A plethora of rock and metal heavyweights have sold off their music catalogs recently. It’s become a major story in the music industry over the past few years, with musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Mike Inez and William DuVall all opting to sell their intellectual property.
The reasons why companies, namely Sony Music Group, Universal Music Group and BMG, would want to purchase these rights are pretty obvious: the return on investment. They believe they can get more from royalties and licensing the music for use in films, TV, and advertising over time than what they paid for the catalog upfront.
Money is also the biggest factor in why musicians might want to sell their catalogs. Instead of gambling with the uncertain amount of dough they could rake in by holding onto their intellectual property, some choose to simply cash it in for a lump sum payment and have their very own Scrooge McDuck moment. In addition, companies usually live longer than musicians, and selling one’s catalog minimizes the chances of a musician’s heirs fighting over their inheritance as money is an easier asset to pass along.
Here are 10 of the biggest rock and metal musicians who have made a killing by selling their catalog rights.
Sony Music Group acquired Bruce Springsteen’s entire recorded music and songwriting catalogs through separate agreements in December of 2021 for a reported total of between $500 million and $550 million. The two agreements covered the recorded music and music publishing rights to all of Springsteen’s songs throughout his five-decade recording career with Columbia Records — during which he released 20 studio albums and sold 150 million records worldwide. Sony partnered with holding company Eldridge on the songwriting catalog purchase.
David Bowie’s estate sold the singer’s publishing catalog to Warner Chappell Music Group in January of 2022 for a price upwards of $250 million, according to Variety —who will be a recurring source throughout this article. The catalog spans six decades, and the agreement was composed of songs from the 26 studio albums Bowie released during his lifetime, as well as the posthumous studio album release Toy. Overall, Bowie sold roughly 140 million records worldwide throughout his lifetime.
Sting cut a deal with Universal Music Group in February 2022 to sell his publishing and recorded music catalogs for an estimated $250 million. UMG now controls Sting’s entire portfolio, including his work with the Police and the 15 studio albums released between 1985 and November 2021. With both his work with the Police and his solo career combined, Sting has sold over 100 million records.
“It is absolutely essential to me that my career’s body of work have a home where it is valued and respected – not only to connect with longtime fans in new ways but also to introduce my songs to new audiences, musicians and generations,” Sting said of the deal.
Sony Music Entertainment announced in January 2022 they had acquired the rights to Bob Dylan’s entire back catalog of recorded music, as well as rights to “multiple future new releases.” Though the financial deal was not disclosed, Billboard estimates Dylan’s master recordings to be worth $200 million or more.
The deal included Dylan’s entire body of recorded work —including a whopping 39 studio albums and various singles which accounts for more than 125 million records sold— and followed the sale of Dylan’s publishing rights to Universal Music Group in December 2022. That deal was estimated to be worth $300 million or more.
Motley Crue sold their entire music catalog in November 2021 to BMG in a deal that, according to Variety’s sources, was valued at approximately $150 million (though other sources cited a significantly lower number). The deal spans all nine studio albums from the band’s over 40-year career, along with live LPs and compilations. The acquisition was BMG’s largest since its formation in 2008.
“It feels amazing to be collaborating with our new partners at BMG,” the group said in a statement. "Their extensive track record of success in rock made them the perfect home to continue preserving and growing our musical legacy, ensuring we always stay at the top.”
Neil Young sold half of the rights to his entire back catalog in a January 2021 deal with Hipgnosis Songs Fund that is estimated to be worth $150 million, according to the BBC. The deal comprised 1,180 songs written by the Canadian folk rocker, who has released a staggering 45 studio albums throughout his career.
"This is a deal that changes Hipgnosis forever," Merck Mercuriadis told the BBC. "I bought my first Neil Young album aged seven. Harvest was my companion, and I know every note, every word, every pause and silence intimately. Neil Young, or at least his music, has been my friend and constant ever since." Mercuriadis is just one of the roughly 64 million album sales from Young.
Hipgnosis has been quite busy with music catalogs over the years, now boasting a portfolio of more than 70 artists and more than 70,000 songs.
Stevie Nicks sold 80 percent stake in her songs to Hipgnosis rival Primary Wave back in December of 2020. The deal was made to the tune of $100 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Included in the deal were the rights to "Edge of Seventeen," "Landslide," "Stand Back," "Rihannon" and "Dreams." The latter re-entered the Billboard charts around the same time following a viral TikTok featuring a man skateboarding to the tune —a feat the song hadn’t reached since 1977.
Nicks has released eight solo albums as well as seven studio albums with Fleetwood Mac throughout her iconic career, and has sold over 11 million albums worldwide.
Soon after BMG and KKR announced their partnership, they acquired the “entire music interests” of ZZ Top for around $50 million in 2021, according to Variety. The agreement included a buyout of the band’s publishing catalog and their income from recorded royalties and performance royalties. The band have released 15 studio albums and sold an estimated 50 million records worldwide over the course of their 50-year career.
Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Mike Inez and William DuVall
The deal did not include copyrights to the estates of original singer Layne Staley or original bassist Mike Starr, who passed away in 2002 and 2011, respectively. Their estates sold their music rights to Primary Wave. In addition, compositions by Cantrell —the group’s main songwriter over their career— were included in the cut, but his solo work was not.
The Top 25 Best Selling Hard Rock + Metal Artists of All Time
These bands have been sold and streamed more than any other rockers. Sellouts!