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Veteran Singer-Songwriters Are Selling Their Music Catalogs


Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. He even won the Nobel Prize for literature. And now he's selling the publishing rights to his entire catalog of songs.


BOB DYLAN: (Singing) Ah, princess on the steeple and all the pretty people, they're all drinking, thinking that they got it made. Exchanging all precious gifts, but you'd better take your diamond ring and you better pawn it, babe.


Universal Music Publishing Group has bought the rights to more than 600 songs for an undisclosed amount. This means that Universal will get paid every time someone covers a Bob Dylan song or streams it or uses it in a movie.

ALAN LIGHT: If you're looking to cash out with this sort of material, now's a really good time to do it.

KING: Alan Light is a music journalist and a radio host with Sirius XM. He says that artists like Dylan are benefiting from a new premium that the music industry is putting on publishing.

LIGHT: Particularly these veteran classic rock figures, their work is going to continue to be generating money for the foreseeable future. And it is a much more reliable asset than some of the other ways that they make money.


DYLAN: (Singing) And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard - it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

LIGHT: Touring - that's been erased this year. That's been the way that a lot of older artists obviously have been making the bulk of their money in recent years, and that's just not something that they can count on moving forward.

GREENE: Now, we do not know Bob Dylan's reasons for doing this. He has not commented. He is, however, retaining the rights to his master recordings. We should also say, another veteran songwriter told us that he is making a similar decision.

DAVID CROSBY: Along comes COVID. And I can no longer play live, and I'm not going to be able to play live any time soon. OK, I've been forcibly retired.

KING: That's David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Byrds. He says with touring gone and streaming cutting into album sales, he's very close to signing a deal for his whole catalog.

CROSBY: The one thing that I have, the one asset that I have, is the publishing rights. And selling my income stream that way allows me to - God, I hate the word even - retire and take care of my family.

GREENE: Now, to be clear, when Crosby says retire, he still does plan to record and release music. But he does not expect to tour again.

CROSBY: That's certainly not what I wanted. I love singing, and I love playing. And I'm a musician, and it's my life, and I don't want to quit at all. But I'm not in charge here (laughter). I'm not running things. And I understand Bob's doing it. I understand everybody doing it that's doing it. And believe me - a whole lot more than you know are doing it.

KING: Now, again, we don't know what Bob Dylan got paid, but The New York Times reports that it was upwards of $300 million.


THE BYRDS: (Singing) Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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