In the last year, Sony has been involved in high-dollar purchases regarding the publishing rights and recorded-music catalogs of prominent artists, including the record-making price tag for Bruce Springsteen’s work. Now, the company is looking to pen the largest deal yet for an artist’s catalog, with a $800-900 million dollar offer reportedly made to Michael Jackson’s estate.
Per Variety, Sony’s looking to purchase 50 percent of the estate’s interests in Jackson’s publishing, recorded-music revenues, MJ: The Musical, and the recently announced biopic, Michael. No one close to the deal has verified any details, including Jackson estate representatives, co-executors John Branca and John McClain, Sony, and Primary Wave.
Primary Wave Music reportedly already owns a portion of Jackson’s music catalog, but how much is unknown. The company’s been a frontrunner in the booming music catalog market, owning work from Stevie Nicks, Prince, James Brown, Whitney Houston, Olivia Newton-John, Alice Cooper, and many more.
In the age of streaming, owning the rights to an artist’s songbook has become a commodifying goldmine. Once the catalog is acquired, companies such as Primary Wave seek out as many ways to exploit the artist’s work as possible, getting songs used in films, television, and commercials. Primary Wave also specializes in cultivating “brands” for artists, getting them marketing deals, Broadway shows, Tik Tok campaigns, and any other way to squeeze monetary value into their body of work.
“We’re always working in conjunction with the artist or their estate—we’re creating a marketing plan that they sign off on, and then we go and get,” Primary Wave CEO Larry Mestel tells Variety. “We’ve got 15 digital strategy people who do playlist pitching, website construction, ecommerce development, social media enhancement, we’ve got seven branding people. Our competitors, aside from the majors, are not built to do what we do.”
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Owning a piece of Jackson’s catalog would be a huge get for Sony, which held sole ownership over Jackson’s catalog until his death. In spite of a myriad of controversies surrounding the artist prior to and following his death in 2009, Jackson’s catalog (and in particular, “Thriller”) remains among the “most lucrative” in the history of music.