After months of negotiations, David Bowie’s estate has sold the singer’s formidable publishing catalog to Warner Chappell Music for a price upwards of $250 million, sources confirm to Variety. The catalog spans six decades and includes such songs as “Heroes,” “Changes,” “Space Oddity,” “Fame,” “Let’s Dance,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Golden Years,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “All the Young Dudes,” his 1981 collaboration with Queen “Under Pressure” and hundreds more.
The deal, which sources say was the highest multiple for a song catalog to date, brings nearly all of Bowie’s music into the Warner system. Last September, the estate announced a global partnership with Warner Music that will bring the late artist’s vast recorded-music catalog from 1968 through 2016 under the company’s umbrella; the deal includes Bowie’s albums from 2000 through 2016, which were originally released via Sony Music.
The publishing announcement comes amid the “Bowie 75” celebration, surrounding the late singer’s 75th birthday on Saturday, Jan. 8. The campaign also includes pop-up stores in New York and London and the release in November of the “Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001)” boxed set and, on Friday, his previously unreleased “Toy” album, comprising re-recorded versions of relatively obscure songs dating from early in his career; while that album is available as part of the boxed set, it will be released separately on Friday.
In November, Variety broke the news that a new Bowie film culled from thousands of hours of rare performance footage, most of it previously uncirculated, is in its final stages and could premier as soon as the Sundance Film Festival later this month. Brett Morgen, the director behind “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” “Jane” and “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” has been working on the project for four years, sources say, with longtime Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti is serving as music director.
The move is the latest in a wide-ranging series of deals by Warner Chappell, which include catalog deals with Bruno Mars, Cardi B, Quincy Jones, Anderson .Paak, Saweetie and the estate of George Michael, among many others.
Bowie, who died of cancer in January of 2016, was fastidious about maintaining control of his work and regularly snapped up stray recordings and other items from his career whenever they became available. While his estate owns his catalog from 1968 forward, his earliest officially released material — a string of singles and one self-titled 1967 album, all of which are vastly inferior to his classic work — is outside of the Warner deal, although ironically, many of the songs from that era appear in new versions on “Toy.”
The deal is the latest in an era that has seen song catalogs soar to previously unimagined values, with Bruce Springsteen’s publishing and recorded-music rights going to Sony for a staggering number sources say is in the mid-$500 million range, Bob Dylan’s publishing going to Universal for nearly $400 million, Paul Simon’s to Sony for $250 million, and many more. While selling song catalogs may seem unthinkable for many songwriters, for older artists it’s actually a sensible estate-planning move: The market for such properties is far hotter than it’s ever been, and it saves the songwriter’s heirs from having to manage a very complicated asset — and gets them a big pile of money instead.
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