Primary Wave Acquires Share of Bob Marley's Music Catalog

Bob Marley
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Bob Marley performs live on stage with the Wailers in Voorburg, Holland in 1976.

The revitalized Primary Wave, backed by institutional investors including BlackRock, has acquired a share of reggae legend Bob Marley’s music publishing catalog.

The New York Times reports that Blackwell signed a $50 million deal that gives Primary Wave an 80 percent share of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell’s share of two publishing catalogs, Marley’s songs and Blue Mountain Music. Variety says it first published the news of the deal, but didn’t include terms of the deal in its report.

Blue Mountain's catalog includes songs from Marley, Toots and the Maytals, Free, U2 and the Waterboys, among others, according to the company's website.

An 80 percent stake costing $50 million implies a $62 million valuation for Blackwell’s entire publishing assets involved in the sale.

According to sources, Blackwell’s Blue Mountain has a co-publishing stake in the Marley catalog, which means that Marley estate also still retains a stake in the publishing. Typical publishing deals comprise 50 percent publishing and 50 percent writer share, while a co-publishing deal might give the writer with any where from an additional 10 percent to 25 percent slice. So, if the Marley estate had a typical co-publishing deal (half the publishing, that means it still has a 75 percent stake while Blackwell’s share would be a 25 percent stake in the catalog’s revenue, with Primary Wave owning 80 percent of the latter.

Blackwell, according to sources, has been willing to sell his Blue Mountain catalog for almost the last decade, but would only agree to do so for a high multiple of net publishers’ share -- i.e. gross profit, or what’s left for the publisher after paying writer’s share, co-publishing, and administrative fees for sub-publishers, etcetera.

Sources say he has sought at least a 20 times multiple of NPS, but its only in the last few years that publisher share has been escalating. Recent deals have seen what was traditionally considered to be high prices, a 12 times multiple of NPS for publishing assets, escalate into the 14-16 times range. For example, Round Hill Music paid $245 million a 16.3 times multiple of $15 million in net publishers share for Carlin America a few weeks ago.

Sources say the Blue Mountain catalog was generated about $3.2 million in net publisher's share. That means if Primary Wave bought an 80 percent stake for $50 million, the music publishing/management company founded by former Blackwell/Island Records employee Larry Mestel paid almost a 20 times multiple (80 percent of $3.2 million equals $2.56 million) and $50 million divided by $2.56 million equals 19.5 times NPS. Another source says that is slightly high and simply says the multiple Primary Wave paid is in the high teens.

Primary Wave was founded by former record label executive Mestel in 2006. The company sold the the bulk of its catalog to BMG in 2013, and then started rebuilding its catalog when it acquired the writer's share of Smokey Robinson's catalog in 2016, with the backing of a $300 million war chest from BlackRock and other institutional investors.

As part of the deal, Blackwell and his team will continue to co-sign songwriters with Primary Wave, which will put the power of its marketing capabilities behind the signings. Blackwell couldn’t be reached for comment and Mestel was unavailable for comment.

In the U.S., the Bob Marley album catalog scanned 22,000 copies while his songs were downloaded 61,000 times; and on-demand streams totaled about 100 million, while Bob Marley & the Wailers, according to Nielsen Music. Since Nielsen Music started tracking music sales and activities in 1991, the Marley album catalog has scanned about 28 million copies, while his songs have been downloaded 14.8 million times and streamed 1.68 billion times.


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