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In historic deal, Bruce Springsteen sells his masters for $500 million


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Born in the USA. I was born in the USA.


Bruce Springsteen is a master of rock 'n' roll, but it appears the boss has sold his masters. Billboard reports that Springsteen sold the rights to his music for $500 million. It may be the biggest ever transaction of its kind. Melinda Newman broke this story for Billboard. She joins us now. Welcome to the program.

MELINDA NEWMAN: Hi, Audie, how are you?

CORNISH: Good. So I understand that this deal hasn't been officially announced. What have you learned about who's buying and what exactly they're getting for - let me see - half a billion dollars?

NEWMAN: Exactly. So it is going to Sony Music, his masters, which, for example, when you just played "Born In The U.S.A.", that is the recordings that people know. Sony Music, the record company part of Sony, has purchased that, and then Sony Music Publishing has purchased the actual songs themselves. And that's a deal that goes with the songwriter. And since Bruce writes all his own material, that's a deal for Bruce. So both parts, both the master and the songs, are now owned by Sony.

CORNISH: Though I noticed this doesn't cover touring. What does that mean?

NEWMAN: It does not cover touring. So it does not mean that Bruce has to now - you know, can't perform his songs in concert. Of course, he can perform his songs in concert. It just means that Sony does not get any of the revenue that he gets from playing live other than they will earn royalties when he plays these songs live.

CORNISH: Now I am counting Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Stevie Nicks, Shakira, Neil Young - they've made similar deals in recent years. What's going on?

NEWMAN: So what's going on is a confluence of events. You have these artists when you - all of these artists that you mentioned are 70 years old, at least, and they are wondering who's going to take care of my music after I'm gone? Maybe their heirs don't want to take care of it, and they're like, OK, I want the money now. Or the other thing that's going on - it should be and, not or - is that there has been an incredible influx of private equity money into publishing and catalogue purchases. So the time is right to buy - I mean, to sell your catalogue if you'd like to sell because you can get 30 times what it's worth.

CORNISH: But at the same time, you've got someone like Taylor Swift out there - right? - like, embroiled in this drama about her masters. You do hear younger artists talking about that being some sort of, like, crowning moment - right? - when they can own their masters, own their catalogue.

NEWMAN: Absolutely. And so most of these artists owned their catalogues or their publishing, and that's how they're able to sell it. And what you have to realize is these are artists that are making these deals themselves. With Taylor, her - the reason she was so upset is that these decisions were made for her. She was not saying, I want to sell my catalogue to Scooter Braun or I want to sell my catalogue to HYBE. These - she did not have control. So there are artists who do not want to give up their catalogue no matter what, but it's a very different thing from you being in the driver's seat and saying, I'm ready to sell versus guess what? It's being sold and you have nothing to say about it.

CORNISH: So we're talking about kind of the 1% of the 1% in terms of the music industry who are able to do this. How does it impact everyone else?

NEWMAN: It impacts everyone else in that we're just going to see prices keep going up. So even if you're a songwriter who does not have a catalogue like this - and as you said, 1% of 1% do - you probably are going to get to see a bump because these multiples are just going up and investors see catalogues as an extremely good proposition right now. So it actually helps all songwriters.

CORNISH: Last question - does this mean we're just going to be hearing, like, all of this music in commercials from now on? I mean, are these private equity firms or the album folks kind of good stewards of the music?

NEWMAN: I think with Springsteen, you're definitely going to see they're going to be good stewards because, remember, he still records for Sony. You very much - I would imagine, even though they own it, it's going to be a team effort. They're not going to just say, hey, we want to do this, and, Bruce, we don't care what you say. I think it's going to be a very nice partnership going forward.

CORNISH: That's Melinda Newman of Billboard. Thank you for sharing your reporting with us.

NEWMAN: Thank you so much. Take care.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this interview, Shakira is incorrectly identified as at least 70 years old, when her name is included in a list of musicians who do meet that description. Shakira is 44.]


Corrected: January 3, 2022 at 12:00 AM EST
In this interview, Shakira is incorrectly identified as at least 70 years old, when her name is included in a list of musicians who do meet that description. Shakira is 44.
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Mano Sundaresan is a producer at NPR.