What the Bob Dylan catalog sale means for the music industry

When rock icons such as Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks begin selling off their catalogs, something must be blowin’ in the wind in the music industry.

Certainly, the record business was rocked by Monday’s announcement that Dylan had sold the rights to his six-decade trove of tunes to Universal Music in a deal that is believed to be the biggest ever of its kind: Sources told Bloomberg it was more than $200 million, while the New York Times reported that it could be more than $300 million.

This news came just a few days after Nicks sold 80 percent of her stake in her publishing rights — for both her Fleetwood Mac and solo work — to music publisher Primary Wave for $100 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While each deal is different, selling your copyrights typically allows the purchaser to use your songs for any marketing purpose (such as a TV commercial) and, in some cases, entitles them to your songwriting royalties. Some deals, such as the Nicks one, also include the right to use such things as your name and likeness.

So what’s behind these a-changin’ times? As with just about everything else in 2020, COVID-19 was a significant factor.

Stevie Nicks in 1983.
Stevie Nicks in 1983.
Getty Images

“Touring was the financial engine of the music business right up until March, so everybody had to rethink,” said Jem Aswad, senior music editor at Variety. “And what’s something that’s not gonna lose value in a pandemic? Intellectual property. Copyrights. Publishing. It’s a reliable asset.”

With most artists not making big coin from physical record sales, downloads or even streaming — unless you’re Taylor Swift — touring is a major revenue stream, which suddenly dried up.

Calvin Harris
Calvin Harris
Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage

“So you’ve also got the Killers, [who] sold their publishing assets to a private equity firm; Calvin Harris sold his assets to a private equity firm,” said Aswad. “Those are two acts right there who rely enormously on touring for income … They may have made some financial decisions thinking they were gonna make X amount of money off of a tour this year. And now they’re making zero.”

No doubt, artists who are feeling the COVID crunch have to think outside the box. “They’re very willing now to talk about divestment,” said Steve Salm, chief business development officer at Concord Music Publishing, which reportedly just acquired Imagine Dragons’ portfolio for about $100 million.

Salm also cited the pandemic touring problem as a selling point for artists, but said it’s really about the “absolute gross dollars” available from deals like this. “The prices reach a point where the owner says, ‘Of course I have to sell. I never thought I would see a price like this in my life,’” he said.

Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons
Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons
Getty Images

On top of that, Aswad said, the incoming presidential administration will also bring “what is likely to be a big jump in capital gains taxes, [so] people are looking to get these deals done before Biden comes into office and whatever new laws he makes take effect.”

From a financial perspective, Primary Wave CEO Larry Mestel agrees that the time is right to make these deals. “First of all, interest rates are so low,” he said. “And music copyrights provide a great place for investors that like to invest in alternative opportunities — a relatively safe place to go and get yield. As an example, Stevie Nicks, her catalog has been generating very stable income now for, what, 30 years or more.”

Stevie Nicks in 2017.
Stevie Nicks in 2017.
Getty Images

What selling off a catalog can do is breathe new life into old classics, said Mestel. “Artists are focused on … opportunities to reintroduce their songs into a new youth culture, [which is] very important to these artists ’cause these songs are their babies.”

For Mestel, landing Nicks’ catalog was a process that began long before 2020 and the pandemic. “We’d been talking about it on and off for almost 10 years,” he said. “And there’s so much we believe that we can do and achieve together.”

Bob Dylan in 2019.
Bob Dylan in 2019.
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Coming on the heels of the Nicks deal, the Dylan one seals the fact that “this market is white-hot,” said Salm. “Bob Dylan proves that even the absolute top of the food chain of songwriters understands that this is an asset class that has inherent dollar value.”

But, Salm added, few would be worthy of the same kind of blockbuster bucks.

“When you get to such rarefied air and such pristine, culturally important compositions like Bob Dylan’s,” he said, “you are auctioning off the finest of fine art that an auction house has.”

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Singer-songwriter David Olney dead at 71 after passing mid-show

A renowned folk singer-songwriter died in the middle of a performance after apologizing to his audience and closing his eyes.

David Olney, 71, had what appears to be a heart attack on stage Saturday at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., according to a statement on his website.

In the middle of a song, Olney had paused, said “I’m sorry,” and “put his chest to his chin,” according to fellow singer-songwriter Scott Miller.

“He never dropped his guitar or fell [off] his stool,” Miller wrote on Facebook. “It was as easy and gentle as he was.”

Amy Rigby, a singer who was on stage next to Olney, described how he “apologized and shut his eyes” during his third song.

“He was very still, sitting upright with his guitar on,” Rigby recalled on Facebook.

“[He was] wearing the coolest hat and a beautiful rust suede jacket we laughed about because it was raining … outside the boathouse where we were playing.”

At first, festival staff and audience members thought Olney was “just taking a moment,” Rigby wrote.

Then, they jumped to action and attempted to revive him.

“We got him down and tried our best to revive him until the EMT’s arrived,” Miller wrote.

A well-known figure in the folk-rock and Americana communities, Olney was a key member of Nashville’s music scene since moving there in 1973.

He recorded 20 albums over the course of his career, with some of his songs being covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Del McCoury, Linda Ronstadt and Steve Young.

“The world lost a good one last night,” Miller wrote. “But we still have his work. And it still inspires. And always will.”

Olney is survived by wife, Regine, daughter, Lillian, and son, Redding.

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Stephen Sondheim ‘incapacitated’ after fall

Legendary “West Side Story” songwriter Stephen Sondheim suffered a fall that left him unable to attend the opening of his namesake theater in London.

Sondheim, 89, won’t be well enough to attend the opening of the newly refurbished Sondheim Theatre in the West End, which was recently renamed after him, producer Cameron Mackintosh announced Tuesday.

The opening event on Jan. 14 was postponed indefinitely. Mackintosh said the composer fell several days ago at his Connecticut home, tearing a ligament.

“Though temporarily incapacitated,” Mackintosh told Broadway World, “Steve is very much still here in feisty frustrated spirit.”

If Sondheim’s own statement is any indication, the fall did nothing to diminish his wit.

Stephen Sondheim.
Stephen Sondheim.Redferns

“As I recover from my tumble, I’m impatient to throw away my cane, grab my hat and head across the Pond as soon as I can to see on which cherub Cameron has tattooed my initials,” he wrote. “I am, to put it mildly, chuffed to have my name on a theatre in the West End I have loved visiting ever since my first trip to London almost seventy years ago.”

This is a banner year for Sondheim, though not without its hitches. “West Side Story,” for which he wrote the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s music at the ripe age of 26, is being revived both on Broadway and in film.

But Ivo van Hove’s stage revival recently moved back its opening from Feb. 6 to Feb. 20, while Isaac Powell, playing Tony, recovers from a knee injury he suffered onstage. The Steven Spielberg-directed movie remake is due out this December.

Most recently, three film awards contenders featured his music: “Knives Out,” “Joker” and “Marriage Story.” The latter included a poignant scene in which Adam Driver sings Sondheim’s “Being Alive,” from the 1970 show “Company.”

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Neil Innes, ‘Monty Python’ songwriter, dead at 75

The urban spaceman has left the Earth.

English performer and songwriter Neil Innes — best known for his collaborations with Monty Python and his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, including their 1968 hit track “I’m the Urban Spaceman” — has died. He was 75.

“It is with deep sorrow and great sadness that we have to announce the death of Neil James Innes on 29 December 2019,” the Innes family said in a statement, the BBC reports. “We have lost a beautiful, kind, gentle soul whose music and songs touched the heart of everyone and whose intellect and search for truth inspired us all.”

Born in England and raised in Germany, Innes had been traveling home from France with his family when he died Sunday night.

He had been in good health, and his family believes his passing was peaceful, if sudden.

Neil Innes performing in “The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball” in London on Sept. 9, 1981Getty Images

“He died of natural causes quickly without warning and, I think, without pain,” reads their statement.

He leaves behind wife Yvonne, their three sons and three grandchildren, all of whom “give thanks for his life, for his music and for the joy he gave us all,” the statement concludes.

Innes was affectionately known as “The Seventh Python” for his work with the group, and the nickname was also the title of a 2008 film about his life. As well, he co-created the 1970s rock band The Rutles — which twice performed on “Saturday Night Live” — penning the Doo-Dah Band’s track “Death Cab for Cutie,” and receiving a writing credit for Oasis’ song “Whatever.” Last year, he toured with a Fab Four cover band called The Bootleg Beatles.

Many took to social media to honor the late great performer.

“Punch in the gut to end the decade on,” tweeted stand-up comedian Richard K. Herring, “RIP to the sweetest of idiots.”

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Allee Willis, ‘September’ and ‘Friends’ theme songwriter, dead at 72

Songwriter Allee Willis, famous for her work with Earth, Wind & Fire as well as the “Friends” theme and the “The Color Purple” Broadway song score, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. She was 72. The cause of death was cardiac arrest.

Prudence Fenton, the animator and producer who is described by a family friend as Willis’ “partner and soulmate,” was described as being “in total shock” over her best friend’s sudden death, which occurred just after 6 p.m.

Willis was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018 for a catalog that also included hits like the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” the Pet Shop Boys’ and Dusty Springfield’s “What Have I Done to Deserve This?,” Patti LaBelle’s “Lead Me On,” EWF’s “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” and the theme from “The Karate Kid,” “You’re the Best.”

“I, very thankfully, have a few songs that will not go away,” Willis told the New York Times, “but they’re schlepping along 900 others.”

Willis had been working with rapper Big Sean, at her home for the last few months. The intergenerational Detroit natives had met at Motown’s 60th anniversary celebration.

The Times profile tied to her Songwriters Hall of Fame induction called her “a queen of kitsch who made the whole world sing.”

Willis was legendary in L.A. for her outlandishly retro style sense, in her outfits but especially her home, the pink, legendarily kitchsy 1937 Streamline Moderne L.A. house known as “Willis Wonderland.” The home, which is itself a museum of pop culture history, was recently the setting of the photo shoot for Variety‘s Billie Eilish cover.

Among her many awards, Willis was a two-time Grammy winner — for “The Color Purple” as best musical theater album in 2016, and her contribution to the “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtrack two decades earlier — and was nominated for a Tony (for “The Color Purple”) and Emmy (for the “Friends” theme).

Her most fruitful collaboration, with Earth, Wind & Fire, began in 1978 after Patti LaBelle and Herbie Hancock recommended her to Verdine White, who, she said, called her up and said, “I want you to come write the next Earth, Wind & Fire album.” The next day, she said, she met up with him and co-wrote the enduring smash “September,” the first of several hits she co-wrote with or for the band, including “Boogie Wonderland.”

“I’m someone that absolutely loves writing very joyful music,” she told Songfacts in 2008.  “And with everything else I’ve ever written, [“September” is] still that song that when people found out I’d written that, they just go, ‘Oh my God,’ and then tell me in some form how happy that song makes them every time they hear it. For me, that’s it. … I literally have never been to a wedding, a bar mitzvah, anything, where I have not heard that song play. So I know it’s carrying on and doing what it was meant to do.” As for the significance of the Sept. 21 date singled out in the song, she said there was none. “I would say the main lesson I learned from Earth, Wind & Fire, especially Maurice White, was never let a lyric get in the way of a groove.”

Allee Willis
Allee WillisGetty Images for Songwriters Hal

Of EWF, she added, “They were my favorite group, and remain so. I cowrote all but two of the songs on the next album, ‘I Am,’ which was the album that really crossed them over to a white audience.” The group’s African American fans were sometimes surprised to find that “September” and other iconic black hits were partly the creation of a “nice Jewish girl.”

Willis wrote “I’ll Be There for You” on assignment as a 60-second theme song for “Friends.” When the Rembrandts came on board, they wanted to expand it into a complete song, so contributed a bridge and a lyric for the second verse for the full-length version.

“It was the last thing I ever thought would be a hit, the whitest song I ever wrote,” she told Songfacts. “I’m very, very grateful for it, and when they were promoting ‘The Color Purple,’ all of these newspaper reviews… I mean, here I’ve written for Earth, Wind & Fire, I’ve written with James Brown, and the only song they would ever mention that I wrote is this ‘Friends’ theme. Could any song prepare you less to write ‘The Color Purple’? But I actually loved it, because it’s that incongruity that I cherish the most in what I do.”

Willis (pictured above with Pee Wee Herman in 1982) grew up in Detroit, where, she told the New York Times, she would sit on the lawn of Motown’s headquarters and study what she heard coming through the walls. In the 1970s, she recorded her lone album, “Childstar,” which helped introduce her as a songwriter to other singers of the era.

Her vocation later in life was raconteur as much as songwriter. She was also a visual and social artist, painter, director, collector of odd artifacts and memorabilia, and a stand-up comedian and performance artist.

“I’m a serious party thrower,” she told the Times. “I’ll tell you, that’s my No. 1 skill. I always had a music career, an art career, set designer, film and video, technology. The parties really became the only place I could combine everything.”

Willis survived by a brother, Kent Willis, and sister, Marlin Frost; and niece, Mandy Becker.

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Desmond Child on writing for Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Ricky Martin

From “Livin’ on a Prayer” to “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” songwriter Desmond Child is the songwriter behind some of the most famous pop and rock songs of the past 40 years.

Child’s songs have become part of the collective consciousness the world over and are showcased on his first live album, “Desmond Child Live,” recorded at Feinstein’s/54 Below and out today. A Florida native born to Cuban songwriter Elena Casals and Hungarian Joseph Marfy, Child formed the R&B band Rouge before writing or co-writing smash hits like Kiss’ “I Was Made For Loving You,” Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” and songs recorded by Kelly Clarkson, Selena Gomez and Alice Cooper.

“Some people call me hit maker to the stars. It’s like a hairdresser to the stars. I’m there to empathize with them, and they tell me their story,” Child tells The Post. “And so the songs always come out of their story. So I’m there to facilitate them being the best that they could be. That’s my job.”

“I’m not there to tell my story,” he continues, “but a lot of my story comes out in songs like ‘Livin’ on a Prayer.’ The characters are Tommy and Gina. And long before in Rouge, one of the girls in the group, Diana [Grasselli], she worked as a waitress. And her moniker was Gina Velvet. And so that’s where I got the name Gina. And also working as a waitress and bringing her pay for love and all this kind of stuff.

Jon Bon Jovi, Cher, Desmond Child and Steven Tyler
Jon Bon Jovi (from left), Cher, Desmond Child and Steven Tyler

“That was my story. Now, I’m sure that Jon [Bon Jovi] and Richie [Sambora], my collaborators, were telling their story through the song, you know, their hopes and dreams, their struggle, in their own way. And that’s the beauty of music, because not only do we tell stories and some of them are universal, but the listener completes the artwork, because when the listener listens to it, they bring their story.”

Some of the songs sprung from serendipity. Like Aerosmith telling Child they had an idea for a song called “Cruisin’ For The Ladies,” then mentioning they saw a dude who looked like a lady — Motley Crue’s Vince Neil — and Child much preferring that title. Or the writer showing up to a Bon Jovi session with the title “You Give Love A Bad Name” “in my back pocket, written on a little piece of paper.”

“As soon as Jon heard that title his eyes just lit up and he gave me that million-dollar Bon Jovi smile, and he had a song on the previous album called ‘Shot Through The Heart,’ and so he put it together: ‘Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame,’ and we all kind of said, ‘you give love a bad name’ together.”

Child was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018. Next year he’ll see the publication of his autobiography, “Livin’ On A Prayer: Big Songs & Big Life,” and he’s producing the Lou Pearlman and boy band biopic “Transcon.” He’s also working on “Cuba Libre,” a Broadway musical.

Two projects — the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, which he cofounded in 2012, and the 2013 documentary “Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro” — hold an extra special place in Child’s heart.

Desmond Child and Ricky Martin
Desmond Child (left) and Ricky MartinCurtis Shaw Child

“My mother was a renowned Cuban songwriter and poet,” says Child, who lives in Nashville with his husband, Curtis, and their two sons. “When she passed away in 2012, I brought up at the Songwriters Hall of Fame that there should be a Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, because there wasn’t really room for the entire diaspora genre to be honored properly [in the Songwriters Hall of Fame], just like the Latin Grammys.”

Fellow board members suggested he meet with Rudy Perez — a Grammy winner who’s written for stars like Christina Aguilera and Beyonce with Shakira.

The Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame will hold its seventh annual induction gala on Thursday in Miami.

“‘Two,’” he says, “is a 12-years-in-the-making documentary about us wanting to have children, seeking out a surrogate and an egg donor.

“Really the star of the film is Curtis’ mom, who had been kind of a very conservative Missouri lady from a religious family, and her journey of acceptance of Curtis and me and our relationship and how she embraced our children, how she went from one end of the spectrum to another. She has a scene in the documentary that just breaks your heart. If we did a scripted version the only person that could do it would be Meryl Streep. We’ve been filming since then and hopefully someday there will be ‘Two: Part Two’ after our kids graduate from college.”

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