Neil Young has sold half of the rights to his song catalogue to Hipgnosis, in the same week the publishing house has acquired catalogues by former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsay Buckingham and super-producer Jimmy Iovine.
The deal comprises Young’s entire song catalogue of 1,180 compositions, with Hipgnosis taking on 50% of the worldwide copyright and income from the catalogue in exchange for an undisclosed cash sum that will certainly run into nine figures.
Hipgnosis Songs Fund was founded in 2018 by Merck Mercuriadis, who has previously managed artists including Elton John, Guns N’ Roses and Beyoncé. In December, after floating the company on the London Stock Exchange in 2018, he announced the company’s market value had reached £1.25bn. In the first six months of 2020, the company generated £50m in revenue, twice the amount for the same period in 2019.
Part of that growing Hipgnosis income is from use of its song catalogue in film and television, as well as advertising. Young is famously resistant to his music being used on adverts, singing in 1988 on This Note’s for You: “Ain’t singing for Pepsi / Ain’t singing for Coke / I don’t sing for nobody / Makes me look like a joke.”
Mercuriadis acknowledged Young’s stance, saying: “We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs. There will never be a ‘Burger of Gold’ but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms.”
“Burger of Gold” is a reference to a 1973 Neil Young concert, where he revealed he’d been asked by an unnamed company to use hit song Heart of Gold on an advert, and joked he would have had to rename the song Burger of Gold if he’d agreed.
Mercuriadis said he had been a Young fan since the age of seven when he bought the album Harvest. He referred to his albums as “part of who I am, they’re in many ways responsible for who I’ve become and they’re most certainly in my DNA”.
Earlier this week, Hipgnosis also acquired 100% of Lindsay Buckingham’s 161-song catalogue, including hits he wrote for Fleetwood Mac such as Go Your Own Way, plus 50% of any as-yet unreleased songs. Mercuriadis hailed him as “one of the greatest guitarists, songwriters and producers of all time yet is still so underrated”.
He also acquired the worldwide producer royalties from 259 songs by Jimmy Iovine, who produced artists including Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Patti Smith before founding the Beats Electronics technology firm that was bought out by Apple for $3bn in 2014. Iovine said his work had found “the right home”, and that he would use the proceeds to fund the building of a high school in Los Angeles.
Hipgnosis started out buying the catalogues of star songwriters and producers such as Timbaland, The-Dream, TMS and Rodney Jerkins, before acquiring artist catalogues including Mark Ronson, Barry Manilow, Steve Winwood and Blondie.
Stars selling their catalogues has become a major music industry trend in recent years, including Buckingham’s former bandmate Stevie Nicks, who sold 80% of her song publishing rights to a rival publishing house, Primary Wave, in December.
Later that month came the most eye-catching deal of all: Bob Dylan selling his entire catalogue to Universal Music Group for a sum believed to be over $300m (£225m). Universal called it “the most significant music publishing agreement this century and one of the most important of all time”.