In nearly 60 years, Bob Dylan has created an impressive body of work: melodious folk ballads, serious anti-war anthems, fiery rock tracks, laid-back country tunes and even gospel music.
The artistic value of its catalog – recently acquired by Universal Music Group under a successful contract – is hard to overestimate.
But the value of Dylan’s work isn’t just a matter of his contribution to culture, according to music industry experts. Universal, a unit of French media conglomerate Vivendi, is set to reap huge rewards after gaining control of both the revenue Dylan receives as a songwriter, as well as over 600 copyrights to the songs. .
Universal will collect royalties whenever Dylan’s music – from era favorites like “Blowin ‘in the Wind” to this year’s John F. Kennedy tribute epic “Murder Most Foul” – is sold, released in streaming, broadcast or presented in other media. like a television series.
“If you hear a song in a TV commercial or stream it on Spotify or hear it in a movie, the publisher of that work gets paid, regardless of who performs it,” said Jeff Slate, author. -composer and music journalist who has written for The New Yorker, Esquire and other publications.
Universal is not contractually authorized to reveal how much it paid under the deal, but a source told NBC News that the sale price was “a hefty 9-figure, north of $ 200 million. dollars ”. Dylan’s spokesperson said he couldn’t comment on any numbers. involved in the deal, adding that Dylan himself would not make any statement about it.
The potential windfall for the record company is even greater when you consider what makes Dylan rare among professional artists, experts said.
The first reason is that Dylan, who received the Pulitzer Prize for his “lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power”, is the only writing credit on most of his songs – which means Universal will not have share royalties with collaborators or other interested parties. , according to George Howard, associate professor of music business management at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“Bob Dylan is arguably the greatest songwriter in history, and unlike [John] Lennon and [Paul] McCartney, [Mick] Jagger and [Keith] Richards, or others in rock canon, he wrote the vast, vast majority of them on his own, ”Howard said.
The second reason is that Dylan’s work is covered so extensively by other artists. Universal, which said in a statement that Dylan’s songs have been recorded more than 6,000 times, will collect royalties every time musicians put their own spin on his lyrics.
“Everyone covers Bob Dylan songs: Coldplay, Adele, Bettye LaVette. I covered his songs, ”Slate said.
“We are not talking about a second-rate artist from the golden age of rock-and-roll. We’re talking about an artist who will be covered by others for many years to come, ”added Slate.
Lucian Grainge, Managing Director of Universal Music Group, echoed this sentiment in a statement announcing the deal: “I have no doubt that decades, if not centuries, Bob Dylan’s lyrics and music will continue to grow. to be sung and played – and darling – everywhere.
The third reason is that the songs composed by Dylan are frequently used in movies, TV shows, and commercials. The Internet Movie Database lists over 800 soundtrack credits for Dylan, with songs he wrote used to memorable effect in “Easy Rider,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Forrest Gump,” “The Royal Tenenbaums ”and many other films.
But the revenue from the licensing agreements won’t just flow to Universal each time a new Hollywood production pays a fee to use one of its original compositions. License revenues extend to each “public performance” of a Dylan track, including covers and remixes.
In other words, when the classic cult comedy “The Big Lebowski” (featuring Dylan’s 1970 track “The Man in Me”) airs on basic cable, “more money will go to Universal,” Howard explained.
“It’s a dark art in the music industry, but it’s a huge source of income. The revenue from public performances on the Dylan catalog is incredibly vast, ”he added.