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Bob Dylan sells songwriting catalog to Universal for estimated $300 million

Bob Dylan (courtesy the artist)

Bob Dylan, the boy born in Duluth who went on to create what the New York Times calls “one of the music world’s ultimate jewels” and the Associated Press calls “rock ‘n’ roll’s holy grail” has sold that jewel, that grail, for an estimated $300 million.

In what the music world is calling a “blockbuster deal,” Dylan has sold his entire songwriting catalog to Universal Music for an undisclosed sum, the singer-songwriter characteristically making no comment on the sale.

The terms of the sale cover the whole kit and caboodle of Dylan’s unparalleled songbook, the life’s work of the first popular musician to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Universal will now collect all income from recordings and performances of Dylan’s songs, and will control the songs’ copyrights — giving the label the right to sell songs, for example, for use in movies or commercials. (Notably, the deal does not include rights to Dylan’s recordings of the songs: just the compositions.)

In a statement, Universal CEO Lucian Grainge said, “Brilliant and moving, inspiring and beautiful, insightful and provocative, his songs are timeless — whether they were written more than half a century ago or yesterday.”

The deal creates a cash windfall for Dylan, who’s always been money-minded but may be thinking as much of his legacy as of the deal’s financial side. Now 79, Dylan sees his songwriting catalog pass to a single, well-established entity. Dylan’s also recently sold his personal archives to the University of Tulsa and the Kaiser Family Foundation, who are planning a Bob Dylan Center to make the archive available for display and study.

Although the sale price is eye-watering, it’s hard to believe Universal won’t recoup its investments in the decades to come. Dylan’s songs are not just influential, they’ve proven hugely popular not only in his own recordings but in thousands of cover versions of classics like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “To Make You Feel My Love.” As Rolling Stone notes, Dylan’s catalog sale is the latest and biggest example of a trend that’s proven tempting to artists ranging from Stevie Nicks to Imagine Dragons.

While the deal covers the 600-plus songs Dylan’s previously penned, it doesn’t include any future compositions…and from the artist who surprised us during COVID quarantine with a startling new album, anything is possible in his remaining years.