Shakira has become the latest artist to sell the rights to her music for a multi-million dollar sum. All 145 of her songs, including Hips Don’t Lie, Whenever, Wherever and She Wolf, are included in the deal. The songs have made her the best-selling female Latin artist of all time, with 80 million records sold worldwide. The deal was struck with the Hipgnosis Song Fund, which also recently acquired Blondie and Neil Young’s music.
Hipgnosis company did not disclose financial details of the sale, but it typically pays the equivalent of 15 years’ royalties up front. With tax relief, many walk away with “about 25 years worth of money in one fell swoop”, the company’s founder, Merck Mercuriadis, told the BBC last year. That provides the artists with immediate financial security, while Hipgnosis – which owns the songs in perpetuity – hopes to profit by building new revenue streams for the music via film and TV licensing, merchandise, cover versions and performance royalties.
Hipgnosis has been on a billion-dollar spending spree over the last few years, snapping up the rights to music by artists like Nile Rodgers, Blondie, Barry Manilow, Chrissie Hynde and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham.
Shakira’s hits came more recently than those “legacy” artists, but she is one of the most successful singer-songwriters of the last 25 years.
Since releasing her first album in 1991, at the age of 13, she has sold more than 80 million records, won three Grammy Awards and 12 Latin Grammy Awards.
Her first English-language album, Laundry Service, was bought by more than 13 million fans in 2001, while her hit singles include Whenever, Wherever, Underneath Your Clothes, Hips Don’t Lie and the 2010 Fifa World Cup song Waka Waka (This Time For Africa), which topped the charts in 15 countries.
The star’s most recent album, El Dorado, was certified diamond in the US. She is one of only three female artists to have two videos exceeding two billion views on YouTube. And her latest single, Girl Like Me, has spawned a viral dance craze on Tik Tok.
Last year, she starred in the Super Bowl half-time show alongside Jennifer Lopez, giving her song catalogue a further boost – and increasing its value to investors.
“She is a superb creator who has led the charge from what was massive physical success to now having bigger success in streaming than most of her contemporaries,” said Mercuriadis in a statement.
“This is the result of her being a determined force of nature and having written songs the world is incredibly passionate about.”
Why are all these artists selling their music?
Financial security is the obvious reason. Rather than gambling that their songs will continue earn royalties, for the next 25 years, singers like Shakira get a lump sum up-front.
Hipgnosis’s pitch to musicians is that they are not a traditional publisher, exploiting the rights of a composition, but a “song management company” that will ensure an artist’s legacy by careful stewardship of their music.
After buying a 50% take in Neil Young’s catalogue, for example, Mercuriadis promised that the singer’s classic track Heart of Gold would never be found on a burger commercial.
Hipgnosis is not the only company in the game. Earlier this week, investment company KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) bought the rights to 500 songs written by Ryan Tedder – including tracks like Ed Sheeran’s Happier, Camila Cabello’s Into It and the Jonas Brothers’ Sucker.
Bob Dylan recently handed his 600-song back catalogue to Universal Music, in a deal that was reported to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
And the US-based Primary Wave has been buying up the rights to music by Stevie Nicks, Leon Russell, Leo Sayer and soft-rock duo Air Supply.
For Shakira, another factor in selling up could be the €14.5m (£13m) tax bill she recently faced from Spanish government.
I thought artists wanted to own their songs?
Certainly, a lot of musicians have gone to war over the rights to their music.
Paul McCartney famously fell out with Michael Jackson after he bought the rights to the Beatles songs in the 1980s. Prince spent most of the 1990s battling record label Warner Bros over the ownership of his music – even writing the word “slave” on his face in protest.
And right now, Taylor Swift is busily re-recording all of her first six albums, after the master tapes (i.e. the original recordings) were sold to a private investment company against her will.
Someone like Swift is unlikely to sell her publishing rights (which cover the music and lyrics) but other artists will take a different view.
Sophisticated buyers work hand-in-hand with musicians, defining how their songs and recordings can (and cannot) be used. And some artists, like Neil Young, have only sold a portion of their rights – meaning they retain a degree of control.
Another potential benefit of selling is that, when an artist dies, their music won’t be tied up in ugly and lengthy family battles over who will manage their legacy.
So what does Shakira have to say about all of this?
In a statement, the Colombian said Hipgnosis would be a “great home” for her music, and waxed lyrical about her love of songwriting.
“Being a songwriter is an accomplishment that I consider equal to and perhaps even greater than being a singer and an artist, ” she said.
“At eight years old – long before I sang – I wrote to make sense of the world. Each song is a reflection of the person I was at the time that I wrote it, but once a song is out in the world, it belongs not only to me but to those who appreciate it as well.
“I’m humbled that songwriting has given me the privilege of communicating with others, of being a part of something bigger than myself.”
So now you know.