Neil Young has sold 50 percent of the worldwide copyright and income interests in his 1,180 song catalogue to Hipgnosis Songs Fund Limited, the U.K. investment firm founded by manager-turned-investor Merck Mercuriadis. The move comes days after Hipgnosis, which has spent the last year snapping up music catalogs left and right, announced it had acquired 100% of Lindsey Buckingham’s publishings rights as well as Jimmy Iovine’s producing royalties.
“I bought my first Neil Young album aged seven,” Mercuriadis said in a statement. “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.”
Young has never licensed any of his songs for use in an advertisement. In the video for his 1988 comeback hit “This Note’s for You,” he viciously mocked artists like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Eric Clapton that engaged in the practice. “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi,” he sang. “Ain’t singin’ for Coke / I don’t sing for nobody/Makes me look like a joke.”
The exact terms of the deal with Hipgnosis were not laid out, but Mercuriadis states that iconic songs like “Heart of Gold” will not be used to sell fast food. “I built Hipgnosis to be a company Neil would want to be a part of,” he said. “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.”
In his statement, Mercuriadis said that Young’s longtime manager Elliot Roberts, who died in 2019, was a close friend and mentor. Since Roberts’ death, Young has been managed by Frank Gironda.
“Elliot was the template for who I wanted to be,” said Mercuriadis. “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. … 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.”
Young is the latest in a long list of veteran artists that have recently sold at least part of their publishing rights to music investment firms — a new breed of company in the music industry that’s offering massive payouts to artists in exchange for control of their lucrative royalty streams. Last month, Bob Dylan sold his entire catalog to Universal for a reported $300 million. Right around that same time, Steve Nicks sold a majority of her publishing to Primary Wave Music Publishing along with her name and likeness.