The Most Valuable Song Catalogs

Source: Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

This year, Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and record producer Justin Timberlake agreed to sell his music catalog to Hipgnosis Song Management, a U.K.-based business backed by Stephen Schwarzman’s private-equity behemoth Blackstone.

The deal includes copyrights to about 200 songs written or co-written by the former boy-band pinup, including hits like “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and “Mirrors.” The deal was estimated to be worth about $100 million, according to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal. (Timberlake is a prime example of solo artists who were more successful than their bands.)

The Timberlake deal is part of a trend in highly successful recording artists, estates of deceased stars, or recording companies giving up their intellectual property rights for enormous payouts. These so-called publishing acquisitions have always been around, but they’ve gained popularity thanks to music-streaming subscription services and new technologies that make it easier and less costly to collect royalties globally, according to Billboard Insights. (These are the artists with the most No. 1 hits.)

To determine the most valuable song catalogs, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on song catalog sales and valuations from Variety, Billboard, Forbes, and other sources. Songbooks were ranked based on the published purchase value of a disclosed songbook sale, the estimated value of an undisclosed songbook sale, or the current valuation of a songbook from an industry source. Only songbooks with available value estimates were included.

And some of these deals involve serious amounts of cash. In fact, Timberlake’s $100 million deal is only within the median of the top 35 most expensive music catalogs ever sold. Artists including New Orleans-born rapper Lil Wayne, Scottish DJ Calvin Harris, and Las Vegas pop rockers Imagine Dragons have all sold their catalogs for around the same price. 

The catalogs of Barry Manilow, Mötley Crüe, and Prince, sold for more than $100 million, while the music of Bob Marely, James Brown, and Tina Turner sold for less.  

Other deals have ranged from $25 million for the music rights belonging to Robbie Robertson, the 78-year-old former guitarist and songwriter for The Band, to a half-billion dollars for the songbooks of Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon and Paul McCarthey. Seven of the deals on this list closed at $300 million or higher.

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