Neil Young is the latest prominent artist to sign away publishing rights, adding to an ongoing trend in the music industry.
The deal sees publishing house Hipgnosis acquire half the worldwide copyright of and any resulting income from Young’s over 1,180 original songs. Exactly how much cash the sale netted the folk rock icon isn’t known, but it’s almost undoubtedly a nine-figure sum.
It’s the latest major deal made just this week by Hipgnosis, founded in 2018 by artist manager Merck Mercuriadis (Elton John, Beyoncé). Earlier, the company closed on 100% of Fleetwood Mac member Lindsay Buckingham’s catalog, as well as for producer royalties for 259 songs by Beats founder Jimmy Iovine. Young’s catalog now joins those and others owned by Hipgnosis, including Timbaland, The-Dream, Mark Ronson, Steve Winwood, and Blondie.
Hipgnosis earns massive revenue — reported at $67.8 million for the first half of 2020 alone — by placing its songs in film, TV, and advertisements. That latter category is something Young has long been opposed to, once joking an unnamed company had asked him to rename his song “Heart of Gold” to “Burger of Gold”. He also included the lyrics, “Ain’t singing for Pepsi/ Ain’t singing for Coke/ I don’t sing for nobody/ Makes me look like a joke,” in the 1988 song “This Note’s for You”, a title that mocked Budweiser’s popular “This Bud’s for You” campaign.
Which is to say it’s hard to believe Young would sell half his copyright to someone whose principles didn’t align with his own. “We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs,” said Hipgnosis’ Mercuriadis (via The Guardian). “There will never be a ”Burger of Gold,’ but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms.”
Whether its because the pandemic has crushed touring revenue, streaming has devalued copyrights, or older musicians are simply looking to shore up their estates, many artists have recently made these types of publishing deals. Stevie Nicks, The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, and The Killers have all cashed out, while Bob Dylan sold his entire songwriting catalog to Universal Music for a reported $300 million last month.