David Bowie's Songs Have a New Owner

$250M deal gives Warner control of the late artist's songwriting catalog
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2022 7:35 PM CST
David Bowie's Estate Sells His 400 Songs
David Bowie appears in a documentary, "David Bowie: The Last Five Years."   (Jimmy King/ HBO via AP)

David Bowie told the New York Times in 2002 that music sales would dry up until recordings became "like running water or electricity." A deal announced Monday shows the industry isn't to that point just yet. Warner Chappell Music bought the rights to Bowie's songwriting catalog from his estate for a price estimated at more than $250 million, the BBC reports. An executive said WCM would oversee the artist's "unparalleled body of songs with passion and care." A spokesman for the estate said the company will exercise control of the catalog "with the greatest level of dignity."

The deal covers every song Bowie wrote, from his self-titled first album in 1967 to Blackstar, his final album, which was released in 2016. That's more than 400 songs—not the least among them "Space Oddity" and "Changes"—per the New York Times. "These are not only extraordinary songs, but milestones that have changed the course of modern music forever," said Guy Moot, CEO of Warner Chappell, the publishing arm of Warner Music. The company had bought the rights to Bowe's recorded music, which includes albums released from 1968 to 1999, last fall. Bowie died in 2016 at age 69.

Bowie worked to maintain control of his music, per Variety, often buying up recording rights he didn't already have as they hit the market. In 1997, he, his manager, and his banker sold "Bowie Bonds," 10-year securities that gave investors a piece of future royalties. The deal fixed Bowie's annual return at 7.9%. Prudential Financial paid $55 million for the securities. When the music industry slipped, Moody's dropped its rating on the bonds in 2004 to one step above "junk." Bowie's catalog will grow Friday, when the posthumous studio album Toy is released. (Bruce Springsteen sold his publishing and music catalogs last month.)

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