In what may be the biggest single-artist music-catalog deal to date, a report in Billboard claims that Bruce Springsteen has sold his entire recorded-music and publishing catalog to Sony Music for around $500 million, topping Bob Dylan’s sale of his publishing to Universal for nearly $400 million.
Reps for Springsteen and Sony Music either declined or did not respond to requests for comment, but multiple industry sources tell Variety that the deal is “done.”
News of negotiations first arose early last month; while there has been no official comment, sources said the recorded-music deal — which includes such multiplatinum albums as “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” — was completed but the publishing was still in play, between Universal and Sony. While the number of $350 million was initially forecast, apparently the bidding intensified.
While Springsteen has been with Sony Music’s Columbia Records since he first signed with the label in 1972, he acquired the rights to his music as part of a contract renegotiation at some point during the 1990s; such moves are rarely reported but become evident in the fine print on a release.
Selling the rights to their music is anathema to many artists, but as they reach or pass standard retirement age and begin estate planning, a sale is an attractive option — especially today, as song catalogs are hitting previously unimagined valuations and artists consider the realities of leaving their heirs with a valuable but cumbersome asset; song catalogs in particular require extensive management to optimize their value.
Another strong impetus to sell is the expected increase in capital gains taxes, with Democrats holding both the White House and the House of Representatives until 2023, at least.
Springsteen, of course, is one of the most successful recording artists of the past 50 years, with 65.5 million album sales in the U.S. alone, according to the RIAA, and a vast song catalog that generates hundreds if not thousands of cover versions every year. Billboard estimated that the Springsteen album catalog generated about $15 million in revenue in 2020, and that his publishing catalog brings in about $7.5 million per year.
Over the decades Springsteen and his manager of nearly 50 years, Jon Landau, have been nothing if not savvy businessmen: In addition to lucrative deals for his publishing and recorded music, Springsteen is one of the most profitable touring acts in history, having raked in more than $840 million in touring dollars between just 2010 and 2019, according to Pollstar — one decade of a nearly 60-year career. Additionally, Springsteen’s team sells dozens of archival live recordings on his website, to which he owns the rights and bypasses record labels completely. It was unclear at the time of this article’s publication whether those live recordings are included in the reported Sony deal.
Variety will have more on this situation as it develops.