Local Current Blog

Dan Wilson becomes latest star to sell his song catalog

Dan Wilson at The Current in 2017. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

Dan Wilson, the musician from St. Louis Park who rose to fame with Semisonic and went on to become a hot songwriter-for-hire, has become the latest in a string of stars selling their song catalogs.

Primary Wave Music Publishing has acquired Wilson’s entire songbook, which includes songs he’s written for and with artists including Adele (“Someone Like You”), the Chicks (“Not Ready to Make Nice”), Taylor Swift (“Treacherous”), and Dierks Bentley (“Home”) — as well as Wilson songs he’s recorded himself with Semisonic, with Trip Shakespeare, and as a solo artist.

“The musical art that Dan has created as a songwriter is undeniable,” said Primary Wave president Justin Shukat in a statement. “His work has been enjoyed by fans around the world through both the lens of his own band, Semisonic, as well as through the voices of the countless artists he’s collaborated with and written for.”

Investors have recently been eager to acquire song rights, and artists have proven willing to sell. Those who have done so include Stevie Nicks and, in a deal that might have netted Wilson’s fellow Minnesotan $400 million, Bob Dylan. Selling your past songs doesn’t mean you don’t plan to carry on writing: Dylan’s deal, for example, simply doesn’t include any future compositions.

Why sell? Artists have been keeping their reasons to themselves, but the math is hard to refute: songwriting catalogs can pay dividends to investors for decades into the future, while any individual person can only live so long. A payday today can allow an artist to live more comfortably, fund new projects, or engage in philanthropy.

There’s also the matter of putting one’s affairs in order: as Forbes points out, when you sell your own catalog you can ensure it goes into the hands of an entity competent to manage it. Passing it on to your heirs ensures they’ll keep control (an important consideration to some artists), but also gives them a lot of work. In a worst-case scenario, of course, an untimely death with no provisions whatsoever can lead to the kind of prolonged wrangling that’s enveloped the Prince estate.

A catalog sale also amounts to a feather in one’s cap. Wilson’s catalog wouldn’t be selling — and making headlines across the music world for doing so — if it weren’t highly valuable, both financially and artistically. When Primary Wave made the right offer, Wilson decided it was “Closing Time.”