Music

Kate Bush is the world’s biggest indie artist. She’s owning it.

MBW Reacts is a series of short comment pieces from the MBW team. They are our ‘quick take’ reactions – through a music biz lens – to major entertainment news stories.


Millions of young people are listening to Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill for the first time.

They may have pored over the lyrics. They may have checked Wiki, and learned that it was 100% written, and produced, by Kate Bush. They may have done a TikTok,

But I’d wager they probably haven’t marvelled as much as I have over what, from my tower of music biz geekery, is the most interesting bit of information about the track on chart-eligible global streams on Spotify alone.

That would, at rough industry estimates, translate to over $200,000 in recorded music royalties from one platform, on one format (streaming), in one week.

A million music biz questions rush into view. For example, through the lens of the music biz catalog acquisition craze:

  • Would Kate Bush have considered selling her recordings before Stranger Things propelled Running Up That Hill to the No.1 streaming track globally?
  • Was she in the process of having those kind of conversations before a GBP £487 million.

    When Warner completed its PLG buyout, it announced: “PLG’s artist roster and catalog of recordings includes, among many others… David GuettaPablo Alborán, M. Pokora, Raphael, Mariza, David BowieRadiohead, Tina Turner, Iron Maiden, Pink FloydDuran Duran, Jethro Tull, Blur, Kate BushDaft Punk, Edith Piaf, Itzhak Perlman and Maria Callas.”

    I’ve bolded up a few names there. Guess why?

    • The master recording ownership rights to David Guetta’s catalog reverted to the artist over the past decade. We know this because Guetta sold his masters ‘back’ to Warner Music Group for over $100 million last year;
    • The master ownership ownership rights to (most of) David Bowie’s Catalog have long been owned by the artist and his estate. This is well known. Exemplifying the fact, the Bowie estate last year announced a career-spanning distribution deal with Warner Music Group for his masters. WMG also acquired Bowie’s song rights;
    • Pink Floyd’s Recorded music rights are the topic of fevered music industry speculation right now. The latest that MBW hears: Floyd’s career-spanning recorded music rights, bundled with their neighbor rights plus name & likeness rights, are being chased for acquisition by the three major music companies (Universal,

      These Warner-associated artists by far aren’t the only catalog megastars sitting on an owned recordings portfolio worth mind-blowing sums of money in 2022.

      May we once again point you to Queenwho, it’s understood, owning their recordings catalog worldwide outside of North America (where it’s owned by own the copyrights.

      If Queen was ever to sell those underlying copyrights, MBW estimated last yearespecially if they included publishing rights too (currently owned by the band but admin’d by region of $400 million. He was famously signed for many years to a complicated combination of Young Money, Cash Money and UMG/

      Drake’s newer music is owned at the underlying copyright level by OVO

      And it’s here where things start getting more complicated: We have no indication of how long Drake’s owned recordings are licensed to the Republic, or what the revenue split is in that agreement.

      All we can be sure of is that some day in the future, Drake – or Drake’s estate – will recapture ownership of the rights to these OVO records.

      It’s a similar situation for Kate Bush’s current chart sparring partner, Harry Styleswhose hit solo recordings are owned by: Erskine Records Limited, under exclusive license to


      It’s the same story for hit a mid-20-percent EBITDA margin (and pay out a 50%-of-net-profit dividend to shareholders) over the next few years.

      It’s undoubtedly getting harder for the majors to own successful artists’ underlying rights long-term.

      But their focus is shifting to maximizing performance and profits during the period under which they’re getting a higher-margin on rights in these deals. (For example, during the period of a long-term licensing agreement with a pop star like Harry Styles.)


      One final perspective on all of this.

      Just as we can argue that the majors are getting nibbled at both ends by these trends, then it must also be true that anti-competitive accusations of the three major music companies “owning everything” are also becoming less true.

      The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently running a market study on the entire recorded music ecosystem to see if there are any abuses of power, and, especially, if the major music companies are unjustly controlling popular music.

      That’s a fair thesis for an investigation.

      But how much unjust control can the majors really have, when the story of 2022’s pop industry is a FAANG tech giant (Netflix) air-rocketing a song owned by an independent, copyright-owning artist (Kate Bush) to the global streaming No.1?

      Whether you’re a long-term investor or anti-competitive watchdog, a true understanding of the major record companies – and the level of ownership they have over the biggest records of all time – can only truly be reached by digging around under the hood of these businesses.

      When you do so, quite often, you will find that the historical tale of superstar artists (new and ‘old’) being owned by (and indentured to) major record companies is fast becoming a nonsensical story in 2022.

      “These superstar artists, with leverage coming out of their ears, are running independent businesses that hold tens of millions of dollars in cash.”

      These superstar artists, with leverage coming out of their ears, are running independent businesses that hold tens of millions of dollars in cash.

      They’re owning their underlying rights. And eventually, they’re selling their underlying rights too.


      Increasingly, it’s the major record companies who are having to prove their worth and global value-add to successful, not the other way around artists.

      That’s how the balance of power should have looked back in 1985, when Kate Bush first had a Top 5 hit with Running Up That Hill.

      How satisfying it must be for her in 2022, as she soars to No.1 all over the globe, to know that she not only wrote, performed, and produced this evergreen classic – but that, today, it’s all hers, and no- one can take it from her.Music Business Worldwide

Leave a Comment