Tag Archives: Bowie Bonds

Music royalties – a siren song for niche investors seeking higher yield

A small but growing number of investors are buying the rights to musician’s future earnings, hoping to beat the fixed income returns and other markets.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Music Royalties Strike a Chord, these fixed income investors are lured by future returns of 8%-12% annually, when junk bonds are still hovering around 6%.

Private equity funds have raise or begun to raise $1 billion since 2013 when this sector appeared to be an alternative to low yields on fixed income.

There are a several types of royalties that can be sold, either for a specified period of time or until they expire. (For works created on or after January 1, 1978, it is life plus 70 years or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship.)

David Bowie infamously sold his future copyright earnings for $55 million (“Bowie” Bonds), only to have new technology like Napster devalue them. [See, “The Bonds that Fell to Earth,” in the January 15, 2016 IP CloseUp.) The financing did wonders for Bowie balance sheet, although not all investors made out so well.

High Yield

Bowie Bonds paid 7.9% for ten years, at which time, I believe, they reverted back to the mercurial artist. He never lost ownership of all of his songs; he merely licensed the future earnings to some of them for a period of time.

Songs can also earn money when they are performed live, played in a restaurant or film, or streamed through a service like Spotify. They still do not make money from radio airplay (a legacy from old tech, when it was about selling records). Songwriters, music publishers, artists and labels own various rights, including performance rights.

WSJ reports that in the 2Q Denver-based website Royalty Exchange held music rights auctions valued at $2.5M, more than double the total from the 4Q 2016.  Royalty Exchange publishes a guide to music royalties, here.  It is a transaction site, so it is best to speak to a lawyer or experienced IP broker before buying.

Risk to music royalty streams includes timing, trends and technological threats. A song that generates a steady stream of income today is not necessarily going to in five or fifteen years. On the other hand, a small handful could actually generate more revenue than expected. Receivables, or royalty stream financing, takes place in many industries, including energy, real estate and sports.

Streaming Rises

The renewed interest in music royalties may due in part to increased royalty payments by services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple, which, similar to YouTube, have been notoriously reluctant to pay creatives fairly for content. But increases have been negligible for most performers and song writers, and top recording artists with leverage tend to cut their own distribution deals.

With disdain for IP rights on the rise, it is somewhat encouraging that niche investors still believe in the integrity of copyrights and the reliability of their income stream. For them to succeed they will need cooperation from streaming services, as well as songwriters and performers.

Image source: myradio360.com; entertainment.howstuffworks.com 

 

The bonds that fell to earth – The financial magic of David Bowie

The passing of David Bowie is a reminder that he was an innovator in finance and intellectual property, as well as music and fashion. 

Much has been written about the passing of David Bowie in New York at 69. It’s important to remember that he was a pioneer in music royalty securitization in 1997 with so-called”Bowie Bonds.”

00DavidBowieEsquireRussia1The bonds were a smart move for Bowie, who raised $55 million without giving up ownership of his prized catalog. He had gambled wisely on the future, and while the bonds traded poorly for investors —  a reflection of weakening demand in the music industry at the time — they never defaulted, paying holders in full at ten-year maturity.

First Mover

Bowie was a first mover, parlaying the future cash flow from his copyrighted song catalogue into an early payday just when the music industry was changing. The idea of royalty securitization remains viable today, if somewhat more sobering. As long as the financial modeling is right, and the appetite for risk sufficient, leading artists and innovators will continue to score with royalty deals.

In my 2001 book, From Ideas to Assets, Doug Elliott writes, “What Bowie sold was the present value of his personal intellectual property (song copyrights) – that is, the future expectation of future royalty income, less a discount (p. 462).”

“From 1991 to 1998 nearly $3.5 billion in Bowie-like royalty instruments were sold by other musicians (Rod Stewart), media conglomerates (Disney, Dreamworks, Universal), and branded marketers (Calvin Klein, Borden and GE Capital).”

The cash flows that comprised these securitizations were on a a whole far more reliable than the infamous mortgage-backed issues and CDOs that blew-up en masse and facilitated the 2008 bank melt-down. (See The Big Short, both the book and movie.)

Bowie told The New York Times in 2002 interview that copyright would no longer be viable in ten years and that music was likely to become a commodity “like running water or electricity.” He was not far off.

For a good Bloomberg story about Bowie’s foray into finance, go here. For the Wall Street Journal piece, go here.

Image source: gossipblog.it; vam.ac.uk


%d bloggers like this: