When you listen to your favorite music on Spotify or YouTube, it’s not just music streaming sites that are making money or even musicians. Large financial institutions like Blackstone and BlackRock are investing in song catalogs of famous artists, from Neil Young and Pink Floyd to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more.
With music streaming sites like Spotify rising in popularity, the market for music royalties has grown. Any time a song is played on a streaming service, the owner of the copyright of that song earns a few pennies. And while it’s not much per song, for large hits it can quickly add up. Neil Diamond, for example, made an estimated $300,000 to $500,000 per year just from his hit song “Sweet Caroline” before he sold the rights to Universal Music Group.
Music is a big business and some investors are betting on this alternative asset class. But how does investing in music royalties actually work? And does it make sense to add them to your investment portfolio?
The Short Version
- A Music royalty is when the owner is paid when a song is played, streamed, downloaded, or performed.
- Investors are increasingly buying music royalties as they provide a steady stream of cash and are not correlated with the stock market.
- However, investing in music royalties can be tricky and requires a lot of knowledge, research, and cash.
What are Music Royalties?
When you blast your favorite song on the radio, the owner of that song gets a few cents, otherwise known as music royalties. A music royalty is what the owner is paid for the right to use that music. That includes streaming services, ads, use in films, radio, and even physical items like CDs.
There are different types of music royalties which depend on the type of copyright. For example, there is the composition copyright, which covers the written song. Then there is the sound recording, which is what people hear. One song might have multiple songwriters, which means they all get royalties from the song.
Depending on the use of the composition or recording, there are different royalties. Sales and streaming result in a royalty any time the song is sold or streamed, while a song being played in public results in a public performance royalty. And licensing for placement in commercials, shows, and videogame also produces its own royalties.
Why Investors Are Turning to Music
While it can be tough to make it in the music world, a hit song can make the owner hundreds of thousands of dollars or more a year. While a song might only be popular for a few years, the increased use of streaming platforms means that there is a bit more stability and there’s a greater potential for an older song to keep making money for longer (although most songs peak after five years).
According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) 65% of global music in 2021 came from streaming services, or roughly $16.9 billion. If you look at the below graph from IFPI Global Music Report, you’ll see that the share of revenue by streaming has risen steadily since 2012, slowly overtaking the sale of physical album sales.
This stability is perhaps one reason why financial giants like BlackRock are investing in song portfolios. As music streaming increases, some classic hits have the potential for recurring revenue. Another reason for the increased interest by investors? The music industry is not correlated to the stock market and has little correlation to the overall state of the economy.
How to Invest in Music Royalties
If you want to start investing in music royalties, there are generally three main ways to do so:
Buy Shares of Record Labels and Publishers
One way to invest in royalties is to get exposure to companies that make their money from royalties, like record labels and publishers. It can be difficult to get direct exposure though, as companies like Sony and Universal are large conglomerates with exposure to other entertainment sectors but there are some labels that are going public, such as Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group.
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Invest in Music Royalty Funds
There are a few music royalty funds that are open to investors. For example, Hipgnosis Songs Fund and Mills Music Trust are two publicly traded funds that own song royalties and distribute dividends to shareholders. There are other private music royalty funds, like Shamrock Capital, but these funds are generally geared towards intuitional and high-net-worth investors.
Purchase Music Rights
You can also purchase the rights to songs directly and get royalties as a result. Song rights are sold on the private market. You can search for songs on online marketplaces like Royalty Exchange where you can purchase the rights to songs, movies, and trademarks. SongVest is another marketplace that lets you invest in fractional shares of songs, similar to how other platforms are making it easier for investors to buy fractional shares of stocks.
Things to Consider When Investing in Music Royalties
Before you go out and start buying up the records of your favorite artist, there are a few things you should keep in mind. There’s a bit of risk with any investment and investing in music royalties is no different.
First, not all songs will last. Meaning, if you buy the royalties of a song that is a hit for one year, it could just as easily fade from memory a year later. Take Rebecca Black’s hit song Friday. It was a massive hit when it was released in 2011, but today is considered a YouTube fad of the 2000s.
There’s also the potential that you could overpay for music royalties and not earn the amount you expected. A song’s value is likely to decline over time unless it’s a very big hit like Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You (which according to The Economist earns Carey about $2.5 million per year).
The amount of money made from royalties can also vary depending on how popular the artist is. It’s possible that an unknown artist can get traction if their song is used in a Netflix show or commercial.
For example, Kat Bush’s 37-year-old song Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) regained popularity after being featured in Stranger Things season 4, earning Bush an estimated $2.3 million. But that type of phenomenon is a bit unpredictable.
The other thing to consider is what type of music royalties you are investing in. As we mentioned earlier, there are different types of royalties and copyrights. Make sure you’re buying the one that you want, as different royalties for the same song may result in different revenue streams.
Is Investing in Music Royalties a Good Idea?
With music revenue forecast to jump to $131 billion by 2030, it’s no wonder investors are quickly spilling into the music scene. Because music royalties have predictable cash flow and have no correlation to the stock market, they can be appealing to investors.
However, investing in music royalties can also be a bit complicated. Like any type of investment, it comes with a bit of risk. You need to do a lot of research beforehand to get a sense of what will and won’t do well. And as a retail investor, it can be pricey to buy royalties.
Buying the royalties of your favorite childhood song might sound fun but it might not be the best to invest solely on your personal music taste. If you’re a big music fan and are interested in investing in music royalites, make sure you do enough research to make sure it makes sense for your investment portfolio. For the rest of us, it might make more sense to keep our music talents for the shower.