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Bob Dylan sells rights to all his songs to Universal Music Group

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US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has sold the rights to his entire back catalogue to Universal Music Group (UMG).

The deal is one of the biggest acquisitions in Universal’s history and means the company will collect all future income from the songs.

It includes both the income Dylan currently receives as a songwriter and his control of each song’s copyright.

The 79-year-old is known all over the world for songs like The Times They Are A-Changin’, and Like a Rolling Stone.

Universal will acquire around 600 tracks, taken from a career spanning six decades.

The terms of the deal were not made public, but it is thought to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

‘His songs are timeless’

The legendary singer-songwriter, real name Robert Zimmerman, is the latest artist to join forces with the Los Angeles-based UMG, following the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar and Post Malone.

His work was previously administered by their rival Sony/ATV outside of the US, and by Dylan’s own team inside it.

Announcing the deal, UMG boss Sir Lucian Grainge said it was with “enormous pride” that they welcomed Dylan to the family.

“It’s no secret that the art of songwriting is the fundamental key to all great music, nor is it a secret that Bob is one of the very greatest practitioners of that art,” he said.

“Brilliant and moving, inspiring and beautiful, insightful and provocative, his songs are timeless – whether they were written more than half a century ago or yesterday.”

He added that it was “no exaggeration to say that his vast body of work has captured the love and admiration of billions of people all around the world”.

“I have no doubt that decades, even centuries from now, the words and music of Bob Dylan will continue to be sung and played- and cherished -everywhere.”

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What does it all mean?

Analysis by Mark Savage, music reporter

For Bob Dylan’s fans, nothing changes. His music remains available on streaming sites and CD box sets as before. Behind the scenes, though, the money is flowing in a different direction.

From now on, Universal Music will receive all future income for Dylan’s vast catalogue of songs. Every time Just Like A Woman or Make You Feel My Love gets played on the radio, licenced to a film or covered by another artist, the company will get a royalty payment. They’ll also get to decide which films or TV commercials can use Dylan’s songs in the future. 

In return, Dylan receives a lump sum, said to be worth anything between $200m and $450m (£150m – £340m). Neither Universal nor Dylan’s team would disclose the value of the purchase – but the upper end of those estimates is realistic. 

For comparison, Stevie Nicks’ sold a majority stake in her publishing catalogue for $80m (£60m) last week. Dylan’s portfolio of more than 600 era-defining songs will be valued at a much higher rate.

The sale of song catalogues has become a booming business during the Covid-19 pandemic, with investors seeing music as a relatively stable asset in an otherwise turbulent market. The likes of Blondie, Barry Manilow and the estates of John Lennon and Kurt Cobain have all sold the rights to their music in recent years.

The London-based Hipgnosis SongsFund alone has spent more than $1bn (£750m) buying up hits by Rihanna, Beyonce and Justin Timberlake – with the Church Of England amongst the investors who share the royalties.

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Who is Bob Dylan?

The Minnesota-born star emerged from New York City’s Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s.

His blend of folk music, protest songs and psychedelic poetry saw him become a counter-cultural icon around the world.

His self-titled debut album was released in 1962, and his work went on to influence major artists including David Bowie and The Beatles.

The likes of The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Adele have all enjoyed success covering Dylan’s songs.

While he has largely stayed out of the limelight in his later years, Rough and Rowdy Ways, his 39th and most recent record, arrived in 2020 to critical acclaim.

In 2016, Dylan became the first songwriter to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, with the Swedish academy crediting him with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

He has sold more than 125m records globally, and last year co-headlined a UK festival with Neil Young, at London’s Hyde Park.

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