When EMI Music Publishing’s roster of over 2 million songs was put up for auction in 2011, only two players bid — a competitive field that looks quaint now that highly capitalized institutional investors have joined the game and driven prices of catalogs for a single songwriter or act into the tens of millions of dollars.
KINGS OF THE DEAL
Steve Salm, chief business development officer
When Concord merged with Bicycle Music in 2015, the deal put over 100 publishing and recording catalogs — including the storied Stax, Fantasy, Prestige and Vanguard labels — under one roof and created a company with, at the time, an estimated $125 million in revenue. Since then, Salm, who has negotiated around 250 catalog and song acquisitions since the early days of Bicycle, has made some of the biggest publishing deals of the last three years. Concord’s 2017 $550 million purchase of Imagem remains the biggest music publishing acquisition that did not involve one of the majors. In 2020, he led the deal to acquire a majority stake in Pulse Music for, sources say, $160 million, and followed it with what may be the richest artist publishing catalog purchase of the year: upwards of $105 million for 100% of Imagine Dragons’ writer’s share and a percentage of the publishing rights, which are co-owned by Universal Music Publishing Group. As a result of those deals, Concord is closing in on $200 million in publishing revenue for the year.
Hipgnosis Songs Fund
Merck Mercuriadis, founder
Over the last two years, Hipgnosis and Mercuriadis have disrupted music publishing pricing models by spending almost $1.2 billion to snap up 117 catalogs containing 57,000 songs — sometimes at eye-popping multiples that have exceeded 20 times net publisher’s share (NPS). Hipgnosis is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange, which gives it access to the level of deep funding that enabled Mercuriadis to make a preemptive $323 million offer for the Kobalt Music Copyrights Fund 1, which includes the song catalogs of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Winwood, The B-52’s, George Benson and Skrillex.
Larry Mestel, founder/CEO
Primary Wave has been on a buying spree since 2016, spending upwards of $500 million in a series of deals and strategic partnerships that ranged from $50 million to $100 million. Mestel, who says Primary Wave is in the “icon and legend” business, spent $22 million for Smokey Robinson’s catalog and $50 million to buy 80% of two catalogs owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell: Bob Marley’s song catalog and Blue Mountain Music, which includes songs by U2 and Toots & The Maytals. Other catalogs on Primary Wave’s roster include Air Supply, Devo, Boston’s Tom Scholz, a portion of the Ray Charles catalog and songs by — or writer’s shares of songs by — Def Leppard, Hall & Oates, and Boy George & Culture Club. Primary Wave also owns a 50% stake in the assets of the Whitney Houston estate. Mestel likes to throw brand and marketing support behind the company’s investments — for instance, working with Robinson to establish the second Sunday in October as National Father-Daughter Day in honor of the Motown singer’s relationships with his six daughters. Billboard estimates the NPS of its holdings at $35 million to $40 million, and sources say Primary Wave is managing $1 billion in assets.
Round Hill Music
Josh Gruss, CEO
In November, Round Hill joined Hipgnosis on the London Stock Exchange after raising $282 million in advance of its initial public offering. Led by Gruss, the music publishing investment platform plans to purchase 120,000 songs including works by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Céline Dion. Round Hill is also seeking capital commitments of over $250 million for its Music Royalty Fund III. This should give the company a substantial war chest to add to its largely blue-chip portfolio. In 2018, Round Hill made one of the biggest publishing deals of the last five years, acquiring the coveted Carlin America catalog — over 100,000 copyrights for hits by AC/DC, Billie Holiday, Meatloaf and Elvis Presley — for $245 million. More recently, it spent approximately $20 million for Goo Goo Dolls frontman Johnny Rzeznik’s catalog.
Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Jon Platt, chairman/CEO
Now in its third year under the leadership of Jon Platt, Sony/ATV is typically a potential buyer when significant catalogs are up for sale, but, like all of the majors, it’s more discerning when it comes to writing a check — especially since parent company Sony Corp. financed the two biggest music publishing deals of the last decade. In 2012, Sony led a consortium of buyers in the acquisition of EMI Music Publishing for $2.2 billion. Then, in 2018, it bought out those partners for $2.3 billion, the Michael Jackson estate’s stake in EMI for $288 million (after buying the estate’s share of Sony/ATV for $750 million in 2016) and assumed $1.36 billion in debt — in a deal that valued EMI at $4.75 billion. These transactions gave Sony/ATV $1.45 billion in publishing revenue in the fiscal year ended March 31, a catalog of 2.1 million songs and a license to be selective.
Universal Music Publishing Group
Jody Gerson, chairman/CEO
Santa Monica, Calif.
UMPG’s $2.1 billion acquisition of BMG Music Publishing in 2007 remains the third-largest publishing deal of the century, and it has been understandably discriminating when it comes to subsequent purchases. Since taking the reins of the publisher in January 2015, Gerson has focused on signing artists and songwriters instead of acquisitions, which has paid off in significant growth for the company. UMPG is on track to generate close to $1.4 billion in 2020, up from $818 million at the end of 2014.
Warner Chappell Music
Guy Moot, co-chair/CEO
Carianne Marshall, co-chair/COO
Prior to 2019, Warner Music Group had focused on purchasing recorded masters, but that year its publishing division, Warner Chappell, acquired the 1,500-song catalog of Gene Autry and, in a joint venture with Providence Equity, launched Tempo Music, an investment platform for recorded-music and publishing assets. Tempo began with a $650 million war chest that has since grown to $1 billion, and Warner administers Tempo’s publishing investments. WMG has projected that revenue for Warner Chappell could hit $665 million in fiscal year 2020.
Helen Murphy, CEO
Anthem (formerly ole) has slowed the aggressive acquisitions pace it maintained from 2010 to 2015, but it’s still in the market for a catalog that complements its portfolio of 55,000 songs by over 400 songwriters, as well as 60,000 hours of film, TV and production music libraries. (It also operates a record label.) Its most recent purchase, in late 2019, was the Ricky Reed catalog, which included songs recorded by Halsey, Leon Bridges, Meghan Trainor and Lizzo. Anthem’s holdings generated approximately $60 million in NPS and about $35 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) in 2017.
Hartwig Masuch, CEO
New York (U.S. headquarters)
After establishing itself as the leading catalog buyer from 2010 to 2015, BMG shifted to buying labels after prices for music publishing assets began escalating again. Still, it remains a potential buyer for song catalogs that it deems sound acquisitions, and is the current leader in a three-way race with Kobalt and Concord to be the industry’s fourth major. Today, BMG has an estimated $425 million in annual music publishing revenue thanks to a portfolio that includes Cherry Lane Publishing, Stage Three, Crosstown Songs, Evergreen Copyrights, Chrysalis Music, Bug Music, Talpa Music B.V., Virgin Music, Famous Music, Minder Music and a stake in the Arc Music catalog.
Justin Kalifowitz, CEO
In October, Downtown Holdings hired Fred Davis, a partner at The Raine Group, to seek strategic opportunities, including a buyer, for the company. The surprise move came after substantial purchases in the recorded-music sector — $200 million for CD Baby in 2019, $40 million for Dutch business-to-business services company FUGA in early 2020 — and this year’s publishing acquisitions of Africa’s Sheer Music and Good Soldier Songs, which includes The 1975’s catalog. The ongoing auction process could result in a sale of the company or recapitalization with additional funding for management to continue pursuing growth opportunities.
Kobalt Music Group
Laurent Hubert, CEO
New York (U.S. headquarters)
The company announced in early November that it had sold its Kobalt Music Copyrights Fund 1 for $323 million to Hipgnosis. Johan Ahlström, the CEO of its investment division, Kobalt Capital, says the plan is to continue acquiring publishing assets through Fund II, which raised $600 million in 2017 and purchased the SONGS catalog at the end of that year and songwriter-producer David Hodges’ catalog for an undisclosed sum in October 2020. Catalog sellers should keep in mind, however, that the bulk of the parent company is up for sale and claiming a valuation that exceeds $1 billion, according to sources. Kobalt’s most recent financial results, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, show that it generated $405 million in music publishing revenue and collected another $66 million in publishing royalties from its AMRA performing rights organization.
Mojo Music & Media
Mark Fried, CEO
Lake Success, N.Y.
Mojo established itself as a player in 2019 when it acquired HoriPro Entertainment Group’s catalog of 15,000 songs by REO Speedwagon, George Strait, KISS and Jerry Reed. Earlier acquisitions include songs written or co-written by Artie Kornfeld, such as “The Pied Piper,” as well as Johnny Burke, Paul Evans, Bernie Wayne and Bobby Robinson. Billboard estimates that Mojo has an annual NPS of $6 million.
Founded in 1928, peermusic is one of the largest independent music publishers in the world, with a presence in over 30 countries. It is also one of the most selective. Peermusic’s last known deal took place in 2019, when it acquired the 40,000 songs of Korean music publisher Music Cube.
Golnar Khosrowshahi, founder/CEO
Reservoir has spent over $350 million on a combination of signings and small acquisitions to build itself into a major player, with an estimated annual NPS of $35 million to $40 million and, Billboard estimates, a valuation of $800 million. Khosrowshahi’s acquisitions include the song catalog of heavy metal label Century Media, Blue Raincoat Music, U.K. publisher Reverb Music and TVT Music, as well as the catalogs of artist-songwriters Hans Zimmer, the Isley Brothers and, sources say, writer-producer Bob Crewe, who collaborated with Bob Gaudio on a number of hits by The Four Seasons. In May, Reservoir bought the 16,000-song Shapiro Bernstein catalog, which includes “In the Mood,” “Rockin’ Robin,” “Ring of Fire” and “Little Bitty Pretty One” and songs recorded by Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf and Michael Jackson. While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, sources say the catalog generated about $3 million in annual NPS and the owner was seeking $60 million. Sources say it is Reservoir’s biggest acquisition to date.
Spirit Music Group
Jon Singer, chairman
In January 2019, Spirit Music senior executives Singer (now chairman) and Ross Cameron led a management buyout of the company from Pegasus Capital Advisors by raising $350 million through its holding company, Lyric Capital Group. (Cameron remains an owner of Spirit and, along with Singer, co-founding partner of Lyric Capital.) As chairman of Spirit, Singer now oversees a 75,000-song catalog that includes tunes by Pete Townshend, T. Rex, James William Guercio, Graham Nash, and Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Spirit had about $21 million in NPS when Singer took over, and sources say the publisher is in the process of raising capital for a new investment fund.
Todd L. Boehly, co-founder/chairman/CEO
Eldridge, which has ownership stakes in dick clark productions, MRC Data, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Billboard, among other entertainment properties, has long flirted with pursuing music publishing asset deals, and in mid-November it landed its first: songs on albums by Las Vegas rockers The Killers released prior to 2020. Financial terms were not disclosed, and the band retained ownership of its master recordings. Universal Music Publishing Group will also continue to administer the group’s song catalog.
Scooter Braun, chairman/owner
Ithaca made two key publishing acquisitions in 2019, Atlas Music — home of the Van Halen catalog and songwriters Brandi Carlile, Dan the Automator, Warren Haynes and Toby Gad, writer of John Legend’s “All of Me”) — and Big Machine Music Publishing, along with its acquisition of Big Machine Label Group, which gave it ownership of Taylor Swift’s master recordings. In mid-November, Shamrock Holdings bought Swift’s masters from Ithaca.
Vine Alternative Investments
Rob Amir, partner
Vine made news in October when it purchased DJ-producer Calvin Harris’ 150-song catalog for $105 million, according to sources — only its second deal in the music sector. At the time, Vine partner Rob Amir told Billboard that the addition of Calvin Harris “is a continuation of our pursuit of building a multigenre media ecosystem.” Vine’s previous entertainment investments were limited to film and TV entities. It acquired Lakeshore Entertainment in 2019 and, along with Falcon Investment Advisors, purchased a controlling interest in Village Roadshow Entertainment Group in 2017.
Shamrock Capital Advisors
Jason Sklar, managing partner
Patrick Russo, partner
Shamrock raised its profile significantly in November when it purchased Taylor Swift’s catalog from Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings — its biggest recorded-music acquisition to date. Its last major publishing deal took place in 2018, when it bought the catalog of Stargate, the working handle of songwriting/producing duo Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, who have co-written songs for Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Rihanna. After investing $250 million in a range of entertainment and media assets through its Shamrock Capital Content Fund I — including 5,000 songs — the company closed solicitation for its Entertainment Content Fund II in July after building a $400 million war chest. According to its website, Shamrock typically makes investments in the $5 million to $50 million range, although sources say its acquisition of the Swift catalog was exponentially larger. (The company declined to provide any specifics regarding its acquisitions.)
Tempo Music |
Sherrese Clarke Soares, founder/CEO
Tempo is funded by Providence Equity Partners, which manages upwards of $30 billion in assets and has given Clarke Soares, former managing director of Morgan Stanley, $1 billion in backing to buy music publishing and recorded masters catalogs. (Tempo plans to eventually expand to other media.) Warner Music Group, which is also a partner, will provide any administration needs. The company keeps its business close to the vest but has done at least one deal a month in 2020, according to Clarke Soares. Its first acquisitions were select copyrights of singer-songwriters Shane McAnally and Ben Rector and producer-songwriter Jeff Bhasker.