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Bob Dylan just sold his entire catalogue of songs to Universal Music

The deal covers more than 600 songs spanning six decades, from ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ to ‘Murder Most Foul’

Bob Dylan performs in 1974 in Los Angeles. (Jeff Robbins/AP)

Bob Dylan has sold his entire song catalogue to Universal Music, signing over the rights and royalties to more than 600 songs in a blockbuster deal worth at least nine figures.

Universal Music Publishing Group will now collect income on Dylan’s songwriting roster, from 1962′s self-titled debut album to this year’s “Rough and Rowdy Ways.” Up until now, the 79-year-old rock icon and Nobel laureate had retained the rights to such iconic songs as “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Hurricane,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Tangled Up in Blue.” But Dylan hadn’t been stingy with how they were used — his music has appeared in everything from “Watchmen” and “The Big Lebowski” to “Dazed and Confused” and “Bad Santa 2.”

The terms of the deal the company announced Monday were not made public, but various news outlets put its value in the hundreds of millions. One equity analyst told The Washington Post the deal was worth $300 million to $400 million.

“To represent the body of work of one of the greatest songwriters of all time — whose cultural importance can’t be overstated — is both a privilege and a responsibility,” UMPG’s chief executive Jody Gerson said in a news release. “We look forward to working with Bob and the team in ensuring his artistry continues to reach and inspire generations of fans, recording artists and songwriters around the world.”

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has sold the rights and royalties to more than 600 songs to Universal Music Publishing Group in a deal announced on Dec. 7. (Video: Reuters)

2020 has been a devastating year for the music industry. Goldman Sachs predicted that global music business revenue would fall 25 percent this year and live music revenue would plunge 75 percent as the pandemic has silenced live music and taken touring off the table. But Goldman foresees a major rebound, predicting that global music revenue will nearly double in the next decade, ballooning to $142 billion by 2023.

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Music copyrights have become big business, especially as streaming continues to dominate music and new platforms offer scores of licensing opportunities in addition to royalties for other uses such as films and commercials. In recent months, TikTok signed major licensing deals with the National Music Publishers’ Association and Sony Music to ensure popular music would still be allowed on its platform.

Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities said there’s a fevered scramble to acquire catalogues from superstar artists like Dylan, which are in limited supply.

“Streaming has changed the landscape, from a licensing and royalty perspective. It’s the wild, wild West in terms of syndicated music and the ability to monetize that,” Ives said. “Even though there’s eye-popping price tags, if you look at the returns in five, 10, or 20 years, these are viewed as very good investments.”

Other big-name musicians have recently capitalized on this interest in their work. In recent months, DJ Calvin Harris, rock band the Killers and Stevie Nicks struck deals with private firms for their catalogues.

Universal, one of the biggest players in the global music industry, has weathered the pandemic storm well thanks to its streaming business. Though it took a hit in the second quarter, it generated more than $1 billion in streaming revenue in the first nine months of 2020, Vivendi, its French parent company, announced in October.

After Chinese conglomerate Tencent took a 10 percent stake in Universal last year, the company’s value grew to more than $35 billion. Vivendi is planning to take Universal public in 2022. Warner Music Group, one of Universal’s biggest competitors, went public in June and is worth more than $15 billion.

Dylan, the son of a Minnesota appliance-store owner, got his start as a folk singer and soon became one of the voices of political protest and cultural reshaping in the 1960s. His songs — driven by his distinctive nasal-twang vocals — are often seen as dense prose poems packed with flamboyant, surreal images. His oeuvre earned him the Nobel Prize in literature in 2016.

“It’s no secret that the art of songwriting is the fundamental key to all great music, nor is it a secret that Bob is one of the very greatest practitioners of that art,” Lucian Grainge, chairman and chief executive of Universal Music Group, said in a news release. “Brilliant and moving, inspiring and beautiful, insightful and provocative, [Dylan’s] songs are timeless — whether they were written more than half a century ago or yesterday.”

Rolling Stone magazine once called Dylan “the most influential American musician rock-and-roll has ever produced.” His songs have been recorded more than 6,000 times by artists spanning many continents and genres. He has sold more than 125 million records throughout his career, according to a news release — not that money has ever been Dylan’s metric for success.

“What’s money?” Dylan famously said. “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”