During the past 50 years, Paul McCartney and his lawyers have built MPL from a small company that once occupied half of a small office in Soho Square to a formidable publishing force that now owns and occupies the entire building. The company made its first major acquisition four-and-a-half decades ago when Lee Eastman — Linda’s father and a powerful entertainment lawyer who also represented the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning — convinced him to purchase the Edwin H. Morris catalog for “a reported $15 million,” according to The Washington Post.
MPL now controls over 25,000 songs — from McCartney’s post-Beatles work to songs by Buddy Holly, Fats Waller, Bert Berns and Bessie Smith. The publishing company, MPL Communications Inc., has helped MPL Communications Ltd. pull in over 350 million pounds in the last 25 years, according to U.K. financial filings, with a peak turnover of 32.86 million pounds ($52.25 million) in 2014. (That revenue comprises McCartney’s touring revenue, as well as his royalties from recorded music, including that of The Beatles; the band got a 50% royalty from EMI for streams and digital sales, according to label sources, although that could have changed once Universal bought EMI.)
By 1979, after several more acquisitions, Lee Eastman told The Washington Post that MPL was “an empire,” as well as the largest independent publisher in the United Kingdom. By 1984, McCartney said in a Playboy interview he did with Linda that he made about as much money from his music publishing ventures as he did from Apple. “I owe it all to Linda’s dad, Lee Eastman, and her brother John,” McCartney told the magazine. Lee and John ran McCartney’s business affairs and provided the vision behind MPL, until Lee died of a stroke in 1991; John’s son, also named Lee, now plays the same role, with help from John.
Besides McCartney’s own compositions, which include two Beatles songs — “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” — most of MPL’s success has come from acquisitions. “With the exception of new material by Paul McCartney, our plan is not to sign new writers but to polish the old silver,” Lee Eastman told Billboard in 1979. The value of publishing catalogs has skyrocketed since then, with assets now trading for over 20 times net publisher’s share — a multiple that was unimaginable in the ’70s. McCartney hasn’t said much about MPL’s revenue, but it’s clear that the silver he bought is still sparkling.
A Few Major MPL Holdings
MPL bought Buddy Holly’s publishing company, including “Not Fade Away” and “That’ll Be the Day,” for $150,000, which it soon earned back several times over every year,” John Eastman told Philip Norman in Paul McCartney: The Life.
MPL reportedly acquired this catalog of songs by Frank Loesser — including, most famously, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” — as part of McCartney’s 1979 deal with CBS Records.
Additional reporting by Ed Christman.