Hipgnosis acquires 50% of Neil Young’s song catalog for around $150m

Ben Houdijk / Shutterstock
Neil Young performs at the Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam in July 2019

One of the most prized music catalogs in the history of popular music is now proudly half-owned by Hipgnosis Songs Fund.

Merck Mercuriadis-led Hipgnosis has today (January 6) announced that it has acquired 50% of the worldwide copyright and income interests in Neil Young’s entire song catalog, comprising 1,180 compositions.

MBW has confirmed that this deal includes both 50% of the publisher share and 50% of the writer’s share in Young’s music, spanning his work with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Crazy Horse, in addition to the singer/songwriter’s full solo catalog.

Industry experts we’ve consulted with suggest that the deal would have cost Hipgnosis in the region of $150m. This makes sense when you consider that Universal Music Group last month announced it had acquired 100% of Bob Dylan’s 600-strong song catalog, for a price-tag thought to sit at the high end of a scale between $300m and $400m.

You can tell from his press release quote today that Merck Mercuriadis, Hipgnosis Songs Fund founder, is something of a certified Neil Young megafan.

Mercuriadis said in a statement: “I bought my first Neil Young album aged seven. Harvest was my companion and I know every note, every word, every pause and silence intimately. Neil Young, or at least his music, has been my friend and constant ever since.

“Over the last 50 years that friendship took me back to Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush, and guided me forward to On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night, Zuma, Comes A Time, Rust Never Sleeps, Trans, This Note’s For You, Freedom, Ragged Glory, Greendale and through each successive album and on to last year’s Colorado. They’re part of who I am, they’re in many ways responsible for who I’ve become and they’re most certainly in my DNA.”

“[Neil Young’s Songs] are part of who I am, they’re in many ways responsible for who I’ve become and they’re most certainly in my DNA.”

Merck Mercuriadis, Hipgnosis

Before floating Hipgnosis on the London Stock Exchange in 2018, Mercuriadis was a talent manager for many years – working with the likes of Elton John, Beyoncé and Morrissey – and continues to manage the artist career of his Hipgnosis co-founder, Nile Rodgers, today.

Mercuriadis says that even in his professional life, Neil Young, and the management team around him, have been a long-term inspiration.

The Hipgnosis man comments: “I knew I would never be a singer or songwriter myself so my love for Neil also extended to his manager Elliot Roberts, who is sadly no longer with us. Elliot was the template for who I wanted to be. He and Neil were partners in crime and Elliot made sure the art was never compromised and the commerce always maximized. He complemented Neil’s integrity perfectly and together they protected the songs so fiercely that they became important to millions of people all over the world. This was personal conduct that you could aspire to, something you could believe in.

“Somewhere along the way Elliot became a mentor to me and my friend. This allowed me to collide with Neil from time to time and Frank Gironda as well. We had a mutual respect as people whose lives were changed forever by music and particularly by [Young’s] magical music.

“With Elliot’s passing last year it was only natural that Frank, who had so ably worked alongside him, would step into his shoes and also as it now turns out logical for Hipgnosis to partner with Neil to ensure his incredible songs reach all corners of the earth.”

“I built Hipgnosis to be a company Neil would want to be a part of… This is a deal that changes Hipgnosis forever.”

Merck Mercuriadis, Hipgnosis

Mercuriadis continues: “I built Hipgnosis to be a company Neil would want to be a part of. We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs. There will never be a ‘Burger Of Gold’ but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms. There’s a good chance their life will be changed just like mine was.

“This is a deal that changes Hipgnosis forever and it’s a dream to welcome Neil, Frank, Bonnie and the team to the Hipgnosis family.”

(If you were wondering: During a famous show in Alabama in February, 1973, Neil Young revealed to the crowd that he’d turned down a request for the use of his classic track Heart Of Gold in a commercial. He didn’t name the spurned party, but half-joked that he and his band, the Stray Gators, would have renamed the song Burger Of Gold for the spot. Mercuriadis is therefore sending out a reassuring signal to Young and his fanbase that, under Hipgnosis, the artist’s songs won’t be ending up in crass advertisements not worthy of the music.)

In total, Neil Young has released almost 50 studio albums and more than 20 live albums. Seven of his albums have been listed on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time chart, including Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush, Déjà Vu (with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) Harvest, On The Beach, Tonight’s the Night, and Rust Never Sleeps

Over his seven-decade long career, Young has received 27 Grammy Award nominations, 28 Juno Award nominations, and has been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – both as a solo artist and as a member of Buffalo Springfield.

It’s been a very busy first week of 2021 for Hipgnosis so far.

In the past three days, the company has not only announced the Neil Young acquisition, but also confirmed that it’s bought 100% of the publishing catalog of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, plus the producer catalog royalties of Jimmy Iovine.Music Business Worldwide

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