Celebrity net worth: David Bowie's music catalogue attracts bids of $200m

In our fortnightly celebrity investment and wealth round-up, Ed Sheeran tops the UK’s richest under 30 list and Dia Mirza invests in a sustainable toy brand

David Bowie performs on stage during a concert in Norway in 2002. The late musician's estate is reported to be in advanced negotiations to sell his music catalogue for up to $200 million. EPA
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David Bowie

Hot on the heels of Tina Turner’s $50 million extensive rights deal with music publisher BMG come a slew of million-dollar music catalogue sales – but posthumous this time. In dollar terms, the list is headed by David Bowie, whose legendary songwriting collection has “attracted bids of around $200m”, according to the Financial Times.

The British singer-songwriter’s estate is reported to be in advanced negotiations and an agreement could be announced before the end of the year. The deal is thought to encompass Bowie’s entire 54-year career, spanning decades of albums such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Spiders from Mars, Heroes and Blackstar, his 25th and final collection of songs that was released two days before his death on January 10, 2016.

In September, Bowie’s estate agreed a long-term licensing deal with Warner Music for parts of his recorded music catalogue, Variety reported. The company already owned a significant portion of the singer’s recorded music following a 2012 deal with London-based Parlophone Label Group and has reissued several tracks since.

There are two copyrights on a song: one for the recorded music and another for the lyrics.

Bowie, whose real name is David Robert Jones, had a net worth of about $100m at the time of his death, according to court documents. He reportedly left half of his estate to his wife, the model Iman, and the rest was largely split between his two children from two marriages, Alexandria Zahra Jones, now 21, and Duncan “Zowie Bowie” Jones, 50. It’s unclear who inherited the Space Oddity singer’s songwriting catalogue.

Bowie also capitalised on his catalogue himself, selling asset-backed securities in 1997. Dubbed Bowie bonds, they awarded investors a share in his future royalties for 10 years. The move allowed the singer to buy out his former manager, Tony DeFries.

David Bowie dies after cancer battle - video

David Bowie dies after cancer battle - video

The past year has seen musicians such as Madonna, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, David Guetta and Bob Dylan sell their catalogues for nine-figure amounts to music labels, publishing companies, private equity groups and specialist funds.

But the estates of long-departed musicians have also joined what is being called a gold rush for music copyright. Bing Crosby’s heirs have sold their stakes in his estate to Primary Wave Music for a sum in excess of $50m. This includes thousands of recordings by Crosby and other artists, many never-before-released.

The music publisher will work to increase Crosby’s digital footprint for a generation unfamiliar with his work. “People associate dad with Christmas, but in the 40s and 50s, they didn’t associate him with Christmas. They associated dad with tonnes of things and that’s what I want to bring back,” Crosby’s son, Harry, told AP.

In July, Primary Wave acquired 42 per cent of Prince’s estate, which is still in probate five years after his death. In October, the company paid a reported $40m to purchase Luther Vandross’ publishing, master recording income stream, and name and likeness rights from his estate. Primary Wave also owns substantial interests in the song catalogues of Whitney Houston, Ray Charles and Bob Marley.

Catalogue music – defined as anything over 18 months old before being purchased – now accounts for 66.4 per cent of listening sales in the US from January to June this year, according to analytics provider MRC Data.

Ed Sheeran

Hot on the heels of his new album = (Equals), Ed Sheeran has been declared the UK’s wealthiest young celebrity for a third consecutive year. The British singer-songwriter’s net worth is now estimated at £236.5m ($321.9m), according to Heat magazine’s new Rich List, an annual compilation of the UK and Ireland’s richest stars aged 30 years and under.

Sheeran, who turns 31 in February, has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, putting him in the same league as Kanye West, Justin Bieber, U2 and Aerosmith.

Although he has five top-selling albums to his credit, tours and endorsements also contribute to Sheeran’s fortune. His two-year ÷ (Divide) Tour took in $776.2m from 8.9 million tickets between 2017 and 2019, Billboard data shows. The Shape of You singer has also endorsed an assortment of brands, from music accessories manufacturer Dunlop to Heinz Ketchup, who he reached out to on Instagram.

Earlier this year, Sheeran reportedly signed a $1m agreement to become the face of video-sharing platform TikTok.

His popularity has also seen fraudsters try to con unsuspecting victims out of money in an online investment scam using fake news articles last year, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre said.

Popular financial advice holds that you should have banked the equivalent of your annual salary by the age of 30, but Sheeran’s fortune puts him well ahead of that benchmark. His annual take-home pay, as estimated by Forbes, averages approximately $64m.

In January, Sheeran reportedly paid more than £28m in taxes after a lucrative 2020, including £3.8m on a £10m dividend from his music sales company.

Former One Direction member Harry Styles, 27, was ranked second on Heat’s list with an overall net worth estimated at £80m, followed by Little Mix (£66.7m) and Niall Horan (£57.5m). Model and actor Cara Delevingne, with an estimated net worth of £52m, rounds out the top five.

Bruce Springsteen

The music catalogue juggernaut continues to roll on, with rock singer Bruce Springsteen now also in talks to sell the rights to his recorded music and publishing catalogue in two separate deals to Sony Music, Variety said this week.

The deals would leave Springsteen significantly richer. The Born to Run singer’s combined album and song catalogues are estimated to be worth between $330m and $415m, according to Billboard.

Springsteen has worldwide record sales in excess of $150m and a vast song catalogue that generates hundreds, if not thousands, of cover versions every year. Billboard estimates the Springsteen album catalogue generated about $15m in revenue in 2020, while his publishing catalogue brings in about $7.5m per year.

While he has been signed to Sony subsidiary Columbia since the 1970s, Springsteen later acquired the rights to his music as part of a contract renegotiation. The singer also owns the rights to and sells dozens of live archive recordings on his website, bypassing record labels completely.

Separately, he has raked in more than $840m in touring dollars between 2010 and 2019, according to Pollstar – just one decade of a nearly 60-year career.

Springsteen’s net worth is estimated at $500m.

Owen Wilson

Actor Owen Wilson has participated in a Series A round of funding in Abbot’s Butcher, a premium plant-based meat producer. Fellow actor Woody Harrelson and his businesswoman wife Laura also joined the round, along with existing investors Unovis and SOSV.

The size of the funding round was not made public. The capital raise will be used to fuel food service growth, expand retail distribution and support new product development, the company said.

Founded in 2017 by animal rights advocate Kerry Song, Abbot’s Butcher specialises in products crafted from pea protein, vegetables, herbs, spices, extra virgin olive oil and vinegars. The brand is available in more than 800 retail and food service locations across the US.

As a mum, I am constantly looking for products that ensure safety, are environmentally conscious, free from plastic and are made from a mother’s perspective
Dia Mirza, Bollywood actor

Wilson is estimated to have a fortune worth $70m, with his investments mostly comprising a lucrative real-estate portfolio. Harrelson, who has been vegan for more than 30 years, is thought to have a net worth of $68m. His wife Laura has assets worth $4m.

Both actors also invested in Australian graphics design platform Canva in 2015. The Sydney-based company has raised a total of $572.6m in over 16 funding rounds, according to Crunchbase.

Dia Mirza

Bollywood actor Dia Mirza has partnered with wooden toy brand Shumee as a strategic investor and brand ambassador.

The company was founded in 2016 to fill a need for handcrafted, artisanal toys made using wood, cotton and other child-safe natural materials. It says it has sold more than 200,000 toys in six countries, principally through online channels.

“As a mum, I am constantly looking for products that ensure safety, are environmentally conscious, free from plastic and are made from a mother’s perspective,” Mirza said.

She described her investment as a priceless opportunity to expand her understanding of life, of herself and the world.

“As a mother, you become deeply attuned to not just your child but the well-being of the planet, other children and all forms of life. I am thrilled to endorse a brand that is doing some great and category-defining work in this space.”

The actor has a net worth of $3m, according to Indian media estimates.

Updated: November 07, 2021, 5:00 AM