Recently, Universal Music announced one of the biggest deals in music history: they have paid an estimated $300 million dollars for complete ownership and control of Bob Dylan's recorded back catalog. This feels like a watershed moment. If the 60s weren't yet dead when Dylan first allowed a song of his to be used in advertising, in 1994, this feels like the final nail in its coffin.
It's hard to overstate Dylan's impact on western music, and on generations of musicians and music-lovers over the years. He grew up in the classic rock n' roll era, but was dissatisfied with how shallow pop songs of the day were. This led him to move towards the more grounded realism of folk music, the genre he will forever be associated with.
He quickly rose to fame in the 1960s, especially after the release of his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. He became one of the most prominent voices of the counterculture and anti-war protest movement. His work inspired more musicians than could be named, across a huge range of genres - everyone from Johnny Cash to The Beatles took inspiration from Dylan.
While he faded from the spotlight somewhat as the 60s counterculture era moved into the rearview mirror, he never went away. He continued to record, and even experienced a significant revival in interest in the early 2000s. His poetic ruminations on the nature of war and human inequity seemed just as relevant in the post-9/11 world as it did during the Vietnam War. In 2016, he was even awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature for his lifelong contributions to western art.
Dylan is still with us, and still recording and performing. Interestingly, the deal for his back catalog does not include any future works.
So what makes the Bob Dylan back catalog worth $300 million? His music itself still continues to resonate, being played, and being covered. The latter may be the real draw for Universal. Dylan is without a doubt one of the most-covered artists in western music. Universal now gets royalties not just for every play of a Dylan recording, but for all of the thousands of covers that are in circulation as well. That will undoubtedly pay off for them, in the long run.
For fans of 60s counterculture, it may hurt a bit knowing that Dylan's catalog is now in corporate hands for perpetuity. However, at least it guarantees that his music will remain heard for generations to come.