David Bowie estate joins music rights gold rush as back catalogue sold

·3-min read
David Bowie performs at Wembley Stadium in April 1992 (REUTERS)
David Bowie performs at Wembley Stadium in April 1992 (REUTERS)

The estate of David Bowie has joined the musical gold rush sweeping the City and Wall Street, selling the Ziggy Stardust singer’s back catalogue in a deal said to be worth $250 million.

The estate of the singer, who died in 2016, sold the publishing rights to his back catalogue to Warner Chappell Music (WCM) in a deal reported to be worth $250 million. The deal includes rights to Bowie’s entire body of work during his six decade career. It includes the hits Changes, Life on Mars, Rebel Rebel, Space Oddity and Let’s Dance.

WCM co-chair and CEO Guy Moot said: “All of us at Warner Chappell are immensely proud that the David Bowie estate has chosen us to be the caretakers of one of the most groundbreaking, influential, and enduring catalogs in music history.

“These are not only extraordinary songs, but milestones that have changed the course of modern music forever. Bowie’s vision and creative genius drove him to push the envelope, lyrically and musically – writing songs that challenged convention, changed the conversation, and have become part of the canon of global culture.

“His work spanned massive pop hits and experimental adventures that have inspired millions of fans and countless innovators, not only in music, but across all the arts, fashion, and media. We are looking forward to tending his unparalleled body of songs with passion and care as we strive to build on the legacy of this most extraordinary human being.”

WCM will be entitled to royalty rights for Bowie’s back catalogue. The deal is part of a global boom in royalty deals: everyone from Neil Young and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to reggae band Rebelution have sold their back catalogues to investors in recent deals.

Finance firms are snapping up song rights as streaming income accelerates and new avenues for earnings emerge, such a TikTok and Peloton. Music fund managers like London-listed Hipgnosis are pioneering a new strategy of ‘active’ management of songs whereby they lobby for them to be included in everything from games to adverts to increase royalty rights.

Carianne Marshall, WCM co-chair and COO, said: “This fantastic pact with the David Bowie estate opens up a universe of opportunities to take his extraordinary music into dynamic new places.

“We were pleased that the estate felt that Warner Chappell has the knowledge, experience, and resources to take the reins and continue to promote a collection of this stature. All of our global leaders and departments are incredibly excited and primed to get to work with these brilliant songs across multiple avenues and platforms.”

Bowie was an early pioneer of blending finance and music. He sold his future royalties through “Bowie bonds” in the late 1990s.

Allen Grubman, a spokesperson for the Bowie estate, said: “We are truly gratified that David Bowie’s body of music will now be in the capable hands of Warner Chappell Music Publishing. We are sure they will cherish it and take care of it with the greatest level of dignity.”