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Bob Dylan sells his master recordings to Sony Music

Image source, PA Media

Bob Dylan has sold the master recordings to his entire back catalogue to Sony Music, in the industry’s latest blockbuster music acquisition.

The deal, completed last July, includes everything from classic 1960s albums like Blonde On Blonde, up to his latest release, 2020’s Rough And Rowdy Ways.

Billboard magazine says the catalogue is worth about $200m (£149m), based on annual revenues of roughly $16m (£12m).

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Dylan previously sold his publishing to Universal Music for a reported $400m.

That deal covered the rights to Dylan’s lyrics and compositions, which Sony had previously administered outside the US.

But the label has fought to retain the rights to Dylan’s recordings, including 39 studio albums, 16 “bootleg” compilations of outtakes, and unreleased material which could be compiled and issued in the future.

The 80-year-old has also extended his recording contract with Sony’s Columbia Records imprint, promising “multiple future new releases”, the label said in a press release.

One of rock’s most influential and ground-breaking artists, Dylan’s body of work made him the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 2016, and he has sold more than 125m records worldwide.

Born Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota, the star emerged from New York City’s Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s, with a blend of folk music, protest songs and psychedelic poetry that saw him become a counter-cultural icon around the world.

His self-titled debut album was released by Columbia in 1962, and his work went on to influence major artists including David Bowie and The Beatles.

Songs like Mr. Tambourine Man, Like A Rolling Stone and Make You Feel My Love remain hugely popular, and have been covered by everyone from Adele, and Guns N’ Roses, to Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder.

Before the pandemic, he regularly played 80 to 100 concerts every year. In 2021, he managed 22 shows and he has a further 27 on the diary for the first half of 2022.

Announcing the new deal, Sony chairman Rob Stringer said: “Columbia Records has had a special relationship with Bob Dylan from the beginning of his career and we are tremendously proud and excited to be continuing to grow and evolve our ongoing 60-year partnership.

“Bob is one of music’s greatest icons and an artist of unrivalled genius. We are excited to work with Bob and his team to find new ways to make his music available to his many fans today and to future generations.”

In a statement, Dylan added: “Columbia Records and Rob Stringer have been nothing but good to me for many, many years and a whole lot of records. I’m glad that all my recordings can stay where they belong.”

The acquisition comes amidst a years-long record industry spending spree, with record labels and investment firms snapping up the rights to songs and recordings by the likes of David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner, Blondie, Taylor Swift, David Guetta and Shakira.

Sony has been a particularly big player in the market spending $1.4bn in acquisitions in the first six months of 2021 alone, before shelling out a further $500m on Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue at the end of December.

The deals provide immediate financial security to the artists and their estates, while the new rights-holders hope to profit from streams of classic songs, while building new revenue streams via film and TV licensing, merchandise, cover versions and performance royalties.

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