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David Crosby Keeps Promise And Sells Music

Updated: May 23, 2021

Late last year, sixties music icon David Crosby famously tweeted: “Streaming stole my record money!” Now it seems Crosby has cashed in what is left, with the announcement that he has sold his recorded music and publishing rights to the music executive Irving Azoff’s Iconic Artists Group.

The deal, for an undisclosed sum, apparently includes his entire catalogue, including his solo work, and also from his collaboration with the Byrds/ Crosby & Nash/ Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN) / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY).

Crosby, who turns 80 in August, is just the latest high-profile artist to join his 60’s contemporary Bob Dylan and sell off a music catalogue. Last December it was announced that Dylan had sold his song rights (including both publisher and writer’s share) to the Universal Music Group in a deal said to be worth somewhere between 300 and 400 million dollars.

At the time, Crosby was one of the first big names to react to the Dylan deal. On December 7, he tweeted “I am selling mine also… I can’t work …and streaming stole my record money.” He added: “I have a family and a mortgage and I have to take care of them so it’s my only option… I’m sure the others feel the same.”

In a press release after the Iconic Artists Group deal, he said something similar: “Given our current inability to work live, this deal is a blessing for me and my family and I do believe these are the best people to do it with.”

Azoff was equally effusive: “This is an incredible time to be involved with David and his tremendous catalogue of music. He’s truly one of music’s most prolific songwriters and artists and I’m honoured he has made Iconic the steward of his timeless musical legacy.”

And Olivier Chastan, the Group’s founder and CEO added: “David’s impact on music and culture is only equalled by the lasting power of his beautiful and sophisticated songs. From the gorgeous melodies of “Guinnevere “ and “Déjà vu” to the biting messages of “Wooden Ships” and “Almost Cut My Hair”, his music remains as innovative and relevant as it did when it was first created. I’m thrilled that David has chosen Iconic to be the custodian of his legacy.”

This is Azoff’s second big acquisition deal in as many weeks. In February, the Iconic Artists Group revealed it had taken a majority stake in the Beach Boys’ Intellectual property and brand, including both publishing rights and master recordings.

The Iconic Artists Group has now joined well-funded investment outfits – like Hipgnosis Songs Fund, Concord and Primary Wave – who are going head to head in the acquisition market with established music companies like Universal, Sony and Warner.

Though Crosby might not agree, the booming global streaming market has led financial analysts, like Goldman Sachs, to make glowing predictions about the value of music rights.

Many American artists, already suffering because the pandemic has suddenly reduced their income from live performances, are also worried about the financial implications of a change in the White House. If President Biden’s tax plans get approved by the US legislature, it will raise capital gains tax for composers whose songs attract a sale price-tag over one million dollars.

All these factors suddenly have many of the big names in music carefully examining all aspects of their recording and publishing rights.

Country great Dwight Yoakam is deeply embroiled in a legal dispute with the Warner Music Group (WMG) in a row which is seen as clearly related to artists wanting to shore up the value of their compositions in this quickly changing landscape of musical rights.

The dispute centres on Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act which rules that artists may be able to terminate a label’s rights to their music 35 years after the original release. At stake is Yoakam’s debut album, the much-acclaimed Guitars, Cadillacs Etc., Etc., which turns 35 this month. And it is now two years since the singer/songwriter-actor first informed Warner of his intention to regain the rights.

The 35-year threshold has been the subject of numerous lawsuits. Two other music companies, Sony and the Universal Music Group, are also facing multiple class-action brought by artists such as Joe Ely and John Waite

Yoakam’s dispute has got particularly messy, with WMG removing such songs as “Miner’s Prayer” and “Honkey Tonk Man” from some music subscription and download services.

These two songs were released as promotions ahead of the album release so their 35-year period has expired. Warner Music Group then could be seen to be removing the songs so they do not earn any further profit from them that may come into dispute from the lawsuit.

But the singer’s legal team allege the action is taken out of “spite.” By taking down some of the music, he cannot make royalties off those songs

“Having profited and benefited off Mr Yoakam for 35 years, (WMG) do not want their gravy train to end, and have therefore refused to acknowledge and accept Mr Yoakam’s valid Notice of Termination served properly under Section 203 of the United States Copyright of 1976 in blatant disregard of Mr Yoakam’s rights,” states the complaint, which also seeks more than one million dollars against WMG.

The complaint added: “Defendants, by refusing to return Mr. Yoakam’s works while simultaneously refusing to exploit those same works, are essentially holding Mr. Yoakam’s copyrights hostage and paralyzing Mr. Yoakam from financially benefitting from his statutory right to terminate the transfer of his copyrights.”

WMG has stayed silent on the dispute. And interestingly, despite the allegations that certain of Dwight songs are missing from streaming playlists, Spotify, one of the biggest in the streaming business, has left the full rundown of Guitars, Cadillacs Etc., Etc. on its site.

Paul Cutler

Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation


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