By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — There aren’t many things that happen in today’s music world that surprise folks, but Bob Dylan’s selling his catalog clearly qualifies as one. In a blockbuster deal Monday, Universal Music Publishing Group announce it had purchased Dylan’s entire catalog of songs, from 1962 to the present, directly from him. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition includes both publishing rights and Dylan’s “writer’s share,” which together would conservatively be worth at least $100 million.
Dylan’s publishing is currently administered in the U.S. by the Bob Dylan Music Company and elsewhere by Sony/ATV Music Publishing. A Sony/ATV spokesperson said that arrangement outside the U.S. would continue for “several years,” until that contract expires. Dylan gave no public reason for the sale, which follows a recent sale of unpublished lyrics for nearly $500,000 ($495,000) in an auction.
Industry sources told Billboard that the generation of singer-songwriters who came of age in the sixties and seventies is at a point where they’re thinking about their legacies, as well as estate planning. Dylan is the only songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. His catalog includes more than 600 compositions, written over the course of six decades. They include such anthems as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and “Tangled Up in Blue.”
“To represent the body of work of one of the greatest songwriters of all time – whose cultural importance can’t be overstated – is both a privilege and a responsibility,” said UMPG chairman & CEO Jody Gerson in the UMG statement announcing the deal. In an internal company note about the deal, Universal Music Group chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge wrote that the acquisition has “forever transformed the legacy of this company.”
Dylan, now 79, become one of the first popular artists to consistently write his own material in the 60s. He’s released 39 albums, but some of his songs are better known as recordings by other artists. These include Jimi Hendrix’s iconic cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” as well as Garth Brooks’ and Adele’s versions of “Make You Feel My Love.”
Many other global artists have covered Dylan’s songs. The list includes Brazilian icon Caetano Veloso and “Austropop” singer Wolfgang Ambros. His songs have also been utilized in advertising, and his lyrics licensed for lyric books, picture books, and even a comic book (“Bob Dylan Revisited: 12 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan Songs.”). Darius Rucker had a No. 1 country hit with “Wagon Wheel,” based partly on an unreleased Dylan song from 1973.
The deal covers all the catalogs containing Dylan songs, among them Dwarf Music, Big Sky Music, Ram’s Horn Music, and Special Rider Music. It also includes those tunes written during Dylan’s 1962-1965 publishing deal with Witmark & Sons, which reverted to him. (Dylan’s earliest compositions, including “Song to Woody” and some obscure topical songs, were published by Leeds Music, which Universal already owns.) Lastly, the deal also includes the publishing to “The Weight.” That tune, written by Robbie Robertson, is the only song in the sale that Dylan did not write or co-write.