Bruce Springsteen sells music catalog to Sony in record-breaking, $500-million deal
The Boss is getting a Christmas bonus.
Bruce Springsteen has sold his entire catalog of music, including his master recordings and song publishing catalog, to Sony Music Entertainment in a blockbuster deal that reportedly could be worth $500 million.
The record-setting transaction, which includes classic songs “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Born in the U.S.A.” and hundreds of others stretching back nearly 50 years, will send Springsteen’s recorded masters to his longtime home, Sony Music, and his song publishing to its corporate sibling, Sony Music Publishing.
The Boss’ holiday payday, which was first reported in Billboard, is the largest in a string of deals since 2019 that has seen classics of American music sold to major music houses.
Artists including Stevie Nicks, James Brown, Neil Young and Paul Simon have sold either parts or all of their work in recent years. In March, Bob Dylan sold his catalog to Universal Music for a reported $300 million. Earlier this week, Primary Wave purchased James Brown’s music assets for $90 million.
Thanks to deep-pocketed streamers with an insatiable need for content and subscribers, music fans enjoyed an unparalleled bounty of documentaries in 2021.
“Our eyes are on the world,” Sony Music Chairman Rob Stringer said during an investor relations meeting in May. “Anywhere where we think there is a deal that enhances our ecosystem, we will be there.” He added that in the most recent quarter, Sony Music Publishing owned the rights to, and earned income from, more than 30% of all songs streamed on Spotify.
In a nearly 50-year span, Springsteen’s music has been stitched into the fabric of American culture. He released his first album, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” on Columbia Records, now a subsidiary of Sony Music, on Jan. 5, 1973. In the U.S., his album catalog has sold more than 65 million copies, according to Billboard. His most successful album, 1984’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” alone has sold more than 15 million copies.
Representatives for Springsteen declined to comment on the sale.
The unprecedented gold rush for publishing catalogs has been propelled by the success of streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. In May, Goldman Sachs projected that global music revenues would grow by more than 80% to $142 billion by 2030, up from $77 billion in 2019. The bank estimated that more than 1.2 billion users will subscribe to a music streaming service by 2030; in 2020, that number was 467 million.
Publishing companies including Hipgnosis, Primary Wave and Concord and global music powerhouses BMG and Universal Music Publishing invested more than $7 billion into mergers and acquisitions in the first four months of 2021, which nearly equaled the total spent in 2020. Stringer told investors that during the first half of 2021, Sony spent nearly $1.4 billion on deals, most prominently on Simon’s body of work.
“Subscription revenue might not be increasing as fast as some would like, but the global music subscriber base is not just growing — it is growing faster than ever,” noted streaming analyst Mark Mulligan of Midia Research in July.
For Sony, streaming revenue is only part of the equation. Like blue-chip stocks, songs are intangible but offer a steady return on investment. Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” to name but one of his enduring hits, will remain in the collective consciousness long after its songwriter passes, available to be licensed for commercial use in movies and TV shows. Vinyl reissues, TikTok clips, YouTube plays — each will combine to offset Sony’s $500-million investment.
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