UPDATE: Following publication, sources with intimate knowledge of the situation claim to Rolling Stone that while reps for Dylan did have early conversations with Mercuriadis, UMPG was the only company in which a potential deal was discussed in detail.
Prior to taking his deal with Universal Music Publishing Group, Bob Dylan turned down a $400 million bid from Merck Mercuriadis’s Hipgnosis Songs Fund, a source familiar to the situation tells Rolling Stone.
Mercuriadis declined to comment for the story beyond commending UMPG for its acquisition. “I congratulate them on making the deal,” he says. “You don’t need me to say this is one of the greatest catalogs of all time. There’s Bob Dylan, there’s the Beatles, and there are very few others that touch that rarified air.”
While the specifics on Dylan’s deal with UMPG remain unknown, sources previously told Rolling Stone that UMPG paid closer to $400 million than the $300 million other insiders have estimated. Such a high bid from Hipgnosis means two potential scenarios: Dylan either took less money from Universal for non-financial reasons, or Universal outbid Hipgnosis and Dylan’s payday exceeded $400 million.
Dylan’s sky-high deal isn’t atypical in the recent song acquisition market, where companies like Hipgnosis and Primary Wave have been driving up value with previously unheard-of financial offers. Los Angeles investment company Shamrock Capital reportedly paid $300 million to acquire Taylor Swift’s master recordings, while Primary Wave paid a reported $100 million for an 80% stake in Stevie Nicks‘ songwriting catalog. As one of the most prolific and ubiquitous American songwriters of all time, Dylan’s catalog is virtually unmatched in size. A rep for Dylan did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, over the course of the past 18 months, Mercuriadis has amassed the copyrights from artists, songwriters and producers on a notable collection of hits from “Don’t Stop Believin’,” to “Single Ladies” to “Uptown Funk.” Former Bon Jovi guitarist and songwriter Richie Sambora, Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Barry Manilow and Blink-182 co-founder Tom DeLonge have all made deals with Hipgnosis this year.
Several sources have told Rolling Stone they expect Hipgnosis and other companies to close more deals in the coming weeks as songwriters and their teams look to finish deals before the end of the year. Some expect the Biden presidency to usher in a new capital gains ruling regardless of Democratic control of the Senate, which could cut into earnings from potential sales.
A year without touring — artists’ primary pre-pandemic moneymaker — has also significantly driven interest in these deals. As Mercuriadis told Rolling Stone in late April: “I can say I’ve never had more opportunities put in front of me,” he said. “We’re always picky; we’ll say no to three of the four that are presented to us, [but] we say yes to 100% of what we go after.”