It’s only Jan. 3, and there’s already news of a major publishing acquisition. Warner Chappell, the publishing arm of Warner Music Group, announced on Monday that it has acquired the rights to David Bowie’s song catalog from the singer-songwriter’s estate. The deal includes every song that Bowie wrote — all of the compositions he wrote for his albums, plus those he wrote for his band Tin Machine and various soundtrack projects, over the course of his entire career. Bowie died in January 2016 of liver cancer.
“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,” Warner Chappell co-chair and CEO Guy Moot said in the announcement. “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.”
After signing some bad deals early in his career, Bowie became savvy about monetizing the rights to both his songs and his recordings, to which he was able to get back the rights. In 1997, Bowie signed a 15-year deal to license his catalog to EMI Music and financialized some of his future royalties as “Bowie bonds,” which raised $55 million — some of which he used to buy his former manager’s share of his back catalog.
In recent years, Bowie’s estate has been doing more business with Warner Music Group. The company acquired some rights to Bowie’s catalog when it bought Parlophone Label Group from Universal Music Group, which had to sell some assets as a condition of its purchase of EMI. Last year, Warner signed a global deal to license Bowie’s recorded music catalog, starting in 2023, and it already has most of those rights now. That means the company is now home to both Bowie’s recording and publishing rights.
“This fantastic pact with the David Bowie estate opens up a universe of opportunities to take his extraordinary music into dynamic new places,” Warner Chappell co-chair and COO Carianne Marshall said in the announcement. “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.”
Bowie’s estate was represented in the deal by attorney Allen Grubman and Bill Zysblat’s team at the financial management company RZO.