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Music Licensing: Warner Chappell Music Acquires David Bowie Publishing Rights

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

The other shoe has dropped in Warner’s months-long negotiations to acquire sole rights to the entire music catalog of the influential singer-songwriter David Bowie.

According to Variety, which broke the story Jan. 3, Warner Chappell Music paid more than $250 million for the publishing rights for Bowie’s 27 albums. That figure puts the sale near the top of all reported music catalog acquisitions to date, with the exception of deals involving songs by Bob Dylan at $300 million, and Bruce Springsteen last month for $500 million.

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 agreement includes songs from 26 Bowie albums released during his lifetime, as well as the posthumous studio album release “Toy,” which comes out on Jan. 7. It also includes the two studio albums from Tin Machine, along with tracks released as singles from soundtracks and other projects.

As reported by TLL, this is actually the second deal involving David Bowie’s Estate and Warner.

Warner Music Acquires Full David Bowie Catalog

In September Warner Music and the estate of David Bowie signed a global, career-spanning partnership for Bowie’s recorded music catalog. One of the largest music companies in the world, Warner may have felt ‘under pressure‘, given the trend toward nine figure deals for artists with significant music catalogs.

But that deal included only the recorded music; it did not include the publishing rights for all of Bowie’s songs. That means, for example, that another artist could record a song written by Bowie, and Warner would be excluded from revenues. This new deal gives Warner the exclusive rights to publishing as well, bringing almost all of Bowie’s work into Warner.

The announcement was made during 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.

“All of us at Warner Chappell are immensely proud that the David Bowie estate has chosen us to be the caretakers of one of the most groundbreaking, influential, and enduring catalogs in music history,” said Warner Chappell Music Co-Chair and CEO Guy Moot said, “These are not only extraordinary songs, but milestones that have changed the course of modern music forever. Bowie’s vision and creative genius drove him to push the envelope, lyrically and musically—writing songs that challenged convention, changed the conversation, and have become part of the canon of global culture. His work spanned massive pop hits and experimental adventures that have inspired millions of fans and countless innovators, not only in music, but across all the arts, fashion, and media. We are looking forward to tending his unparalleled body of songs with passion and care as we strive to build on the legacy of this most extraordinary human being.”

WCM Co-Chair and COO Carianne Marshall explained the importance of acquiring the publishing rights to Bowie’s catalog, as it allows the company to promote the artist’s music through a variety of mediums and venues.

“This fantastic pact with the David Bowie estate opens up a universe of opportunities to take his extraordinary music into dynamic new places,” said Marshall. “This isn’t merely a catalog, but a living, breathing collection of timeless songs that are as powerful and resonant today as they were when they were first written.

“All of our global leaders and departments are incredibly excited and primed to get to work with these brilliant songs across multiple avenues and platforms,” she added. “And with both sides of WMG now representing Bowie’s career, we couldn’t be better set up to represent this illustrious body of work.”

Bowie died of cancer in 2016, but his work remains popular and eager fans continue to snap up new collections of his work, and he continued to produce music almost until the day of his death.

David Bowie was born in 1947 and was a contemporary of other British Rock innovators like the Rolling Stones, The Who, and the Beatles, but Bowie stood out as a musician who constantly jumped between genres … or even created them. Between the late-’60s and the mid-‘70s, he experimented with multi-media, recording the albums The Man Who Sold The World, Space Oddity, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Station to Station, and Young Americans. The track Fame, taken from the latter album, was his first U.S. No 1 hit.

Bowie was a superb performer on stage, and starred in productions like The Elephant Man on Broadway, and the films The Man Who Fell To Earth, and Cat People, both of which featured signature hits, as well as The Last Temptation of Christ, The Hunger, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, and Chris Nolan’s The Prestige; a number one box office hit in 2006.

Bowie’s list of great albums, songs and musical collaborations is literally too long to list, and as long as he was able, the music great continued producing great art and music. In 2014, to celebrate his 50th year in music, the compilation Nothing Has Changed was released, and yet again Bowie surprised everyone by releasing the seven-minute jazz murder ballad “Sue (or In a Season of Crime),” a collaboration with the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

★ (pronounced Blackstar) was Bowie’s 28th studio album, released on his 69th birthday, Jan. 8, 2016. Co-produced by Bowie and Visconti, and featuring backing from local NYC jazz saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his quartet, ★ was released to overwhelming acclaim, garnering many of the best critical notices of Bowie’s entire career. ★ was the first David Bowie album to hit No. 1 in the U.S., topped the charts in more than 20 countries, and won five Grammy Awards.

Bowie died at home with his family on Jan. 10, 2016, just two days after the album ★ was released.

This week, spokesman Allen Grubman said the David Bowie Estate is thrilled to see the acclaimed artist’s work in Warner’s capable hands. “We are truly gratified that David Bowie’s body of music will now be in the capable hands of Warner Chappell Music Publishing” Grubman said. “We are sure they will cherish it and take care of it with the greatest level of dignity.”

Learn More From Our Special Report on Music Licensing, For Members Only

Special Report: The Evolution of Music Licensing


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