Return to all posts

The artists with the highest-selling back catalogues

The artists with the highest-selling back catalogues
Written by

Abbie Dawson

Published

November 7, 2022

Category

Latest research

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

Music is big business. And the pandemic helped fuel a trend for nostalgia playlists, giving legacy artists’ back catalogues a further bump in value. Icons can also save a hefty amount in tax by capitalising sooner rather than later.

Today, more and more musicians from eras gone by are cashing in, making hundreds of millions selling the rights to their songs. Most recently, Pink Floyd made headlines seeking a reported $500 million for their music collection.

To find out, we took a look at reports of sales and 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.

Older artists are also the most likely to cash in, with the average age at sale being 60 years old. Some suggest this is because they're able to make more from selling off their music than they can through royalties.

Music icon Bruce Springsteen tops 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.

Second place is tied three ways between Phill Collins (alongside Genesis bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks), Bob Dylan and Tina Turner, 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 Bruce Springsteen
500 5,088,760 58
2= Phil Collins & Genesis
300 7,583,309 55
2= Bob Dylan
300 5,809,862 61
2= Tina Turner
300 3,111,140 53
5= David Bowie
250 8,587,654 54
5= Sting
250 2,710,966 51
7 Ryan Tedder
200 29,975 26
8= Motley Crue
150 4,197,081 38
8= Neil Young
150 2,630,383 59
10 Red Hot Chili Peppers
140 18,503,168 39

The three Genesis musicians have been active for 55 years and although the artists are all in their 70s, their popularity continues. They recently concluded a world tour and have a combined 7.5 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. At 81 years old, Turner is the oldest person in the study to sell her back catalogue. Turner officially retired in 2009, although her songs still receive millions on monthly listeners on Spotify.

The only artist in the top five, 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 earlier this year for a reported $250 million. The catalogue included music from his five decades of work – including the album Toy, which was released posthumously.

Looking at years active in the industry, Imagine Dragons were the earliest to sell rights to their music after just 14 years for a reported $100 million.

The band’s Spotify popularity is the highest in the study, at over 42 million subscribers at the time of writing which may have helped push up the price. The average age of the band is also the youngest in the study, at 34 years old at the time of sale.

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


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.

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, 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 October 19th 2022.

Image credits:

Bruce Springsteen: Bill Ebbesen, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), 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
Ryan Tedder: Arne Müseler / www.arne-mueseler.com, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en), via Wikimedia Commons
Motley Crue: Bjornsphoto, CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Neil Young: Per Ole Hagen, CC BY-SA 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Warner Bros., CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The artists with the highest-selling back catalogues

Abbie Dawson

Marketing Executive at Startle. It's my job to manage marketing, making sure to spread the word of Startle to as many brands as possible. When I'm not working, you'll find me vinyl shopping to add to my collection or working out at the gym (usually 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 *