Music

Sony Music Buys Stake in Michael Jackson Catalog, Valuing Rights at Over $1.2B

In what could be the largest valuation ever of a musician’s music assets, Sony Music Group has closed an agreement to buy half of Michael Jackson‘s publishing and recorded masters catalog in a deal that sources say valued those music assets somewhere above $1.2 billion. Other sources have suggested it might be as much as $1.5 billion. At those valuations, Sony will pay at least $600 million for its stake of the legendary rights.

That means that the Jackson deal, which closed late last year, is at a bigger valuation than the $1.2 billion that Queen is currently seeking. And whereas the Queen valuation includes, sources say, royalties from income streams beyond the masters and publishing, including from the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, and theatrical productions using Queen’s music, Sony’s deal with the Michael Jackson estate does not include royalties from the Broadway play and other theatrical productions featuring Jackson’s music.

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It may not, however, just be Jackson’s music that’s involved in the deal. Sources say the current deal includes non-Jackson-authored songs in his Mijac publishing catalog, which also includes the approximately 250-song Sly & the Family Stone publishing catalog as well as iconic songs written and/or performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, Ray Charles, Percy Sledge and Dion.

Last February, following a story first reported by Variety that the Jackson deal was being negotiated, Billboard estimated that the iconic artist’s estate earns about $75 million annually. Those assets include ownership of master recordings, publishing for Jackson’s share of his songs, his Mijac publishing catalog and revenue from merchandise and royalties from theatrical shows featuring Jackson’s music. At the time, Billboard estimated that within the $75 million estimate, Jackson’s recording and publishing assets alone brought in $47.2 million to the estate; and that Mijac might be bringing in another $5 million to $8 million annually.  

The Jackson estimate, however, did not take into account that his popularity appears to be growing as the streaming marketplace expands.

Sales and streams of Jackson’s music grew steadily from 1.07 million album equivalent units in 2020 to 1.47 million in 2023 — up 37% over those three years — according to Luminate. That outpaced the overall U.S. music market for album consumption units, which grew 22.9% during that time period. Outside the United States, Jackson is arguably even more popular. In 2023, consumption of his music grew 38.3% to 6.5 billion on-demand streams, up from 4.7 billion streams in 2021.  

Next year, a Jackson biopic called Michael will be released, likely fueling even more growth to his fanbase, boosting consumption and triggering more revenue to flow to his estate and any other rights holder.

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With all of the economic returns the estate is delivering, the masterminds behind it — lawyer John Branca and A&R executive John McClain — are expected to continue to stay involved as co-executors.

Sources indicate that the Sony deal also leaves in place Primary Wave’s stake, which is believed to be about 10% of Jackson’s publishing assets.

Throughout the years, Sony has paid the Jackson estate more than $2 billion in some major deals that go beyond distributing royalties for his records and songs. In 1991, the company paid $100 million to buy the first half of what became Sony/ATV; ATV Music was the catalog that Jackson bought in 1985 that contained the Beatles catalog and other popular songs. That was merged into Sony’s music publishing operation to become Sony/ATV, with Sony and Jackson each owning 50% of that company. In 2016, the company paid $750 million for the remaining 50% of Sony/ATV. It also paid $287.5 million for the Jackson estate’s share of the consortium that owned EMI Music Publishing in 2018, as well as dividends during its ownership of those assets that came out to a total of about $1.6 billion. And now, the latest deal adds another $600 million or more, driving the total amount past the $2 billion mark. 

Sony has been active with acquisitions over the past year. Last year, it also acquired what has been described as a significant minority stake in the Latin label and management company Rimas Entertainment, which launched Bad Bunny‘s career. While it’s unclear what percentage Sony bought, the overall deal for the label and management was expected to have about a $300 million valuation, sources said at the time.

In May 2023, Sony also acquired the RECORDS catalog from Barry Weiss, Ron Perry and Matt Pincus, buying out the latter duo in a deal that was seeking a $100 million valuation; and then did a going forward 50/50 deal with Weiss, who retained control of the label’s recent catalog.

Reps for Sony, the Jackson estate and Primary Wave declined to comment.

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