Sold! The artists with the most valuable back catalogues
January 26, 2023
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, as well as those still topping the charts, making hundreds of millions selling the rights to their songs. Most recently, Justin Bieber has sold his share to the tune of a reported $200 million.
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.
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.
Canadian pop sensation, Justin Bieber, has the 7th most expensive music back catalogue in history, joint with American singer-songwriter Ryan Tedder – the lead vocalist of the rock band OneRepublic.
Looking at years active in showbiz, Justin Bieber has overtaken Imagine Dragons, selling his back catalogue after just 13 years in the industry, aged 28. Previously, Imagine Dragons held this record when they sold their back catalogue for $100 million after 14 years active.
Bieber’s Spotify popularity is also the highest of the musicians and bands studied, with over 71 million followers which may have helped push up the sale price.
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