Justin Timberlake just sold his song catalog to a Blackstone-backed firm that has been spending billions on music IP for nearly half a decade
Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen … Justin Timberlake?
They’re all part of the same club now, as musicians selling the rights to their precious platinum-selling catalogs, a practice that began to take off in 2020 when Dylan, 81, sold his for an estimated $300 million.
Two years after Dylan sold his songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group, he sold his recorded music catalog to Sony Music, likely for a similarly high price tag. Bruce Springsteen, 72, sold his recorded music and songwriting catalogs to Sony around the same time for over $500 million.
Timberlake is one of the youngest to monetize his publishing, though, and he didn’t sell to a record label but to an entity called Hipgnosis Song Management. The deal closed at just over $100 million, the Wall Street Journal reported, and it involves Blackstone, the private equity firm founded by billionaire Stephen Shwartzman that was the biggest in the world as of 2021.
So what is Hipgnosis, and what is Blackstone’s role?
Founded in 2018 by music industry veteran Merck Mercuriadis, the UK-based Hipgnosis was founded as an “investment trust” with the sole purpose of investing in music publishing rights.
In a little over two years, The New York Times reported, it had listed on the London Stock Exchange and spent about $1.7 billion acquiring more than 57,000 songs. The firm has struck several Timberlake-like deals with young artists, including Shakira, Benny Blanco, and Jack Antonoff.
Last October, Hipgnosis entered into a new partnership in which Blackstone provided approximately $1 billion in funds to acquire more music rights and catalogs.
“Hipgnosis Song Management has firmly established songs as an asset class,” Mercuriadis said in a release following that partnership announcement. He said the funds will allow the company “to invest in proven songs as well as grow our song management team and bring additional sophistication to HSM.” Blackstone acquired an ownership stake in Hipgnosis as part of the deal.
While the purchase doesn’t include songs Timberlake performed but didn’t write, such as NSNYC’s iconic “Bye, Bye, Bye” and “This I Promise You,” it does encompass much of his solo career’s production. That includes songs like “SexyBack” and “Suit and Tie.”
“I look forward to entering this next chapter,” said Timberlake in a statement.
Not all acquisitions are so happy or straightforward. In 2020, entertainment executive Scooter Braun sold the rights to Taylor Swift’s catalog without her consent to private equity firm Shamrock Holdings after acquiring Big Machine Label Group, which owned her first six albums.
Swift is currently in the process of re-recording and releasing those records in order to regain control of her music. Last year, she shared the second such effort: Red (Taylor’s Version).
An artist doesn’t even need to be alive for an acquisition to proceed. In January, Warner Music Group announced that it had acquired David Bowie’s back catalog for over $200 million.
“This fantastic pact with the David Bowie estate opens up a universe of opportunities to take his extraordinary music into dynamic new places,” said Warner Chappell Music co-chair and COO Carianne Marshall in a statement accompanying that acquisition.
Since announcing its partnership with Blackstone, Hipgnosis has made at least two other acquisitions. In January, it announced 80% interest in Kenny Chesney’s recorded music catalog, and in March it announced a deal to acquire part of Leonard Cohen’s songwriting catalog. Timberlake’s deal is likely the firm’s largest since last fall’s major investment.
Hipgnosis Song Management did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
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