Could Elton John sell his song catalog? No – it’s ‘unthinkable’.

John Marshall / JMEnternational
David Furnish with Sir Elton John at the Brit Awards 2021

The modern music business is a little topsy-turvy: with so many icons now considering a massive-money sale of their catalog, it’s becoming a bigger story to discover which legends won’t be flogging their song collections any time soon – especially if they’re refusing out of principle.

Step forward Sir Elton John, one of music’s most celebrated songwriters of the past 50 years, and still very much a contemporary star. (John is currently enjoying chart success on both sides of the Atlantic with his acclaimed duets record, The Lockdown Sessions, featuring the likes of Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, Young Thug, Rina Sawayama, and Stevie Wonder.)

This evening (November 18) in London, David Furnish, CEO of Rocket Entertainment, will alongside Elton collect the Artist and Manager Partnership award at the UK’s always-well-attended Artist & Manager Awards.

It’s fair to say that nobody knows Elton quite like Furnish: as well as being the star’s long-term partner and his manager for the past six years, Furnish is also Elton’s husband.

To mark the award win, Furnish sat down for an exclusive interview with Rhian Jones for Music Business Worldwide – which will be published in the upcoming Q4 issue of our sister publication, Music Business UK.

Amongst many questions posed about Furnish and John’s working relationship, Furnish was asked if Elton might ever be tempted to sell his song catalog in the current climate.

“At this stage, it’s unthinkable,” said Furnish, without hesitation. “The thought of giving up that control in connection with your art… no.”

“At this stage, it’s unthinkable… I can’t think of anything more agonizing, and neither can Elton, than sitting and watching someone else take his and Bernie [Taupin’s] songs and do what they want with them.”

David Furnish

This was a purposefully loaded line of inquiry, of course: As you read this, everyone from Sting to Bruce Springsteen and even the David Bowie estate are reportedly mulling over sales of their song catalogs, each for massive nine-figure price-tags.

Even with jaw-dropping sums like this flying around the industry, however, Elton John is firmly not interested.

Added Furnish: “To me, [selling your rights] is the biggest emotional decision an artist can make. If you can make that decision, live with it emotionally and that money can substantially enhance the quality of your life, open new doors for you or bring greater contentment, greater peace or whatever it is we’re all searching for in life, then yes, do it.

“But I can’t think of anything more agonizing, and neither can Elton, than sitting and watching someone else take his and Bernie [Taupin’s] songs and do what they want with them.”

Interestingly enough, Sir Elton’s views on this matter seems to chime rather neatly with that of his friend (and ex-Rocket Entertainment client), Ed Sheeran.

MBW interviewed Sheeran’s manager, Stuart Camp, the other week during the run-up to Sheeran’s latest blockbuster album, Equals.

MBW asked Camp if Sheeran was entertaining any offers for his own song collection, to which Camp replied: “We have been approached, but it’s something [Sheeran] will never do and he’s in that lucky position where it’s not something he has to consider.

“But it’s an interesting model and fair play to Merck [Mercuriadis, founder of Hipgnosis] and everyone else; it’s been very aggressive and they appear to be getting all these big names to do it, pleasing their shareholders along the way. It’s quite fascinating, and you wonder how it all ends up.”

According to Variety, Sting is in advanced talks to sell his song catalog for a price-tag in the region of $250 million to either Universal Music Publishing Group (believed to be the front-runner in the race for the deal) or Sony Music Publishing.

MBW reported yesterday that the David Bowie song collection may be sold to Warner Music Group, with WMG potentially using a new $535 million debt raise to fund the acquisition. Bowie’s song catalog is apparently attracting bids of around $200 million.

Billboard reported earlier this month that Bruce Springsteen is in talks with Sony Music Group about potentially selling the song rights and the recording rights to his back catalog.

The publication estimates that a sale of the entirety of Springsteen’s rights could result in a payday for the artist between $330 million to $415 million.

This flurry of activity follows news of other legends selling their song catalogs for hundreds of millions of dollars apiece – including Bob Dylan (to Universal Music Publishing), and Paul Simon (to Sony Music Publishing).

The list doesn’t stop there: amongst others, Neil Young sold half of his song rights to Hipgnosis Songs Fund for around $150 million at the top of this year.

Elton John inked a multi-year, wide-ranging global deal with Universal Music Group in 2018, which sees UMG administer – but not own – the star’s song rights.Music Business Worldwide