Universal buys Bob Dylan publishing rights, acquiring catalog worth hundreds of millions of dollars

Universal Music Group has acquired the publishing rights to Bob Dylan’s songwriting catalog in one of the biggest acquisitions in UMG’s history.

MBW understands that the buyout, conducted via Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), sees Universal acquire both the publisher and writer shares of Dylan’s catalog.

In recent years, the catalog – which was owned by Dylan ahead of UMG’s acquisition – has been administered by Universal rival Sony/ATV outside the US, and by Dylan’s own operation inside the United States. (Update: Sony/ATV will continue to administer the songs outside the US for the duration of its deal term with Dylan.)

The catalog acquired by UMPG encompasses more than 600 copyrights spanning 60 years, from 1962’s cultural milestone Blowin’ In The Wind all the way to this year’s epic Murder Most Foul.

Update: Expert industry sources tell MBW that Dylan’s catalog would command a price-tag somewhere in the region of $300m to $400m in the current frothy music rights M&A marketplace, with the higher end of that estimate likely.

If that sounds pricey, consider that just last week, Stevie Nicks’ publishing catalog was valued at around $100m following Primary Wave’s acquisition of 80% of it. (Nicks wrote Fleetwood Mac’s smashes like Dreams and Landslide – as well as a string of solo hits – but many of the band’s other biggest tracks such as Everywhere and Go Your Own Way were penned by her bandmates.)

Universal did not disclose the price of the Dylan deal.

Universal’s buyout of Dylan’s catalog represents a major victory for UMG in the rampant music rights M&A market, where the majority of activity in recent months has come from relatively new players such as Hipgnosis Songs Fund, Primary Wave, and Round Hill.

“We look forward to working with Bob and the team in ensuring his artistry continues to reach and inspire generations of fans, recording artists and songwriters around the world.”

Jody Gerson, UMPG

UMPG Chairman & CEO Jody Gerson said: “To represent the body of work of one of the greatest songwriters of all time – whose cultural importance can’t be overstated – is both a privilege and a responsibility. The UMPG global team is honored to be Bob Dylan’s publishing partner and I especially want to acknowledge Marc Cimino whose passion and perseverance were instrumental in bringing this opportunity to us.

“We look forward to working with Bob and the team in ensuring his artistry continues to reach and inspire generations of fans, recording artists and songwriters around the world.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group said, “As someone who began his career in music publishing, it is with enormous pride that today we welcome Bob Dylan to the UMG family. It’s no secret that the art of songwriting is the fundamental key to all great music, nor is it a secret that Bob is one of the very greatest practitioners of that art.

“Brilliant and moving, inspiring and beautiful, insightful and provocative, his songs are timeless—whether they were written more than half a century ago or yesterday. It is no exaggeration to say that his vast body of work has captured the love and admiration of billions of people all around the world. I have no doubt that decades, even centuries from now, the words and music of Bob Dylan will continue to be sung and played—and cherished—everywhere.”

“As someone who began his career in music publishing, it is with enormous pride that today we welcome Bob Dylan to the UMG family.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, UMG

Bob Dylan’s songs have been recorded more than 6,000 times, by an array of artists representing dozens of countries, cultures and music genres.

His best known works include Blowin’ In The Wind, The Times They Are a-Changin’, Like A Rolling Stone, Lay Lady Lay, Forever Young, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Tangled Up In Blue, Gotta Serve Somebody, Make You Feel My Love, and the Academy Award-winning Things Have Changed.

As an artist, Bob Dylan has sold more than 125 million records around the world. He typically continues to perform nearly 100 concerts annually.

Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 – the first songwriter to receive such a distinction – cited by the Swedish Academy “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Earlier this year Universal parent Vivendi sold a 10% stake in the music company to a consortium led by China’s Tencent Holdings for around $3.4bn.Music Business Worldwide

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