Home Entertainment Money On the Dance Floor: Did the Sale of Michael Jackson’s Catalog Set a New Record?

Money On the Dance Floor: Did the Sale of Michael Jackson’s Catalog Set a New Record?

by Jason Lake
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Michael Jackson

There’s no getting around it: People still love Michael Jackson. None of the posthumous child sexual abuse allegations filed against him have managed to stick; radio stations who pulled Jackson’s music during the 2010s have gradually reintroduced the King of Pop to their lineups.

With that resurgence comes a tidal wave of cold, hard cash. Earlier this month, Sony Music Publishing reached an agreement with Jackson’s estate to purchase half of his catalog; Billboard estimates that Sony will be paying $600 million for those assets.

It’s probably the biggest transaction ever for a solo musician’s catalog – although it’s a bit shy of the $800-900 million the Jackson estate was reportedly seeking at this same time last year. Until the sale actually goes through and all the dust has cleared, we won’t know for sure whether Jackson has broken the record, but $600 million would just about do it.

It’s not the biggest overall music deal in history. That would be the $750 million Sony spent in 2016 to acquire Jackson’s stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the company they formed with Jackson in 1995 via merger. ATV was the owner of Northern Songs (publishers of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s Beatles catalog), which Jackson bought in 1985.

Still, $600 million is a nice chunk of change. That would put Jackson’s catalog – well, half of it – on top of this list of largest acquisitions in history, as compiled using data from The New York Times and Forbes.

5. Paul Simon: $250 million

This 2021 sale to Sony Music Publishing features Simon’s entire song catalog, so it includes the music he wrote while performing with Art Garfunkel, like “Bridge over Troubled Water” and “The Sound of Silence.” Simon continues to put out albums to this day, but it’ll be hard to top what he did on Graceland (1986), which spawned five singles including “You Can Call Me Al” and took the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

4. Sting: $300 million

Again, this 2022 purchase by Universal Music Group includes the songs Sting wrote while fronting The Police, so it’s difficult to put exact dollar amounts on the value of his solo catalog. But you can still picture Sting plastering all that money onto his amplifiers while whistling “Roxanne” to himself, like he did at the end of the music video for “Fortress Around Your Heart.”

3. Phil Collins/Genesis: $300 million+

This one’s even more complicated. In 2022, Concord Music bought the publishing and recorded music catalogs of both Genesis and their three remaining members: Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks. I’m a fan of Collins’ early solo work, but I’ll take Peter Gabriel-led Genesis every time, thank you kindly.

2. Bob Dylan: $300-400 million

We’ll have to rely on the estimates for this 2020 sale to Universal, since the actual price was never disclosed. Included is Dylan’s full songwriting catalog (but only the songwriting) of over 600 tunes – or at least up until his 2020 album Rough and Rowdy Ways.

This was believed to be the largest catalog sale in music history at the time, and no wonder: Universal claimed those 600-plus songs had been covered more than 6,000 times, each delivering royalties to their new owners.

1. Bruce Springsteen: $500-550 million

Welcome to the Boss Level. Sony Music bought the entire Springsteen catalog, master recordings and all, in 2021 for at least $500 million; it capped off a $1.4-billion spending spree for Sony over a period of six months, with that Paul Simon catalog part of the feeding frenzy. Springsteen was already under the Sony umbrella with Columbia Records, so he was comfortable enough handing over the masters to “Born to Run” and “Born in the U.S.A.” for half a billion.

As you can see, parsing these transactions to figure out who the actual record-holder will be for the largest individual artist catalog sale isn’t easy. That $600-million deal for Jackson? It might include some of the work he did as a member of the Jackson 5, which was reportedly on the table during last year’s negotiations. And it might include songs in the back catalog by other artists like Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. We can say this for certain: If you show them the cash, then they will take it.

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Jason Lake
Jason has been writing about sports betting since 2002. He earned his B.A. in Pacific and Asian Studies from the University of Victoria back in 1997. He has a passion for all things sports betting.

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