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Justin Bieber sells the rights to his entire catalog for over $200 million

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

What do these musicians have in common - Bob Dylan, Calvin Harris, Stevie Nicks? They're just three of the growing crowd of artists who sold the rights to their own music. Justin Bieber is the latest to join the ranks. He's selling his entire catalog for more than $200 million. Kristin Robinson is a music publishing reporter from Billboard. Welcome.

KRISTIN ROBINSON: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: To start with Bieber's sale specifically, what can you tell us about the company that bought his catalog for 200 million?

ROBINSON: Yes. So Hipgnosis Songs Capital is who bought Justin Bieber's catalog. This is one of the major players in the music catalog acquisition market, which has been really hot in the last few years. A ton of artists, many of which you mentioned in your intro, are deciding to sell their catalogs so that they can get an upfront payment. And Hipgnosis is one of those companies that is buying up a lot of them - you know, Shakira, Leonard Cohen - all these artists that don't seem to have too much in common, but they do have valuable catalogs.

SHAPIRO: I get that purchasing a popular artist's catalog allows companies to get royalties, cut brand deals. But ultimately, is it worth hundreds of millions of dollars? When you look at the sums that are being shelled out, they're just huge.

ROBINSON: Yeah. I mean, it's a lot of money. And artist catalog deals are not an exact science. There are people who work in catalog valuations, who try to determine exactly how much each catalog should be bought and sold for. But it's a very difficult number to come to, and these numbers have been climbing a lot higher in recent years. There definitely are some critics who might say the catalog market has gotten way too hot, and there are too many people that are trying to buy, which has pushed these prices to astronomical levels that they've never reached before. These are definitely risks that these companies are taking. But I think that, you know, someone like Hipgnosis is willing to take that bet, even on a younger artist like Justin Bieber. So it's going to be very telling in the next few decades whether or not these companies will ever be able to make the money back that they spent on these catalogs.

SHAPIRO: As you said, the artists who are selling their catalogs are so different from one another, and they have dramatically increased in the last few years. Why do so many musicians suddenly think this is a good idea?

ROBINSON: Well, for musicians, there's quite a few reasons. I think that COVID-19 should not be understated. A lot of these artists were pulled off the road, or they had tours planned that were really going to be the things that helped them pay their mortgages and, you know, all that stuff over the last few years that were all cancelled. A lot of revenue streams offered to artists were eliminated. David Crosby, who, you know, passed away, sadly, last week, even tweeted about this and said that he didn't really want to sell his catalog, but he felt that he needed to because a lot of his opportunities to make money had been taken away from him.

That being said, a lot of artists that are especially reaching their older years sometimes would just rather sell and get that money in an upfront payment than to maybe - you know, if they don't feel like they're going to live for more than a couple more decades - like, leaving this catalog to your family members is a really challenging thing to look after.

SHAPIRO: It's way easier to divvy up millions and millions of dollars than it is to divvy up publishing rights.

ROBINSON: Yes, exactly. It's quite a burden on your family, especially if they don't have much knowledge of the music business, to have them try to manage a giant estate like that. So it is a lot simpler to just be like, let's get this money now, while, you know, interest rates are low in the last few years. Like, let's capitalize on the fact that there's high demand in the market, try to cash out right now and then, you know, live off that for the rest of your life and also pass that down to your offspring.

SHAPIRO: That's Kristin Robinson, a music publishing reporter for Billboard. Thanks a lot.

ROBINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Lim
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.