Warner Music gets David Bowie songbook for $250mn

High value for the superstar’s back catalog shows recording industry on the rebound

Warner Chappell has acquired publishing rights to all 26 David Bowie studio albums for about $250 million, sources told the Financial Times, pointing to the growth of rock music songbooks as an unusual but reliable asset class.

The lawyer representing Bowie's family’s interests seemed pleased with the sale, telling the Times “we are truly gratified that David Bowie’s body of music will now be in the capable hands” of Warner Chappell Music. The company had reportedly been in negotiations since November, and the Bowie estate had already inked a long-term licensing deal with Warner Music for his recorded music catalog last year.

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Bowie left his estate, comprising six decades of music wildly varied in style, to his second wife Iman and his two children Duncan and Alexandria when he died of liver cancer in January 2016, just two days after releasing his final album Black Star.

With few concrete assets left to buy as the US economy continues to circle the drain, private equity firms and institutional investors like Blackstone and KKR are licking their lips over music catalogs, which have recently regained a good chunk of their value thanks to the popularity of streaming services after years of piracy-driven decline. With dual copyrights on the table – for songwriting and for the master recordings – savvy buyers can secure a good return on their investment.

Other musicians who have cashed in on the streaming boom include Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, and Bruce Springsteen, the latter of whom last month reportedly agreed to sell his catalog to Sony Music for $550 million. With dwindling touring opportunities available in the post-Covid world, releasing, reselling, and relicensing music seems like the surest route to keeping the lights on even for the most popular musicians.

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