry in the past years, namely artists making the news for selling their music catalogs for huge lumps of money. It used to be that only legendary icons who had long retired from the music business had their music catalog sold to other entities - or so we thought. 

We didn’t give the phenomenon much thought at all until these types of sales started happening more and more, and even young artists like Justin Bieber or Katy Perry parted ways with their music catalogs. But these deals seem to be very popular among established artists nowadays, and a good way to make huge profits by just signing a dotted line. 

So, we thought we’d have a look at the biggest music catalog sales of all time, to see which artists made the best out of their opportunities. Selling your music catalog can be a smart move, and it can land you quite a pretty penny. The important thing is to make sure the timing is right - more often than not, your chances of a good deal are higher when you’re at the height of your career. Once an artist drops in popularity and their music is no longer in demand, a catalog deal might not be as profitable as it could have been in the past. So, if you want to make big bucks from selling your music catalog, like the artists below managed to do, you’ll need to pick the right moment and take the opportunity when it comes. 

1. Bruce Springsteen | $500 Million

Bruce Springsteen isn’t known around the world as ‘The Boss’ for no reason. He’s one of the most prolific, and most successful, singer-songwriters in American history, and the numbers serve to validate that assumption. The Boss sold his music catalog in late 2021 for a whopping $500 million, to Sony Entertainment Music. The deal gave Sony complete rights over iconic works such as ‘Born in the USA,’ ‘The River,’ or ‘Born to Run.’ The agreement included both Springsteen’s recordings and his songwriting rights, and it was by far the priciest music catalog deal in history to date. 

2. Bob Dylan | $500 Million

Coming in close is another music industry heavyweight, the legendary Bob Dylan. Besides winning both an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize, Dylan also landed one of the priciest music catalog deals in history. He sold his songwriting catalog in late 2020 for around $300 million to Universal Music Publishing Group. The company thus gained the rights to unforgettable works such as ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ or ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’ Just one year later in 2021, Dylan also sold the rights to his recorded works, aka the master rights, to Sony Music Entertainment, for a reported $200 million. 

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3. Phil Collins & Genesis | $300 Million

Who can forget Peter Gabriel’s unique haircut back in the early days of Genesis, or the groovy, Phil Collins-led hit ‘Invisible Touch?’ Another unforgettable moment in the band’s history happened in 2022, when Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, the remaining members of Genesis, sold their publishing rights to Concord Music Group for $300 million. The deal also included the solo works of Collins, Banks, and Rutherford, but not those of Peter Gabriel and other former band members. 

4. Sting | $300 Million

The list continues with another British music legend, Sting, who parted ways with his entire songwriting catalog in 2022 for a handsome $300 million. The deal included the artist’s solo works, as well as the rights for music created during his stint as frontman of the iconic group The Police. Hit singles like ‘Roxanne,’ ‘Every Breath You Take,’ ‘An Englishman in New York,’ or ‘Fields of Gold’ are now owned by Universal Music Group. The catalog spans more than 600 songs from the Sting and The Police repertoire. 

5. David Bowie | $250 Million

The unique talent of David Bowie sadly left us in January 2016, but his iconic works will never be forgotten. In late 2021, Warner Chappell Music bought the publishing rights to Bowie’s works for a reported $250 million. The deal included publishing rights for hit singles like ‘Heroes,’ ‘Space Oddity,’ ‘Let’s Dance,’ ‘Ziggy Stardust,’ and ‘Under Pressure.’ Besides the rights for all the 26 studio albums released by Bowie during his career, the deal also included rights for his earlier work. This includes the rights to the two albums released during Bowie’s time with the band Tin Machine, and all of his soundtrack works. 

Other noteworthy music catalog sales include Katy Perry’s $225 million deal with Litmus Music, Justin Bieber’s $200 million deal with Hipgnosis, and Neil Young’s $150 million deal, also with Hipgnosis. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a music catalog? 

A music catalog refers to a comprehensive and organized collection of musical works, recordings, and associated information maintained by a music publisher, record label, or artist. It serves as a database or inventory that encompasses details such as song titles, composers, performers, release dates, and copyright information. Music catalogs play a crucial role in managing the intellectual property of musical content, facilitating licensing and distribution, tracking royalties, and providing a reference for industry professionals. Catalogs can include both current and legacy content, allowing stakeholders to effectively manage, promote, and monetize their musical assets over time.

Why do musicians sell their music catalogs?

Musicians may choose to sell their music catalogs for various reasons, often driven by financial considerations and strategic planning. Selling a music catalog provides artists with a lump sum of immediate cash, which can be particularly appealing in situations where they seek liquidity or wish to capitalize on the current market value of their catalog. Additionally, selling a catalog can be a way for artists to mitigate financial risks, especially during uncertain economic times. Some musicians may decide to divest their catalogs to take advantage of favorable market conditions or to shift focus towards other creative endeavors without the administrative responsibilities of managing and monetizing their musical assets. Overall, the decision to sell a music catalog is a complex one influenced by a combination of financial, career, and personal factors.

Which are the biggest music catalog sales of all time?

Some of the biggest music catalog sales include Universal Music Group's acquisition of Bob Dylan's catalog for a reported sum of around $300 million in December 2020. Another significant sale was Hipgnosis Songs Fund's acquisition of a majority stake in the catalog of Neil Young, a deal estimated to be worth approximately $150 million. Additionally, Stevie Nicks reportedly sold a majority stake in her music catalog to Primary Wave Music for around $100 million in December 2020. These high-profile transactions underscore a trend in which artists, or their estates, leverage the current market demand for music catalogs, driven by streaming revenues and a desire for immediate financial gain.

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Gregory Walfish
Co-founder of Xposure Music, Gregory Walfish stands at the intersection of music, tech, and culture. With a software engineering background, he's passionate about artist development and technology.

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