Bruce Springsteen is in talks to sell the rights to his recorded music to Sony Music as well as his publishing catalog, three sources confirm to Variety. While the album catalog deal is nearly done, some sources say, the publishing catalog remains in play. The news was first reported by Billboard.
While Springsteen has been with Sony Music’s Columbia Records since he first signed with the label in 1972, he acquired the rights to his music as part of a contract renegotiation at some point in his career; such moves are rarely reported but become evident in the fine print on a release.
Selling the rights to their music is anathema to many artists, but as they reach or pass standard retirement age and begin estate planning, a sale is an attractive option — especially today, as song catalogs are hitting previously unimagined valuations and artists consider the realities of leaving their heirs with a valuable but cumbersome asset; song catalogs in particular require extensive management to optimize their value.
Bob Dylan is both the most notable and lucrative example of this: Over the past couple of years, he donated his personal archives for the creation of the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and last year sold his song catalog to Universal Music Publishing for a sum sources say was near $400 million.
That also may be the case with Springsteen, whose combined album and song catalogs are estimated to be worth between $330 million and $415 million, according to Billboard.
Another strong impetus to sell is the expected increase in capital gains taxes, with Democrats holding both the White House and the House of Representatives until 2023, at least.
Sources tell Variety the talks have been going on for several months; reps for Springsteen, Sony Music and Sony Music Publishing declined or did not respond to requests for comment.
Springsteen, of course, is one of the most successful recording artists of the past 50 years, with 65.5 million album sales in the U.S. alone, according to the RIAA, and a vast song catalog that generates hundreds if not thousands of cover versions every year. Billboard estimated that the Springsteen album catalog generated about $15 million in revenue in 2020, and that his publishing catalog brings in about $7.5 million per year.
Over the decades Springsteen and his manager of nearly 50 years, Jon Landau, have been nothing if not savvy businessmen: In addition to lucrative deals for his publishing and recorded music, Springsteen is one of the most profitable touring acts in history, having raked in more than $840 million in touring dollars between just 2010 and 2019, according to Pollstar — one decade of a nearly 60-year career. Additionally, Springsteen’s team sells dozens of archival live recordings on his website, to which he owns the rights and bypasses record labels completely.
However, he has apparently chosen a more lucrative option for his official discography and song catalog. Variety will have more on this situation as it develops.