In its third major acquisition of the week, Hipgnosis Songs has acquired 50% of Neil Young’s worldwide copyright and income interests in his entire song catalog, which comprises 1,180 songs, including such hits as “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “Helpless,” “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black),” “Ohio,” “Old Man,” “Mr. Soul,” “Like a Hurricane,” “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and many others.
The Canadian singer-songwriter released his first song in 1963 as a member of a group called the Squires and has released new material nearly every year since then, solo and as a member of Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. While precise numbers are hazy, given his sprawling catalog and frequent release of archival material, over the past six decades he has issued nearly 50 studio albums and more than 20 live albums, of which 18 are certified gold, seven are platinum and three are multi-platinum.
While terms of Young’s deal with Hipgnosis were not disclosed, an industry source tells Variety the sum is approximately $50 million (although a second source disputed that number), with Young having approval over synch usage. The latter point is likely key for an artist of Young’s notoriously strong-willed nature, and means that the lyrics to his 1989 song “This Note’s for You” can continue to hold true (“Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi/ Ain’t singin’ for Coke/ I don’t sing for nobody/ Makes me look like a joke”). A rep for Young did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.
The move not only follows Hipgnosis’ acquisition this week of catalogs from Fleetwood Mac veteran Lindsey Buckingham and producer/executive Jimmy Iovine, it comes less than a month after Bob Dylan sold his entire publishing catalog for a reported sum of nearly $400 million to Universal Music Publishing.
Observers expected the already white-hot song-catalog market to heat up even more in the waning weeks of the Trump Administration — president-elect Joe Biden’s administration is projected to raise capital-gains taxes — and it has certainly done so. Along with the above and other big deals, Stevie Nicks, Buckingham’s longtime bandmate in Fleetwood Mac, sold her publishing catalog to Primary Wave for a reported $100 million in December. And although that number would seem to put Young’s catalog on equal footing with Nicks’, these are not apples-to-apples comparisons: Setting aside important but unquantifiable factors like cultural influence, Nicks actually has had many more hit singles than Young.
Merck Mercuriadis, Founder of The Family (Music) Limited and Hipgnosis Songs Fund Limited, said: “I bought my first Neil Young album aged 7. ‘Harvest’ was my companion and I know every note, every word, every pause and silence intimately. Neil Young, or at least his music, has been my friend and constant ever since. Over the last 50 years that friendship took me back to Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’, ‘After The Gold Rush’, and guided me forward to ‘On The Beach’, ‘Tonight’s The Night’, ‘Zuma’, ‘Comes A Time’, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, ‘Trans’, ‘This Notes For You’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Ragged Glory’, ‘Greendale’ and through each successive album and on to last year’s ‘Colorado’. They’re part of who I am, they’re in many ways responsible for who I’ve become and they’re most certainly in my DNA.
“I knew I would never be a singer or songwriter myself so my love for Neil also extended to his manager Elliot Roberts, who is sadly no longer with us,” he continued. “Elliot was the template for who I wanted to be. He and Neil were partners in crime and Elliot made sure the art was never compromised and the commerce always maximized. He complimented Neil’s integrity perfectly and together they protected the songs so fiercely that they became important to millions of people all over the world. This was personal conduct that you could aspire to, something you could believe in.
“Somewhere along the way Elliot became a mentor to me and my friend. This allowed me to collide with Neil from time to time and Frank Gironda as well. We had a mutual respect as people whose lives were changed forever by music and particularly by this magical music. With Elliot’s passing last year it was only natural that Frank, who had so ably worked alongside him, would step into his shoes and also as it now turns out logical for Hipgnosis to partner with Neil to ensure his incredible songs reach all corners of the earth.
“I built Hipgnosis to be a company Neil would want to be a part of,” the statement concludes. “We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs. There will never be a “Burger Of Gold” but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms. There’s a good chance their life will be changed just like mine was. This is a deal that changes Hipgnosis forever and it’s a dream to welcome Neil, Frank, Bonnie and the team to the Hipgnosis family.”