I never (publicly) criticize other people's perspectives. I never leave snarky comments on social media posts. I've never blasted, say, the writers of a long-running HBO series over its ending, much less joined the million or so people who signed a petition to redo the series with "competent writers."
That's not my thing.
Well, until now.
Bob Dylan just sold his entire song catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group in a deal estimated at over $300 million. (He's not alone; among other deals, Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx recently sold his publishing catalog, and Stevie Nicks recently sold a majority stake in hers.)
Great: We all have the right to sell what we own.
Plus, Dylan's timing is right. As streaming revenue has grown, so has the value of some songwriter's catalogs. A few years ago, an artist could realistically expect a sale price of somewhere between seven and 12 times annual royalties. (In small-business terms, think selling your company for, say, 10 times annual revenue.)
More recently, songwriter catalogs are selling for between 10 and 20 times annual revenue -- depending on the artist and the perceived catalog value, of course.
So: Good on ya, Bob.
Then I read an article that included the line, "Dylan's big pay day is a microcosm of the generational wealth gap, in which boomers have lucked out and millennials get screwed."
And this gem: Dylan is "hoarding wealth."
And this line: "Ultimately, artists like Dylan, who have had time to build their musical library, are the ones reaping the rewards, while younger artists are left competing with each other on platforms that are underselling them. It's no different than the overarching tale of the millennial being screwed out of building wealth the way that boomers have been able to."
Let's break that down.
Dylan wrote songs millions of people demonstrably still love. He wrote songs millions of people still stream. He wrote songs that have been covered by other artists hundreds of times.
That's not luck. That's talent.
As for "having the time to build" a musical library? Dylan devoted his life to his craft. He wrote and recorded over 600 songs. He spent a huge chunk of his life on the road. He collaborated with some of the leading musicians of his time.
For over 60 years, Dylan did the work. Is he lucky? Maybe -- but only in the way that effort and preparation and, most important, perseverance "creates" luck.
As for platforms that undersell younger artists? Maybe the algorithms do make it almost impossible for new artists to gain exposure. Maybe streaming revenue is unfair to younger, less popular artists. Maybe streaming revenue is unfair to all artists.
I'm not smart enough to know.
But I do know that, in large part, streaming services are a meritocracy. More streams equals larger payouts. More songs available to be streamed means more songs that can potentially be discovered and then streamed. Quality and quantity matters.
So, hey: Hate the game, but don't hate the players.
As for "hoarding wealth," it's hard to fault someone for wanting to benefit from the value they have created. Isn't that what we all try to do?
Plus, selling his copyrights is a savvy move, especially for someone in Dylan's personal and financial situation. Selling now, instead of leaving his assets in an estate to be distributed later to his heirs, isn't "hoarding."
It's smart. He can benefit now, and his heirs can benefit later.
While I'm not an accountant, Dylan should be subject to a one-time capital gains tax of 23.8 percent rather than 37 percent on annual income. He also may therefore avoid higher income and capital gains taxes proposed by some Democrats.
While I'm not an attorney, Dylan will be better able to plan asset tax strategies. Instead of trying to forecast the popularity -- and thus value -- of his catalog in years to come, he knows what is worth. He can create trusts and use other estate planning strategies to help his heirs minimize -- legally -- what could be a significant estate tax burden.
And, on a personal/parental level, he can avoid potential disputes between his heirs -- Dylan has six children -- over the ownership and administration of his catalog. (See: Franklin, Aretha.)
In short, Dylan got to decide what happened to his music -- and better gets to decide how, and how much of, his assets and wealth will eventually be distributed.
So did Dylan "luck out"? Only if working hard for 60 years to create music millions of people enjoy is luck.
Is Dylan "hoarding wealth"? Only if benefitting from hard work, and holding on to what you've earned, is hoarding.
Is Dylan "reaping the rewards"? Absolutely.
As well he should.
To quote Stephen A. Smith, "Those who are great get more than those who are not ... and if you think you have greatness inside of you, that's something you support."