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Why Are Musicians Selling Their Entire Music Catalogs?

They’re making a fortune.

CREDIT: Shutterstock/Debby Wong, D Free, Everett Collection

From the late David Bowie to Shakira, plenty of musicians are opting to rake in the cash by selling their entire music catalogs.

Justin Beiber has become the latest in a round of celebrities that have chosen to sell their complete music catalogs for an astounding lump sum. Beiber has reportedly earned a whopping $200 million by handing over the rights and royalties to Hipgnosis, a company specializing in the acquisition of music rights.

Surprisingly, whilst the $200 million is a mouth-watering feat, it’s far from the highest recorded sum a celeb has received from auctioning off their music rights. Bruce Springsteen sold his extensive back catalog to Sony Music for a wild $550 million in 2021, a number that is sure to keep the 73-year-old going strong for quite some time.

Music catalog sales hit the headlines in recent years for matters aside from the extortionate price tags. Taylor Swift sold her previous singles and albums to Scooter Braun, but the deal has caused outrage throughout the industry, with foul play being called and Taylor re-recording her whole collection.

Receiving a million-dollar payout may seem like a success story, but there are lots of factors to consider when handing over the rights to a company. The sale agrees that any royalties made from sold songs go straight to the new owner rather than being received by the musician themselves.

American singers raced to sell their back catalogs before 2022 due to President Biden increasing capital gains taxes, leading to a range of musicians from Shakira and Stevie Nicks to Imagine Dragons and The Killers releasing rights to their hit songs.

David Bowie even posthumously sold his catalog, with the money going to his estate. It included all 26 of his albums he released before he sadly passed away aged 69 in 2016, as well as adding the rights to his album Toy which was released following his death. So selling music rights looks like a move for both the living and the dead! 

Stevie Nicks is another big name who sold her catalog, accepting $100 million from talent management company Primary Waves for rights to her songs. Previous hits from the singer include Edge of Seventeen and Landslide, both of which are now no longer legally owned by her.

These sorts of purchases/sales are rewarding for both sides involved, leaving the musicians with a giant lump sum they can use as they please and the company temporarily out of pocket before bringing in the cash with a variety of royalties. Depending on the average amount of royalties a celeb earns from their hit tunes, deals can be struck for any amount, with most reaching upwards of $100 million.

Selling a catalog can be a risky move, weighing up whether the royalties will be worth more than the money on the table, but for many, it is a perfect option to have some physical cash in their hand to invest in other ventures. 

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