One of the standout music industry trends of 2021 continues today – in a big way.
The past few months have seen deals inked that unite the entire recording catalogs of certain superstar artists at individual major record companies.
Two recent examples: (i) Madonna, whose Maverick/Live Nation/Interscope recordings (2012-2019) will come to Warner Music in 2025, joining her classic Sire/Warner Bros catalog under one roof; and (ii) Aerosmith, whose historic Columbia/Sony Music recordings will, from 2022, move to Universal Music Group, and be united with the band’s Geffen/UMG recordings from the ’80s and ’90s.
The precise details of these deals have been a little thin on the ground: it will be interesting to see, for example, if Aerosmith’s Geffen/UMG-owned recordings actually become owned by the band from next year – and then licensed back to Universal for a set term – as a quid pro quo for the group moving their Sony recordings over to UMG.
Either way, today (September 16) a huge new addition to the trend emerges.
Warner Music has announced that, from 2023, it will be representing the entire post-1968 recordings catalog of David Bowie worldwide.
This means that Bowie’s more recent recordings (2000-2016), which have been released by Columbia/Sony Music, will become part of Warner’s repertoire. They include albums like 2016’s Blackstar, plus Heathen, Reality, and The Next Day.
These albums will join Bowie’s 1968 to 1999 recordings, which Warner Music already represents.
Warner has done so since 2013, when the company acquired Parlophone Label Group for GBP £487 million – an enforced disposal from Universal Music Group’s acquisition of EMI Music.
Digging into who actually owns what in the Bowie recordings catalog is an interesting exercise.
Bowie’s first tranche of masters (1968 to 1999) – including classic albums like Hunky Dory, The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Let’s Dance, and Low – are owned by the artist’s Jones/Tinoretto Entertainment Co. LLC and licensed to Warner Music/Parlophone.
The second tranche (2000 – 2016) are owned by Bowie’s ISO Records, and currently licensed to Sony Music and/or Columbia Records.
This is a particularly interesting exercise because in the late nineties, Bowie was reportedly considering selling off his masters.
Instead, he teamed with David Pullman to create ‘Bowie Bonds’ – the complexity/genius of which we’ll leave for another day – and the star ultimately maintained ownership of his records.
Why would Bowie think about selling his masters? In 2002 he gave an oft-quoted interview in which he explained that “music itself is going to become like running water or electricity” – a prescient prediction of the Spotify age.
However, Bowie also got something wrong about the future in that interview (though his thinking was entirely understandable). He said: “I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.”
He’d seen Napster, thought the writing was on the wall for copyright, and believed the value of his catalog would disintegrate in tandem.
And he was kinda right, for a few years. But then streaming took off, and kept taking off, and continues to take off… and the legendary recordings catalog of David Bowie has, in fact, not lost its value – but instead become worth a staggering amount of money. (MBW’s finger-in-the-air guess, based on other recent market maneuvers? Upwards of $500 million.)
Anyway, let’s remind ourselves why we’re here: The legendary post-1968 catalog in question now resides with the Bowie estate, and is being licensed, in its entirety, to Warner Music (for an unspecified amount of time) from 2023 onwards.
As a result, Warner says it will be able to create “career-spanning projects” from both Bowie’s established catalog, as well as rarities and live recordings.
“We’re excited that our expanded partnership with the Bowie estate will help us deliver innovative, career-spanning projects and attract new generations to his extraordinary musical universe.”
Max Lousada, Warner Music
Max Lousada, CEO, Recorded Music, Warner Music Group said: “It’s an incredible honor to have been chosen as the stewards of one of the most important and dynamic bodies of creative work in modern culture.
“The impact of Bowie’s repeated reinvention and endless experimentation continues to resonate around the world – through the genres he transformed, the timeless songs and sounds he invented, and the immeasurable influence he’s had on music, art, and fashion. We’re excited that our expanded partnership with the Bowie estate will help us deliver innovative, career-spanning projects and attract new generations to his extraordinary musical universe.”
Kevin Gore, President, Global Catalog, Warner Recorded Music added: “To be entrusted with this phenomenal body of work is truly gratifying. For the past eight years, we’ve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the Bowie estate, collaborating on a fantastic series of releases.
“Nigel and our entire catalog team have taken great care to be thoughtful and steadfast in our promise to stay true to his artistic vision, while revealing previously unheard music and framing his genius in fresh contexts. With the addition of his immensely powerful later work to the Warner Music portfolio, we’re looking forward to bringing Bowie’s music to fans across the globe for many years to come.”
“With the addition of his immensely powerful later work to the Warner Music portfolio, we’re looking forward to bringing Bowie’s music to fans across the globe for many years to come.”
Kevin Gore, Warner Music
Since Warner acquired the rights to Bowie recordings in 2013, it has released career-spanning projects including Five Years, which won the NME Award for Best Reissue in 2016; Conversation Piece, which earned the 2021 Making Vinyl Packaging Award for Best Book + Media Package; and the lauded Glastonbury 2000 live audio & video set (2018).
Other recent collectors’ Bowie releases from Warner have included the Era series of box sets, each one covering a key period in Bowie’s career. Launched in 2015, there have been four Era sets released to date.
The fifth Era box, Brilliant Adventure (1992 – 2001), is slated for release this fall, with details to come.
Warner says that Nigel Reeve – Warner Music’s SVP, Content Development & Marketing, Global Catalog – has worked “in close partnership with the Bowie estate to curate and present a landmark release campaign celebrating Bowie’s unparalleled legacy, with many more exciting releases on tap”.
Music Business Worldwide