Sony Music has acquired the rights to most of Van Morrison’s album catalog. In addition to re-packaging and re-issuing some of Morrison’s albums, Sony will make many of the records available on streaming services for the first time.
But in this day and age, when physical CD sales are plummeting and even digital purchases of albums and songs are waning, what is the value of an artist’s catalogue — even one as prominent as Van Morrison?
Randall Roberts, a pop music writer for the Los Angeles Times, joined us on The Frame to talk about the effects this move will have on Morrison's visibility on streaming platforms, other artists who have held off Spotify's influence, and why Morrison might have finally decided to sell his catalog.
First of all, Sony acquired the rights to 33 albums directly from Van Morrison. Is it rare for an artist who is that prominent to be in control of his or her own catalog?
Definitely, especially a major label artist from that era when a lot of them signed contracts that weren't all that advantageous to them. However, at that time, Morrison had already established himself as a hit-maker, so when he was working his deals I assume that his high-priced legal team was smart enough to understand that he was going to want the rights to those songs.
We should note that the deal doesn't include the rights to two of Morrison's most popular albums, "Astral Weeks" and "Moon Dance," and those rights will remain with Warner Bros., which originally released those albums. While it's unknown how much Sony paid for the rest of Morrison's catalog, we have to imagine that everyone's going to make out okay here.
Oh yeah. He's definitely going to do okay. Long ago, he needed to make records, which is why he's been making records that haven't been selling all that well lately.
None of Morrison's albums are on Billboard's Catalog chart, which on a weekly basis tracks the 50 highest-selling albums that are older than 18 months, but he still has a lot of fans and a lot of people who will be willing to buy his music now that almost all of it will be online.
Definitely, and even more importantly than buying it is being able to listen to it on a whim via streaming platforms. All of a sudden, there will be massive playlists of the greatest Van Morrison songs that you haven't been able to hear before, and that will be part of a big rollout. That's one of the things that's going on right now in streaming services — these massive rollouts of catalogs and new playlists that parse different artists, genres and eras. So it's a perfect time to start working this.
"Brown Eyed Girl," one of the songs that Morrison's probably best known for, is available on Spotify where it has 24 million streams. But much of his catalog has not been available for streaming or online purchase. He's released more than 30 albums, yet fewer than a third of them are available on Spotify. So, why would an artist as popular as Morrison, who's turning 70 next week, want to do this right now?
[laughs] Well, he's notoriously grumpy and probably couldn't be bothered with whatever new technology he's been reading about for the last 15 or 20 years. But also I would imagine that his management wanted to see how all this shakes out and wanted to fully understand what they were fully getting into.
It should be said that a lot of the records that haven't been available for so long are easily found at used record stores, so it's not as though anybody desperately wanting to hear this music hasn't had the opportunity to.
Yeah, and Van Morrison's probably smart enough to know that a lot of artists don't get a lot of money out of streaming. Are there other prominent artists who are still not releasing their music to sites like Spotify and iTunes?
There's one band that you may have heard of. They're called The Beatles.
Is that the band that Paul McCartney had before Wings?
I believe so, yes. But don't quote me on that. [laughs] They're the big holdout, and it wouldn't surprise me if, down the line, that's the next huge announcement. Although who knows how or where it'll happen. We do know that Apple Music and The Beatles' record label, Apple Records, have been in conversations for the past decade negotiating the use of their name.
Clarification: The Beatles' albums are available for purchase at the iTunes store, but they are not on any streaming services.