Bob Dylan Sells His Songwriting Catalog in Blockbuster Deal


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 acquisition of music publishing rights for a single act.

The deal, which spanned Dylan’s entire career, from his earliest songs to the melodies on his latest album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” was made directly with Dylan, 79, who long controlled the 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 Statement announcing the deal.

Jody Gerson, general manager of Universal’s publishing division, added, “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 had no comment, said a spokesman.

The deal is the newest and most recognizable in this year’s music catalog market, as artists young and old alike have sold their songs while publishers and investors have raised billions of dollars from public and private sources to close these deals.

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 one of the ultimate gems in the music world – a plethora of songs that transformed folk, rock, and pop and inspired countless artists. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 “because he created new poetic forms of expression within the great American singing tradition”.

Dylan is also the type of writer that music publishers give particular thought to. Not only has his work stood the test of time, but most of his 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 movie or television 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.

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, its catalog was managed by Sony / ATV.)

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 new contract with Universal does not include any songs that Dylan will write in the future, so the possibility remains open to work with another publisher on this material.

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.


Robert Dunfee