“For a certain kind of Dylan nut,” the news may be crushing, said Alexis Petridis in TheGuardian.com. But the announcement that Bob Dylan has sold his entire song catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group only reaffirms that the rock legend and Nobel Prize winner has always been a savvy businessman as well as an unparalleled artist.
The “mind-blowing” estimated price—more than $300 million—is a payday he has earned by writing 600 songs across his 60-year career. Universal acquires the rights to license other artists to perform and record those tunes. But Dylan retains the rights to his own recordings, and anyway, he had already proven “exceptionally open” to selling his music for other uses, including to accompany ads shilling for “everything from Cadillac SUVs to Victoria’s Secret underwear.” Selling his song rights now just shows his timing is good. Demand for legacy music has hit a peak, said Robert Levine in Billboard.com. Especially with concert revenues obliterated by Covid, revenues from streaming music are more important than ever to companies like Universal.
The song rights of a legacy musician like Dylan might generate half a million in annual revenues from streaming of his own recordings and several times that from the streaming of other artists who’ve recorded his songs. And remember, Dylan is now 79, said Kristin Schwab in Marketplace.org. He knows he can’t live forever, and “the slog of administrative work that comes with licensing isn’t a great gift to leave to family members”—not compared with hundreds of millions in cash. Because there’s speculation that a Biden administration may raise capital gains taxes— including on sales of song rights—some industry observers expect a rush of songwriters selling off their own rights before Jan. 20. “I have a family and a mortgage and I have to take care of them, so it’s my only option,” David Crosby said in a tweet this week. “I’m sure others feel the same way.”