The song-catalog sweepstakes hit a new peak on Wednesday, when news broke that Bruce Springsteen has sold his publishing and his recorded-music catalog to Sony Music for a reported $500 million, the largest known single-catalog acquisition to date. On Thursday, Sony Music confirmed the acquisition — noting the recorded-music and publishing agreements are separate — although neither Sony nor reps for Springsteen provided further specifics as they relate to financials.
Springsteen said in a statement released Thursday: “I am one artist who can truly say that when I signed with Columbia Records in 1972, I came to the right place. During the last 50 years, the men and women of Sony Music have treated me with the greatest respect as an artist and as a person. I’m thrilled that my legacy will continue to be cared for by the Company and people I know and trust.”
As catalog sales go, Springsteen’s reported deal tops the nearly $400 million that sources say Universal Music Publishing paid for Bob Dylan’s song catalog late last year, and dwarfs all other recent nine-figure deals.
Yet one well-placed source tells Variety that the deal was actually closer to $600 million, although not all sources agree on that figure. When news of negotiations first broke early last month, sources said the Springsteen camp’s original asking price was around $350 million for both the publishing and recorded masters catalogs. However, several insiders report that a heated bidding war erupted over the publishing between Universal and Sony — the latter of which was determined not to lose the Springsteen catalog after losing out on Dylan’s to UMPG. Ultimately, clearly, the price spiraled upward rapidly, with Sony winning out, for a sum somewhere between $500 million and $600 million. Sony Music Publishing partnered with Eldridge on the songwriting catalog purchase.
Such disparity in deal value is not uncommon when it comes to catalog sales. “Everyone over-inflates,” says one insider privy to such negotiations. Indeed, it stands to reason that the losing party in the negotiation would scoff at what that company deems an exorbitant price. This played out recently in the sale of Motley Crue’s catalog, which Variety originally reported to be worth $150 million, per band sources, but it turned out to be closer to $90 million.
What kind of multiples is factored into a $500 million deal? Considering Billboard’s report that the Springsteen catalog earns about $15 million per year, spanning 20 studio albums and multiple boxed sets and live recordings, the premium for housing it is significant — a 33x multiple.
How much wilder can things get? The largest such deal in history remains Sony Music’s acquisition of the 2.1 million-song EMI Music Publishing catalog for an enterprise value of more than $4.75 billion (which includes the Motown publishing catalog as well as songs by Queen, Carole King, Kanye West, Drake and many others). That deal took place over the course of several years but made Sony into the world’s largest music publisher overnight: It initially led an investment group and itself acquired 30% and management of EMI in 2012, and completed its acquisition of the catalog in 2018.
Sting is said to be in advanced talks with Universal to sell his catalog for $250 million-plus, as is David Bowie’s estate with Warner Chappell Publishing; the estate recently struck a deal with Warner for his recorded-music catalog.
The Bowie publishing deal was originally said to be in the $200 million range, but a reliable source says the figure being discussed is considerably higher — and have grown even more in the past 24 hours.
As prices continue to soar and this unprecedented year draws to a close, the sky is truly the limit.