Neil Young has found his gold rush.
Rather, looking for a pot of gold as opposed to a heart of gold, Young has sold 50% of the rights to song publishing catalog to the same company that’s been scooping up songs lately, Hipgnosis.
Lindsey Buckingham sold to them this week. Many other acts, including Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks, have sold their rights in the last few weeks.
There’s been a hypothesis that this rush to sell rights has something to do with capital gains taxes changing. Maybe. But the real reason is more practical: no touring money in 2020 and 2021. And who knows about 2022?
The pandemic has decimated the bread and butter of money making in the music industry. Records don’t sell enough anymore to support any lifestyle, especially those of older artists who have a lot of people on their P&L sheets, and bottom lines that reflect big living.
If you’re an artist in your 70s, the lack of touring, plus merchandise sales, is a frightening proposition. To generate cash, rather than wait by the mailbox for royalty checks, why not sell out to a deep pocketed publisher who can deal with ASCAP or BMI, Sound Exchange and so on?
Neil Young, who’s 75, has a huge catalog with many well known songs that can be used in commercials and movies. “Heart of Gold” was his biggest hit, but “Learning to Fly” has been used in films, and songs like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “Love is a Rose,” “Lotta Love” are easily marketable. Then there are many gems in the catalog that have been under utilized.
Young is smart, too. He’s only sold 50% of the rights for now. If Hipgnosis has a big success, and Young– whose tours with Promise of the Real, and Crazy Horse — are annual, can’t get back on stage, there’s always the option of selling more of the rights.
Comes a time, as they say, when you have to plan for the future.