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Trying the most complex issues for over 30 years.

What does it mean for an artist to sell their music catalog?

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2022 | Intellectual Property

Nearly everyone enjoys some music. Your tastes may not match someone else’s, but music is likely part of your everyday life.

For musicians, music is not only their hobby; it is their livelihood. When an artist decides to sell all or part of their catalog, it trades smaller paydays for a more considerable lump sum.

Here’s what it means when a musician sells their music catalog.

Who owns the songs?

In most cases, a song belongs to two entities; the person (or group) who wrote it and the owner of the recording. Occasionally, as is the case with Prince and The Rolling Stones, the artist owns the recording studio and becomes both entities.

From the time the song is introduced, the artist(s) and the recording studio collect paychecks for the song. While there are others along the way who may contribute to the album or its production, such as music video producers and apparel designers, the song belongs to the artist and the studio that recorded it.

Selling the catalog

Recently, David Bowie’s estate sold his entire music catalog to Warner Chappell Music. The details of the sale were not released, but cases like this typically mean a significant payout for the seller (Bowie’s estate) and substantial benefits for the buyer, including:

  • Rights to the songs
  • The artist’s royalty percentage
  • Merchandise revenue
  • Potential hologram performances

When artists or their beneficiaries choose to sell all or part of a catalog, it is because there is less demand for the more significant revenue streams, like live performances. In these cases, the larger payout for the catalog can be more helpful than waiting to see if there will be demand for a reunion tour, hologram or otherwise.