Few people in music have had a bigger year than Merck Mercuriadis, the founder and CEO of Hipgnosis Songs Fund, who has tossed a billion dollars at songwriters, artists, and producers to grab the copyrights of the biggest charting hits of the past 50 years. Mercuriadis recently purchased catalogs from artists including Jack Antonoff, Tom DeLonge, and Richie Sambora — not to mention the entire L.A.-based publisher Big Deal Music — and single-handedly driven up the value of old hits to the rest of the industry.
“These are highly emotional transactions,” he says. “As songwriters, they’re effectively giving their children to surrogate parents, and they know they can trust me and that I’ll respect their art and only use songs in ways they’re comfortable with. When we’re closing, and the difference is $250,000 on a deal that may be worth tens of millions, that’s not material anymore.”
Before starting Hipgnosis with Nile Rodgers in 2018, Mercuriadis managed Guns N’ Roses, Elton John, and Beyoncé. He and Rodgers first scored copyrights from prolific songwriters the Dream and Poo Bear, which got Hipgnosis the rights to Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean” and “Baby,” along with Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” In the past two years, the company has been on a frenetic spending spree, funded by investors including the Church of England’s Investment group along with Newton Investment Management.
Hipgnosis went public in the summer of 2018 and raised more than $800 million through its IPO, being traded on the London Stock Exchange. He says that while deeper pockets have been marching into his office lately, he makes sure to present himself as an advocate to artists and songwriters — not a faceless Wall Street broker taking their music.
Mercuriadis wants to amass an empire of songs he can then license out for use in movies, TV shows, video games, advertising, and merchandise. “All the Small Things”? “Don’t Stop Believin’”? “Livin’ on a Prayer”? He has a slice of all of those now. Of course, the buying won’t go on forever: He says his attention is at about 90 percent acquisition and 10 percent management right now, but in the next several years, those figures will be switched.
There’s quite a lot of money involved in these deals — and quite a lot to be made, if streaming services keep making new music fans. Mercuriadis maintains his ambition is not just to cash in, but to change the paradigms of the industry at large.
“I’m not in the publishing business, I’m in the song-management business. There’s a paradigm that I’m a catalyst for changing, paradigms that have existed for decades and people think are OK and normal,” Mercuriadis says. “We only buy directly from songwriters because I’m looking to empower songwriters and the songwriter community. The three big recorded-music companies use their leverage of owning the song companies to ensure those companies don’t advocate for songwriters, and they push the economic improvement we’ve seen with streaming so they, not the artist, get the lion’s share of the money at the songwriter’s expense. If nothing else, we’re a catalyst for changing that.”