The music publishing industry was defined by a series of mega deals in 2021, including the sales of song catalogs by such superstars as Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Def Leppard. The majors made the lion’s share of these acquisitions, but indies such as Merck Mercuriadis’ Hipgnosis and Larry Mestel’s Primary Wave were also very much in the game. Here’s how a dozen top publishers stacked up in terms of revenue last year, as well as a look at their progress in 2022.
Global revenue reporting and estimates by Ed Christman.
1. Jon Platt
Chairman/CEO, Sony Music Publishing
Global revenue: $1.726B
Music publishing’s goliath rebranded from Sony/ATV to Sony Music Publishing and brokered deals with hot new talent — Olivia Rodrigo, The Kid LAROI and Kane Brown — while also scoring wins with some of Sony’s top legacy talent. SMP signed AC/DC, bought Bruce Springsteen’s masters and publishing in conjunction with Sony Music Entertainment for an estimated $500 million and acquired Paul Simon’s entire song catalog. ASCAP and BMI crowned SMP’s Nashville division country publisher of the year for the first time since 2021.
2022 momentum: Sony led Billboard’s first-quarter Publishers Quarterly on both the Hot 100 and Radio Airplay charts, with 22.65% and 24.67% market shares, respectively. In the latter category, the music publisher has been No. 1 in 37 out of the last 39 quarters. And SMP’s $465.03 million fiscal fourth-quarter revenue for the period ended March 31 represented a 14% increase from the corresponding period a year earlier when revenue was $408.2 million. Its total revenue for the fiscal year ended March 31 was $1.784 billion.
2. Jody Gerson
Chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group
Global revenue: $1.59B
UMPG’s aggressive dealmaking has narrowed the gap between it and Sony Music Publishing over the last seven years, and after closing 2020 with a deal to acquire Bob Dylan’s 60-year, 600-song catalog maintained its momentum in 2021 through deals with Lionel Richie, Clairo, Louis Bell and Julia Michaels. The publisher also extended its deal with Harry Styles and sealed licensing deals with TikTok and Triller.
2022 momentum: UMPG reached a deal with The Weeknd to take over administration of his highly lucrative song catalog once his deal with Kobalt expires. In the first quarter, the music publisher finished No. 2 on both the Hot 100 and Radio Airplay rankings with 20.40% and 21.74% of the market, respectively.
3. Guy Moot
Co-chair/CEO, Warner Chappell Music
Co-chair/COO, Warner Chappell Music
Global revenue: $817.0M
Warner Chappell upped its game in 2021 with acquisitions of David Bowie’s publishing catalog, renewal deals with Madonna and the estate of George Michael, and new deals with Cardi B, Anderson .Paak and Daniel Caesar. It also promoted Ryan Press to president of North America.
2022 momentum: The company finished at No. 3 on the Hot 100 publishers ranking, with a 14.99% market share in the first quarter, but dropped to No. 4 behind Kobalt on the Radio Airplay ranking with 15.51% of the market. Warner Chappell also signed up-and-coming Mexican singer-songwriter Natanael Cano (“Soy El Diablo”) to a worldwide publishing deal.
4. Merck Mercuriadis
Founder/CEO, Hipgnosis Song Management/Hipgnosis Songs Fund/Hipgnosis Songs Capital
Estimated global revenue: $161M
After a $1 billion spending spree in the first six months of 2021 that included the publishing catalogs of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, music publishing’s provocateur spent the second half orchestrating a $1-billion investment partnership with Blackstone.
2022 momentum: Signed a worldwide publishing deal with R&B star Normani and, in the first quarter, finished at No. 6 on the Radio Airplay publishers ranking with 3.28% and at No. 7 on the Hot 100 ranking with 3.23%.
5. Larry Mestel
Founder/CEO/president of music publishing, Primary Wave Music
Estimated global revenue: $161M
According to Mestel, Primary Wave raised the value of its assets to $2 billion through deals with the estates of James Brown and Bing Crosby, Chris Isaak and Sun Records. The company also owns a major chunk of the Prince estate.
2022 momentum: Primary Wave expanded its stakes in Def Leppard’s publishing and recording royalty income from some of its biggest hits, including “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Rock of Ages,” and acquired key rights from Bob Dylan’s share of the Traveling Wilburys catalog, including master royalties and neighboring rights royalties from the group’s output. But a Minnesota judge rejected the company’s proposal that Prince’s assets be placed in a single holding company in which all heirs would be shareholders.
6. Willard Ahdritz
Reported global revenue: $519.4M
Once as aggressive as Hipgnosis and Primary Wave in the catalog acquisition business (and an early entrant into that game), Kobalt has slowed its acquisition pace over the last few years while divesting assets. Last year, the company sold its Kobalt Music Royalties Fund II to KKR for $1.1 billion and its recorded-music business AWAL and Kobalt Neighboring Rights agency to Sony Music Entertainment. On the artist front, Kobalt renewed deals with Young Thug, Jazmine Sullivan and Madison Beer, and its global digital collection society, AMRA, now operates in 180 territories around the world.
2022 momentum: Promoted Catrin Drabble — who played a key role in the 2021 sale of AWAL and KNR to Sony for $430 million — to CFO.
7. Dominique Casimir
Chief content officer, BMG
President of repertoire marketing for New York and Los Angeles, BMG
Estimated global revenue: $440M
By the end of 2021, BMG had acquired — in partnership with global investment firm KKR on some of the deals — the publishing rights catalog of John Legend and overall artist rights from ZZ Top, John Lee Hooker and Tina Turner — and its deep catalog of modern and vintage classics helped drive global publishing revenue to a 10% increase. The company closed out the year with two of its songwriters’ Christmas songs riding high on the holiday charts — The Ronettes’ “Sleigh Ride,” written in 1948 by Leroy Anderson, and “Feliz Navidad,” written by Jose Feliciano.
2022 momentum: Signed a global publishing deal to administer the song rights of Elvis Costello. BMG/Click Music client Maik Alexander Timmermann had a No. 1 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and top five Hot 100 hit as a co-writer of Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin.” Finished at No. 5 for the 18th consecutive quarter on the first-quarter Radio Airplay publishers ranking.
8. Jim Selby
Chief publishing executive, Concord
Estimated global revenue: $200M
In January 2021, Concord acquired the Downtown Music song publishing catalog — except for works that Downtown administers — for $350 million to $400 million. In the last five quarters, Concord has made the top 10 of the Hot 100 publishers ranking twice, as has its Pulse Music Group operation, while the latter has made the Radio Airplay publishers ranking for 10 quarters in a row.
2022 momentum: Purchased the catalog of and signed a worldwide publishing deal for future songs written by Josh Miller, whose credits include songs performed by Carrie Underwood, Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett.
9. Mary Megan Peer
Ralph Peer II
Executive chair, peermusic
Estimated global revenue: $150M
After leading peermusic for 37 years, Ralph Peer turned the CEO role over to daughter Mary in 2021. The company also moved into the neighboring rights business by joining forces with Premier Muzik, All Right Music and Global Master Rights, which collectively represent upwards of 300 labels and 2,500 performers.
2022 momentum: A subpublishing deal with Big Machine Label Group for all territories outside the United States yielded a global hit with GAYLE’s “abcdefu.”
10. Golnar Khosrowshahi
Founder/CEO, Reservoir Media
Estimated global revenue: $100M
Reservoir went public on the NASDAQ on July 29, and though its stock price was initially wobbly — it has since leveled off — the company has made some key acquisitions, including the master recording rights for country band Alabama and the master recording catalog of Tommy Boy Records. The publisher also brokered an administration deal with Joni Mitchell, who is among a roster that includes A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Migos’ Offset and Takeoff.
2022 momentum: Acquired the producer catalog of longtime Kenny Chesney collaborator Buddy Cannon, from 1997’s I Will Stand through the 2017 live album No Shoes Nation. Extended its publishing deal with prolific songwriter Ali Tamposi, who’s known for Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” Selena Gomez’s “Wolves” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”
11. Josh Gruss
Founder/CEO, Round Hill Publishing
Estimated global revenue: $85M
A year after going public on the London Stock Exchange, Round Hill has raised $440 million. It manages more than 120,000 compositions, including six Beatles tunes and songs by Stephen Sondheim, Heart and Whitesnake.
2022 momentum: Spent the entirety of $86.5 million in proceeds from a Class C share offering to acquire publishing rights, master royalty income and producer shares for music by Heart, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Whitesnake and Foreigner.
12. Helen Murphy
CEO, Anthem Entertainment
Estimated global revenue: $83M
Legacy artists such as Rush, Timbaland and Steven Tyler and publishing partnerships are the focus of the Canadian music publisher, which is backed by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.
2022 momentum: Sources say that investment bank Moelis & Co. is shopping Anthem for a buyer, with a balance sheet that includes about $70 million in net publisher’s share (or gross profit) and $30 million to $35 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).
METHODOLOGY: Publishing revenue estimates are global and for the year 2021. In cases where publicly traded companies reported performance, Billboard used those numbers with the exceptions of Sony Music Publishing and Warner Chappell. Those companies report results using a fiscal year instead of a calendar, and in those cases, global revenue was estimated using the financial results they reported in the four quarters of 2021. Privately held publisher estimates are based on financial data found in analyst reports, through Billboard’s own reporting and, in the cases of certain revenue calculations, with guidance from the companies themselves.
Additional reporting by Frank DiGiacomo and Dan Rys.