Return to all postsReturn to all resources
Sold! The artists with the most valuable back catalogues

Sold! The artists with the most valuable back catalogues

Written by
Abbie Dawson
Published

April 8, 2024

Category
Latest research

Which artists have made the most from selling the rights to their music?

As background music experts, we understand the value of music. And, seemingly, so do some of the world’s biggest artists – with many opting to trade the rights to their tunes for an early pay day. Icons can save a hefty amount in tax by capitalising sooner rather than later.

Today, more and more musicians from eras gone by are cashing in, as well as those still topping the charts, making hundreds of millions selling the rights to their songs. Most recently, hard rock quartet Kiss have sold their catalogue, brand name and IP to Swedish company Pophouse Entertainment Group in a deal estimated to be over $300 million.

But which artists are making the most from their back catalogue sales?

To find out, we looked at reports of how much back catalogues were sold for, covering some of the biggest names in music history. We also looked at trends in the rankings to identify how factors like gender, age and time in the industry can affect the value of these bumper sales.

So, what did we find?

The artists who have sold their back catalogues for the highest amount of money are predominantly men, with just one female artist - Tina Turner - securing a spot in the top five most expensive back catalogues of all-time.

It's still more common for older artists to cash in, even though some younger artists like Justin Bieber and Katy Perry are doing so. Some suggest this is because they're able to make more from selling off their music than they can through royalties, like when their tunes are played on the radio or in stores.

Topping the list is the 'King of Pop', Michael Jackson. Although the figure is disputed, it's reported that Sony Music Group paid at least $600m for just half of his catalogue, meaning the singer's musical assets are worth more than $1.2bn (£950m).

Music icon Bruce Springsteen is second on the chart, selling his catalogue of 300 songs for a hefty estimated $500 million, including classics like Born in the USA and Born to Run.

Third place is tied four ways between Phill Collins (alongside Genesis bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks), Bob Dylan, Tina Turner and the most recent catalogue sale by Kiss, each selling their song rights for a reported $300 million.

Top 10 most expensive back catalogues

Artist/Songwriter Reported Sale Price (Millions of $) Spotify Followers Years in Industry
1 Michael Jackson
600 30,315,826 45
2 Bruce Springsteen
500 6,152,236 60
3= KISS
300 9,284,812 51
3= Phil Collins & Genesis
300 8,989,410 57
3= Bob Dylan
300 6,377,823 63
3= Tina Turner
300 3,975,600 55
7= David Bowie
250 10,262,897 56
7= Sting
250 3,237,109 53
9 Katy Perry
225 32,422,477 17
10 Justin Bieber
200 74,360,234 15

The three Genesis musicians have been active for over 55 years and, although the artists are all in their 70s, their popularity continues. They recently concluded a world tour and have a combined 8.5 million followers on Spotify.

Bob Dylan’s back catalogue was sold to Universal Music Group in 2020. It’s reported 600 of his songs were included in the sale, including Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Like a Rolling Stone. Dylan has continued to make music following the sale of his back catalogue and embarked on a tour in 2021.

The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tina Turner, sold her catalogue of music spanning five decades in 2021. Sadly passing away in 2023, Turner was the oldest live artist in the study to sell her back catalogue.

Pophouse CEO Per Sundin says the goal of purchasing Kiss' back catalogue was to expose it to new generations — which he believes sets Pophouse apart from other acquisitions of music catalogues.

Aside from Michael Jackson, the only other artist in the top ten whose back catalogue was sold after their death is David Bowie. He passed away in 2016, and his music was sold to Warner Chappell Music last year for a reported $250 million. The catalogue included music from his five decades of work – including the album Toy, which was released posthumously.

In 9th place is pop princess Katy Perry, who recently sold her catalogue, including five of her albums released between 2008 and 2020 featuring 16 multi-platinum singles.

Canadian pop sensation, Justin Bieber, has the 10th most expensive music back catalogue in history, joint with American singer-songwriter Ryan Tedder – the lead vocalist of the rock band OneRepublic.

Bieber’s Spotify popularity is the highest of the musicians and bands studied, with over 73 million followers which may have helped push up the sale price.

Royalties vs Rights

One of the biggest deciding factors for artists considering cashing in on the rights to their music is whether the lump sum payment outweighs the royalties they receive whenever their songs are streamed.

Streaming music isn’t free – for personal listeners or businesses boosting buying habits with tailored tunes (it’s true – the behavioural science behind music proves playlists influence customers). While solo streamers pay for popular music platforms, businesses must also own a music license to play in public.

So, musicians make money each time their songs are streamed, whatever the setting. The question, therefore, is whether these regular royalties are more or less valuable than a one-off sale of their rights.

And as we’ve found in our study, this is likely to be influenced by age, personal circumstance and how much record labels and investors are willing to pay!

Music sounds better with Startle. We’re a talented tech company providing background music, bespoke profiling, digital signage and mobile experiences across a range of sectors.


Methodology:

You can view the full data set here.

Through desktop research on October 11th 2022, we identified a list of artists who sold their entire back catalogue or a large percentage share and disclosed the approximate sale price. Artists who did not disclose the price of sale were excluded from the study. This list was then updated on 4th April 2024 to represent the back catalogues that have been sold since.

Where the British Pounds conversion was not published, we converted the American Dollar price into British Pounds using the conversion rate on 19th October 2022.

The number of years active was taken from each artist/band’s Wikipedia page on 12th Feb 2024, as was the Artist’s age when the catalogue was sold. For groups, we worked out an average age for all members of the group when the sale was made.

The number of Spotify followers was collected from the platform’s About section for each artist on 8th April 2024.

Image credits:

Michael Jackson: Constru-centro, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Bruce Springsteen: Bill Ebbesen, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
KISS: Flickr user Wok, CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Phil Collins: The original uploader was SebastianWilken at German Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Bob Dylan: Alberto Cabello from Vitoria Gasteiz, CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Tina Turner: Philip Spittle, CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons
David Bowie: Photographer: Photobra|Adam BielawskiDerivative work: Y2kcrazyjoker4, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Sting: Raph_PH, CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Katy Perry: Liam MendesUploaded by MyCanon, CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Justin Bieber: Nokia621, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Heard enough?

Ready to create standout customer experiences? Get in touch to find out how we can use music and tech to help you achieve your goals.

Request a quote
Rotary phone

Heard enough?

Music is powerful, but using it with intention takes skill. Chat to our team today to find out how our behavioural-science backed, curated playlists could help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Woman dancing

Heard enough?

Seeing is believing. Engaging your customers through vibrant visual displays can be a game-changer in your retail or hospitality experience. Chat to our team today to find out how our dynamic digital signage solution could help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Woman's face

Heard enough?

Live sport has been at the heart of many pubs for decades. Chat to our team today to find out how Arena, our automated, all-inclusive sports promotion platform, could help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
People watching sports in a pub

Heard enough?

Your environment is always changing. Chat to our team today to find out how using our invaluable insights to auto-adjust your atmosphere could help you achieve your goals and fine-tune your operations.

Tell me more
Happy woman eating in restaurant

Heard enough?

Replicate a perfectly curated atmosphere across an entire estate, all from a single platform. Chat to our team today to find out how using Studio could help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Technoology

Heard enough?

Creating something so deeply subjective as an atmosphere without a strong understanding of human behaviour is kind of silly. Chat to our team today to find out how behavioural science can be applied to help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
People walking

Heard enough?

Dedicated management, free player replacements, 24/7/365 support… what you want, baby we got it. Chat to our team today to find out how relentless our Relentless Support™ really are.

Tell me more
Man with headphones

Heard enough?

Creating a standout retail experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and tech to create a till ringing atmosphere and help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Clothes on rack

Heard enough?

Creating a standout restaurant experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and tech to serve up the perfect atmospheres in your restaurants and help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Restaurants kitchen

Heard enough?

Creating a standout coffee shop experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and tech to brew the perfect atmospheres for your cafes and help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Cafe

Heard enough?

Creating a standout pub experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and pint-sized tech to create the perfect atmosphere and help get the drinks flowing.

Tell me more
People celebrating in pub

Heard enough?

Creating a standout hotel experience isn’t easy. Check out (or in) how we can use music and tech to create the perfect atmospheres and help you achieve your goals by chatting to our team today.

Tell me more
Restaurant table with cutlery

Heard enough?

Creating a standout gym experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and tech to get your atmospheres into perfect shape and help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Gym equipment

Heard enough?

Creating a standout salon experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and tech to create an atmosphere with the perfect finish and help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Salon equipment

Heard enough?

Creating a standout office experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and tech to create atmospheres that work as hard as your customers.

Tell me more
Co-working space

Heard enough?

Creating a standout spa experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and tech to create the perfect peaceful atmosphere and help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Towels and insense

Heard enough?

Creating a standout ship experience isn’t easy. Chat to our team today to find out how we can use music and tech to create the perfect atmospheres for your cruise ships and help you achieve your goals.

Tell me more
Beach with cruise ship in background
Sold! The artists with the most valuable back catalogues

Abbie Dawson

With a degree in Marketing and a Marketing Week Mini MBA in Marketing, Abbie has always had a goal of working with a brand with music in its DNA. Enter: Startle. She is in charge of our marketing activity, making sure to spread the word of Startle to as many brands as possible. When Abbie’s not working, you'll find her vinyl shopping to add to her collection or in the gym picking up heavy things or making enemies with a punching bag.

Say hello on LinkedIn

Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe?

  • Number of locations *