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Post: What makes the Queen catalogue worth US$1.27 billion? – National



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After a pause when interest rates spiked, another act has decided to sell its catalogue of songs — and this sale is a doozy.

After a long period of negotiations, Sony Music Entertainment has agreed to take all of Queen’s songs off their hands for a cool £1 billion (US$1.27 billion or C$1.74 billion). The deal is expected to close in a few weeks.

That’s … a lot. No one has ever paid more for a song catalogue in the history of the known universe. The previous record holder, Bruce Springsteen’s sale of his music for US$500 million, seems like a bargain in comparison. Other big sales over the past couple of years include KISS, Bob Dylan, Sting, and Phil Collins (US$300 million each) and David Bowie (US$250 million). Even Sony’s purchase of half of the Michael Jackson catalogue (US$600 million) is dwarfed by this purchase.

The deal reported includes all Queen’s songs through 15 studio albums, 10 live albums, 16 compilations, 73 singles, 11 box sets and more. Sony also gets all related intellectual property such as logos, music videos, image and likeness rights, merch, publishing, and other parts of Queen’s empire. The only thing not covered is any revenue derived from live performances of the group’s current iteration which features original members Brian May and Roger Taylor.

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This deal took a long time to work out because of the byzantine rights agreements Queen had with two other labels, Disney Music Group (they acquired the North American rights about 20 years ago) and Universal (which administered things for the rest of the world on behalf of Disney).

Complicating matters was the existence of Queen Production Ltd., the company owned by each of the living band members and the estate of Freddie Mercury. That entity owned the group’s recordings outside Canada and the U.S. The lawyers’ billable hours for this deal must have been huge when it came to untangling everything. It will take until perhaps 2027 for all rights to completely revert to Sony.

But why did Sony agree to pay so much? To us (and I’m generalizing here), we knew that Queen was big but they didn’t feel big, you know? But if you’re outside of North America, you completely understand.

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Queen is one of the biggest global rock bands we’ve ever seen, selling somewhere beyond 300 million records. The group’s greatest hits album has sold over seven million copies in the U.K. alone, making it the country’s best-selling album of all time, eclipsing anything The Beatles released.

It’s estimated that Bohemian Rhapsody is played on the radio somewhere in the world at least once every hour. It is also the most-streamed song to come out of the 20th century, blowing past Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Sweet Child o’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses. It’s also the most-streamed rock song, period. If we look at just Spotify, Bohemian Rhapsody has been heard 2.5 billion times. The original YouTube video has been viewed 1.8 billion times. Not bad for a song that was almost rejected by their label when it was first presented to them in mid-1975. EMI brass hated the song, as did the critics.

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And that’s just one song.

Don’t Stop Me Now, never much of a hit in North America in its day but gigantic elsewhere, is closing in on two billion streams just on Spotify. The same with Another One Bites the Dust. And We Will Rock You is sitting at 1.3 billion streams — and that doesn’t count the countless times it’s played at sporting events around the planet. Just under 50 million people listen to Queen streams each month, which is more than The Beatles, who have just 32 million. Total listens of Queen songs? About 20 billion, four billion more than second place The Beatles.

There’s more, too. The use of Queen songs in movies and trailers. The We Will Rock You musical, which has had extended runs worldwide. Revenues from the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody are apparently included in the deal, too, a film with a box office gross of about US$1 billion so far. Not bad for a movie made for US$52 million.

There’s also no indication that Queen’s popularity is going to wane anytime soon. Some millennials and Gen Z have adopted Queen as their favourite heritage band. Perhaps only Fleetwood Mac comes close to having achieved iconic stature with those demos. These songs and associated properties are going to continue to generate revenue for years. That £1 billion price tag may yet to turn out to be cheap.

But why would Queen sell at all? Brian May is 76 and has had a few health problems over the last decade, including a heart attack in 2020. Drummer Roger Taylor is 74. Bassist John Deacon, now 72, retired after Freddie died. Best get all those future royalties now and pay a lower capital gains tax than continue to receive regular cheques and pay the higher income tax rate. And by sorting things out now, everyone can make some clear decisions about estate planning, philanthropy, activism, and investments.

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You know who else is happy about this? The U.K.’s badger population. Brian May has been all about protecting the country’s badgers for years. For the amount of money he’ll be getting from this deal, don’t be surprised to see a few badgers pulling up to Harrod’s in their Rolls-Royces in the near future.

And if there is an all-powerful deity that bestows karma on humanity, some of this money needs to go to Mike Myers. By the end of the 1980s, Queen had long passed their best-before date — at least in North America. But thanks to that one scene in Wayne’s World the song Bohemian Rhapsody re-entered pop culture in a major way.

The Wayne’s World scene led to a resurgence in Queen’s popularity in North America immediately following Freddie’s death on Nov.24, 1991.

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No Mike Myers, no £1 billion deal. That’s the way I see it, anyway.

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Lora Helmin

Lora Helmin

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