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Warner Music Acquires Full David Bowie Catalog

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

Warner Music Group says there will be some ch-ch-ch-changes to its relationship with the David Bowie Estate, bringing the late iconic musician even more Fame.

Warner Music and the estate of David Bowie have signed a global, career-spanning partnership for Bowie’s timeless 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.

With this landmark new deal, Warner Music says it will now have worldwide rights to five decades of Bowie’s transcendent, culture-shifting work.

“It’s an incredible honor to have been chosen as the stewards of one of the most important and dynamic bodies of creative work in modern culture,” said Max Lousada, CEO of Recorded Music at WMG. “The impact of Bowie’s repeated reinvention and endless experimentation continues to resonate around the world—through the genres he transformed, the timeless songs and sounds he invented, and the immeasurable influence he’s had on music, art, and fashion.

“We’re excited that our expanded partnership with the Bowie estate will help us deliver innovative, career-spanning projects and attract new generations to his extraordinary musical universe.”

The many looks of the genre-bending, Rock ‘n’ Roll iconoclast David Bowie through the years. Photo Credit: Jones/Tintoretto Entertainment Company LLC.

Warner originally held an agreement with Bowie’s estate with includes material from 1968 to 1999, but the new licensing agreement will include the entirety of Bowie’s 2000-2016 creative outpouring. Heathen, Reality, The Next Day, and the worldwide No.1 album ★ (pronounced Blackstar) are among the acclaimed works that will come into the Warner Music fold in 2023.

Much of Bowie’s catalog became part of the Warner Music family in 2013, when WMG acquired the historic London-based Parlophone Label Group.

Since then, Warner Music and the Bowie estate have jointly embarked on an extensive, award-winning program of releases highlighting the astonishing, game-changing evolution of his career. This includes Five Years, which won the NME Award for Best Reissue in 2016; Conversation Piece, which earned the 2021 Making Vinyl Packaging Award for Best Book + Media Package; and the lauded Glastonbury 2000 live audio & video set from 2018.

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.

On Jan. 10, 2016, David Bowie died peacefully surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer.

Special Report: The Evolution of Music Licensing

Prominent among the flow of recent Bowie releases has been the acclaimed Eraseries of box sets, each one covering a key period in Bowie’s career. Launched in 2015, there have been four Era sets released to date. The fifth Era box, Brilliant Adventure (1992 – 2001), is slated for release this fall, with details to come. Guided by Bowie’s vision for his catalog, Nigel Reeve – Warner Music’s SVP, Content Development & Marketing, Global Catalog, has worked in close partnership with the Bowie estate to curate and present a landmark release campaign celebrating Bowie’s unparalleled legacy, with many more exciting releases on tap.

“To be entrusted with this phenomenal body of work is truly gratifying,” said Kevin Gore, President, Global Catalog, Warner Recorded Music. “For the past eight years, we’ve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the Bowie estate, collaborating on a fantastic series of releases.

“Nigel and our entire catalog team have taken great care to be thoughtful and steadfast in our promise to stay true to his artistic vision, while revealing previously unheard music and framing his genius in fresh contexts. With the addition of his immensely powerful later work to the Warner Music portfolio, we’re looking forward to bringing Bowie’s music to fans across the globe for many years to come.”

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