The Ledger is a weekly newsletter about the economics of the music business sent to Billboard Pro subscribers. An abbreviated version of the newsletter is published online.
This was a year without splashy public offerings, like Universal Music Group’s last year and Warner Music Group’s the year before. Some of the biggest rights acquisitions of all time — for Bob Dylan’s and Bruce Springsteen’s recordings and publishing, and David Bowie’s publishing took place in those years, too. And the time when the biggest companies in the business could acquire their rivals may be over for the time being as well.
Rising interest rates put a chill on the catalog acquisition market and brought down valuations, but there was no shortage of investors for a seemingly never-ending supply of creators willing to take advantage of the streaming boom to part with their catalogs. The list of deals that didn’t even make this list includes various rights for the music of The Ramones, Justin Timberlake, Keith Urban, Louis Prima, Swedish House Mafia, Future and Blake Shelton.
Only two of the last year’s top 10 deals — ranked by dollar amount — didn’t involve a catalog changing hands. One was a reverse merger that made French streaming company Deezer a publicly traded company, while he other was Spotify’s latest acquisition to further its goal of becoming a one-stop destination for audio.
Concord sells asset-backed securities ($1.8 billion)
This month, Concord priced the biggest music-related asset-backed securitization in history: $1.8 billion of senior notes backed by a diversified catalog of music publishing and recorded music rights valued at $4.1 billion. Apollo’s Capital Solutions business structured the transaction and formed an investor syndicate led by Apollo-managed funds. JP Morgan was the co-structuring agent. Music-backed securitization was made famous in 1997 with $55 million of asset-backed securities, commonly referred to as Bowie Bonds, supported by royalties from Bowie’s recorded music catalog. Concord’s offering was significantly larger and diverse than Bowie’s: The catalog behind Concord’s bonds includes compositions and recordings by Phil Collins, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Daft Punk, Miles Davis, Imagine Dragons, Pink Floyd, Cyndi Lauper, Little Richard and James Taylor.
Brookfield Asset Management Invests in Primary Wave ($1.7 billion)
The biggest music industry deal of the year by dollar amount was something of a surprise. The 100-year-old Canadian asset manager Brookfield’s decision to put $1.7 billion into Primary Wave, an active buyer of music rights for nearly 17 years, came during a lull in the market. Rising interest rates were making music rights a less attractive investment, headline-grabbing acquisitions had slowed since the Fed began hiking rates in March and possible changes to tax treatment of catalog sales in 2022 culminated a busy 2021. Brookfield wasn’t discouraged by market forces, though. The two companies spent six months hashing out a deal, Brookfield managing partner Angelo Rufino told Billboard. Brookfield was attracted to Primary Wave’s model of employing marketing and branding experts to build the value of its acquisitions. He called Primary Wave CEO Larry Mestel “the best I’ve ever seen at leveraging brand extensions to supercharge the growth of these assets.”
Kobalt sells majority interest to Francisco Partners ($750 million)
Kobalt has been selling off assets left and right in recent years. It sold its two investment funds that owned music assets — one went to Hipgnosis Song Management for $323 million in 2020, the other to KKR and Dundee Partners for $1.1 billion in 2021 (which resulted in the Chord Music Partners bond offering this year, see below) — and Sony Music purchased Kobalt’s independent distributor and label services provider, AWAL, as well as its neighboring rights business. These moves allowed Kobalt to pay off its debt and finish 2021 with $315 million in cash. This year, Kobalt sold a piece of itself when tech-focused investment firm Francisco Partners, along with Dundee Partners and Matt Pincus’ MUSIC, bought a majority stake in the company for $750 million.
KKR sells asset-backed security ($732.5 million)
The technical sounding Hi-Fi Music IP Issuer II L.P., Series 2022-1, was a bond offering by Chord Music Partners in February, backed by a music catalog valued at $1.13 billion. What the bond lacked in curb appeal it made up for in sheer dollar volume after raising $732.5 million for Chord Music Partners, a venture of KKR Credit Advisors and Dundee Partners. The music publishing catalog behind Hi-Fi Music offering — about 62,000 titles in all — was purchased from Kobalt three months earlier. The According to a report by ratings agency KBRA, the Hi-Fi offering is backed by over 65,000 compositions and master recordings and related assets and includes artists and songwriters such as The Weeknd, Maroon 5, Childish Gambino, Dua Lipa, Mumford & Sons and Stevie Nicks.
Concord acquires Genesis, Phil Collins and Mike + The Mechanics rights ($335 million to $375 million)
Phil Collins’ and Genesis’s The Last Domino tour, which concluded at London’s O2 Arena in March, was a reminder of how beloved the 71-year-old Collins remains 47 years after he took over vocal duties when original Genesis singer Peter Gabriel departed in 1975. In that warm afterglow, Concord acquired the recording catalogs and music publishing rights of Collins, as well as Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford for the years they were in Genesis and Mike + The Mechanics, for something in the range of $335 million to $375 million. (Former Genesis members Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett did not participate in the deal.) Collins’ solo material, focused on a string of four multi-platinum albums from 1981 to 1989, has 403 million streams in the U.S. this year (through Dec. 8), according to Luminate. In addition, Collins’ catalog has nearly 311,000 airplay spins this year. The acquisition includes Collins’ signature solo hit “In The Air Tonight,” from the 1981 album Face Value, that counts for more than a quarter of his year-to-date on-demand streams, and “That’s All,” a No.6 hit on the Hot 100 from the 1983 album Genesis. “Everyone at Concord feels the weight of the cultural significance of this remarkable collection of works,” Concord president Bob Valentine said when the deal was announced.
Sting sells entire publishing catalog to Universal Music Group ($360 million)
Universal Music Group isn’t the most active buyer of music catalogs, but it makes a splash when it decides to pull the trigger. In 2020, it purchased Bob Dylan’s publishing catalog for an estimated $400 million. In February, UMG acquired Sting’s entire publishing catalog, including his compositions with The Police (Sting was the sole songwriter of the group’s most popular songs, such as “Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take,” “Message in a Bottle,” “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”) as well as his solo material (“Fields of Gold,” “Englishman in New York,” “Shape of My Heart,” “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”). Because UMG already has the master recordings to both the Police and Sting’s solo releases, buying the publishing catalog brings both rights under one roof. That should facilitate licensing and enhance UMG’s ability to generate income from the catalog. Billboard believes Sting’s representatives were shopping the catalog with a $360 million price tag, making the deal the largest for a single artist in 2022. Across both the Police and Sting’s solo releases, the catalog generated 469 million on-demand streams in the U.S. in 2022 (through Dec. 8), according to Luminate.
HarbourView Equity Partners acquires SoundHouse ($325 million)
HarborView Equity Partners burst onto the music business scene in 2021, led by founder and CEO Sherrese Clark Soares, an alum of Morgan Stanley and Providence Equity Partners-backed Tempo Music, and $1 billion backing by Apollo Global Management. Among its initial deals were the publishing catalog of Latin star Luis Fonsi that includes a share of the global hit “Despascito,” the master recording income of country star Brad Paisley, the publishing catalog of country group Lady A and the publishing catalog of Dre & Vidal, the songwriting and production duo who has worked with Alicia Keys, Justin Bieber and Mary J. Blige. HarborView’s biggest-single acquisition is an unknown name with considerable star-power: SoundHouse, the owner of about 20 master recording catalogs and the assets of indie contemporary Christian label InPop. That gave HarborView the rights to some master recordings by the likes of Tech N9ne, Trey Songz, George Jones, Whiskey Myers and Tenth Avenue North. Billboard estimates the deal was worth about $325 million. SoundHouse’s 2021 income was said to be about $24 million.
Sony Music acquired Som Livre ($255 million)
Brazil’s largest domestic record label hit the market as its parent company, Grupo Globo, went through organization restructuring. Announced in 2021, Sony Music’s acquisition Som Livre was finalized in Feb. 2022 after Brazilian regulators said there would be “low market concentration and low barriers to entry” from the merger, despite Sony already having the top record label market share in Brazil and Som Livre being third behind Universal Music Brasil. Som Livre is home to more than 80 artists, including sertanejo act Jorge & Mateus, forró star Wesley Safadão and rising stars like Israel & Rodolffo. Domestic music accounts for 70% of total music consumption in Brazil, the world’s 11th largest recorded music market in 2021, according to the IFPI.
Sony Music acquired Bob Dylan’s recorded music catalog ($200 million)
Thirteen months after Universal Music Group acquired Bob Dylan’s songwriting catalog, Sony Music picked up the bard’s recorded music catalog. Sony has not disclosed the terms of the transaction, but Billboard estimates the catalog generates roughly $16 million per year globally and is worth $200 million or more. The catalog covers all of Dylan’s recordings — 39 studio albums and 16 compilations in the Bootleg series — as well as unreleased material that could be released on future collections. (Separately, Primary Wave acquired Dylan’s share of the master and neighboring rights royalties from the Traveling Wilburys supergroup.) It makes sense that Dylan’s recordings ended up with Sony. The artist spent almost his entire career at Columbia Records, save two albums, Planet Waves and Before the Flood, both released by David Geffen’s Asylum Records in 1974 but distributed by Sony for decades. Dylan’s catalog amassed 313.5 million on-demand streams in 2022 (through Dec. 8), according to Luminate, and provides Sony with ample opportunities for licensing for film, television and advertisements (Airbnb used his track “Shelter From The Storm” from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks in a television ad this year). He used his return to Columbia in 1974 to gain ownership of his recordings, according to Dylan: A Biography by Bob Spitz.
Universal Music Group acquires Neil Diamond Catalog ($145 million)
In February, Universal Music Group announced a deal to acquire Neil Diamond’s song and master recording catalogs, reuniting Diamond’s non-UMG work with music released through UMG’s MCA Records during the artist’s successful 1968 to 1972 streak. Diamond’s catalog includes “Sweet Caroline,” “Cracklin Rosie” and “Forever i
In Blue Jeans.” His songwriting catalog includes compositions for other artists that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart: “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees (1966); “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” by Barbra Streisand (1978, co-written with Alan and Marilyn Bergman); and “Red, Red Wine” by UB40 (1988). Additionally, the recording of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill has an indelible place in pop culture for its use in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 movie Pulp Fiction. The trove of material included 110 unreleased tracks, an unreleased album and archival video. The deal also includes the rights to release any future music by Diamond should he return to the studio. Billboard estimates the deal was worth about $145 million.
Deezer’s reverse merger with SPAC I2PO ($143 million)
Deezer was one of two music companies to go public in 2022 through a reverse merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in April before the SPAC craze fizzled in the second half of the year. (The other was Anghami, an Abu Dhabi-based streaming service. A third, wholesale distribution giant Alliance Entertainment, plans to complete a reverse merger with Adara Acquisition Corp.) The reverse merger with French company I2PO, which traded on the Euronext Paris exchange, provided Deezer with 135 million euros and valued Deezer at 1.08 billion euros ($1.17 billion at the time). The money came through a PIPE (private investment in public equity) subscribed by most of Deezer’s existing shareholders, including Access Industries, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, French telecom company Orange, Kingdom Holdings, Eurazeo and Xavier Niel. After investors poured money into blank check companies in 2020 and 2021 in pursuit of companies to take public, SPAC deals are increasingly rare these days. Among the many SPACs to end their search and return funds to shareholders are Music Acquisition Corp, which raised $230 million in Feb. 2021, and Liberty Media’s $575 million Liberty Media Acquisition Corporation.
Spotify acquired audiobook distributor Findaway ($122 million)
Findaway was neither Spotify’s priciest acquisition — it paid more for podcast companies The Ringer and Gimlet and tech platforms Anchor and Megaphone — nor was it the splashiest deal the music streaming giant has made in its roughly 15-year history. But buying the Ohio-based audiobook distributor was a pivotal moment in the company’s years-long transition from a music platform to a broader audio platform. With its share price down 68.1% year to date and investors anxious for profits, Spotify is betting that being a single destination for all things audio is a better strategy than focusing solely on music. The more ways Spotify can keep people listening, the idea goes, the longer consumers will engage with the platform , which in turn will funnel
s more people from the free version to the subscription service. Plus, audiobook margins are about double what Spotify gets for licensing music. Audiobooks also fit neatly with Spotify’s ongoing battle with Apple over the latter’s 30% share of in-app purchases and subscription revenue. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s PR push in recent months has been aided — and overshadowed — by new Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s public takedown of Apple over the same in-app fees.