Primary Wave buys Whitney Houston hits as part of deal with songwriters Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill

Primary Wave has acquired copyrights to hit Whitney Houston songs as part of a deal for about 60 songs written by songwriters Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill, of American pop-music duo Boy Meets Girl.

That’s according to the Financial Times, which, citing people familiar with the matter, reports that the deal is estimated to be worth between $50 million and $100 million.

Included in Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill’s catalog are two of Houston’s biggest hits: How Will I Know and I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), according to the FT’s report.

Primary Wave Chief Executive Larry Mestel is quoted by the FT as saying that “It’s one of the larger acquisitions we have done.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

The purchase of rights to Houston’s hit songs as part of Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill’s catalog follows Primary Wave’s $2 billion deal with financial giant Brookfield last month.

The deal included the acquisition of a minority stake in Primary Wave and Brookfield investing $1.7 billion into a new “permanent capital vehicle”.

As MBW reported last month, Primary Wave still has a little over $1 billion in unspent Brookfield investment after an initial $700 million was spent acquiring some rights from Primary Wave’s Fund 1 and Fund 2.

(Fund 3 was born in 2021. MBW’s sources suggest it was backed with $800 million in capital. The launch of Fund 3 coincided with a $375 million investment into Primary Wave by Oaktree Capital.)

The new “permanent capital vehicle” is essentially a fourth fund – in which Primary Wave itself is a minority owner.

The Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill deal means that Primary Wave has acquired even more control of the Whitney Houston catalog, after it acquired a 50% stake in Houston’s estate in 2019.

As part of that deal, Primary Wave acquired a stake in the singer’s music assets, including royalty streams from her hit songs Count On Me from the film Waiting To Exhale, I Didn’t Know My Own Strength, I Got You, Like I Never Left and others.

According to the New York Times, Primary Wave also acquired 50% of the Houston Estate’s assets as part of that previous deal – including music and film royalties, merch and rights to her name and likeness

Primary Wave has produced a Whitney Houston biopic to be released in December entitled I Wanna Dance With Somebody, produced in partnership with Sony’s TriStar.

Speaking about the film with MBW last month, Mestel, who is a co-producer alongside the likes of Clive Davis, said that “It’s going to be incredible.”

Added Mestel of the film: “I think as a result you’re going to see a very significant jump in Whitney’s brand, in streams of her catalog in general – and in people’s introduction and re-introduction to a legend.”

Brookfield’s foray into the song-buying market comes as music streaming platforms like Spotify boost royalty payments for rights holders, making the music industry more appealing to traditional institutional investors.

Brookfield, which has more than $750 billion in assets under management, predominantly invests in renewable power, infrastructure, private equity, real estate and credit and insurance sectors.

Primary Wave’s catalog consists of more than 800 Top 10 singles and over 400 No.1 hits by legendary acts including Whitney Houston, Prince, Bob Marley, James Brown, Stevie Nicks, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Bing Crosby, Def Leppard, Boston, Burt Bacharach and Olivia Newton-John.

“Primary Wave has a history of being friendly to artists, plus artists know we close deals – we don’t walk away from signed letters of intent,” CEO Mestel told MBW in an interview last month.

Primary Wave confirmed the Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill deal on Wednesday (November 16) via the following press release:

New York, NY (November 16, 2022) – Primary Wave Music, the leading publisher of iconic and legendary music in the world, has announced today their partnership with the legendary and award-winning songwriters, Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill. Shannon and George began their partnership nearly 40 years ago when they formed the critically acclaimed band, Boy Meets Girl. In 1985 they would release their debut album, seeing incredible success with several singles including “Oh Girl”. It was that same year the pair would achieve their first number one hit as songwriters of the Whitney Houston smash “How Will I Know.” A few years later, they repeated their #1 success with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” In 1988, the duo wrote “Waiting For A Star To Fall” which was originally meant for Houston, but the pair decided to record it on their own. The song reached the top 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and shot to #1 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.

Both Whitney Houston hits are included in this exciting new partnership which will see Primary Wave acquire Merrill and Rubicam’s interests in much of their publishing catalog, as well as writer’s share of income worldwide. Terms of the deal will also now give Merrill and Rubicam access to Primary Wave’s marketing and branding teams, as well as the publishing infrastructure which includes licensing and synch opportunities.

Released in 1985, “How Will I Know” appeared on Whitney’s self-titled debut album and was the album’s third single. The song received rave reviews from critics with Rolling Stone declaring the track was “irresistibly danceable.” “How Will I Know” became Houston’s second #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and soared to the Top 10 charts around the world. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was the first single off Houston’s second album, Whitney. The song became a huge success, topping the charts around the world. Houston brought home two awards in 1988 for the track, “Favorite Pop/Rock Single” at the American Music Awards and “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female” at the Grammy Awards. The song went on to sell over 6 million copies worldwide and was her second biggest selling hit.

In the last year, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is seeing an uptick in streams and being introduced to a new audience thanks to it being confirmed as the title of the upcoming biographical-music film based on the life of Whitney Houston. Produced by Primary Wave Music, the film will be released on December 21, 2022.

“We are so pleased to have placed our songs into the capable and creative hands of the team at Primary Wave. If ever there was a perfect home for our songs at this time, without a doubt this is it. We are excited and honored to be a part of the Primary Wave family and look forward to seeing what else we might cook up together!” – George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam aka Boy Meets Girl

“When Shannon’s and George’s songs are played – anywhere around the world – people will sing along the minute they begin,” said Justin Shukat, President of Publishing at Primary Wave Music. He goes on, “It’s rare for songwriters to not only see that type of response, but to write #1 hits for both themselves and for other artists. That’s what makes the two of them true songwriting legends. Their catalog of songs fit right at home at Primary Wave, the home of legends.”

Following their meeting at a wedding at which the two were hired to perform, Seattle natives George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam formed the pop group Boy Meets Girl. Their eponymous 1985 debut featured the single “Oh Girl,” but it was the duo’s penning of two hits for Whitney Houston that established them as songwriters. “How Will I Know” topped the pop and R&B charts, while “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” won the Grammy for Song of the Year. Returning to Boy Meets Girl, Merrill and Rubicam issued Reel Life in 1988. “Waiting for a Star to Fall” reached the top 5 in the US and went #1 in Europe; “Bring Down the Moon,” its follow-up single, also charted. Boy Meets Girl also recorded the 1991 album New Dream, but it was shelved before release in an inter- record company shakeup. Merrill and Rubicam worked mostly as songwriters throughout the 1990s, scoring hits for the UK dance-pop groups OTT and Girlthing. Then in 2003 they revived Boy Meets Girl with the self-released Wonderground. A quiet, charming album, it dealt with their past as soft rock hitmakers, the dissolution of their marriage, and the state of life in the present. In 2005 the duo released fully remastered versions of Boy Meets Girl’s recordings, including the never-released ’91 album New Dream.

Their most recent and fifth record Five was released digitally in 2021 and came about after they felt their songwriting was returning to their more traditional sound… as they explain – “Although we never stopped writing, 2019/20 brought on the urge to record some particular songs. We felt amongst some of the things we had written there was a return to the brighter, upbeat sound of Boy Meets Girl and it felt right to get the band back together, so to speak!”

Five is getting its physical release in December, coming out on vinyl. With the A-side being the original EP, the B-side includes instrumental and alternate mixes of the tracks including their bubbly new mix of “How Will I Know.”

 Music Business Worldwide

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