Bob Dylan sold his songbook for as much as $400 million. Stevie Nicks sold hers for $80 million. David Crosby is seeking a buyer for his songs, as well. Now, the national trend of songwriters cashing in on the value of their music has touched down in Maine, with the recent sale of the song catalog of Songwriter Hall of Fame member Bob Crewe to New York-based music company Reservoir.

Crewe, who co-wrote or co-produced more than 800 songs, including 1960s hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” for The Four Seasons, moved to Maine in 2010 and died in his Scarborough home in 2014. The sale price of his catalog wasn’t disclosed, but industry insiders say it’s worth millions of dollars – proceeds that will benefit the Falmouth-based Bob Crewe Foundation, which supports arts organizations in Maine and works to improve the lives of people in Maine’s LGBTQ communities.

Dan Crewe (left) and Bob Crewe.

“Forget the foundation, this sale is a benefit for Maine and the people of Maine,” said Dan Crewe, the songwriter’s younger brother, who has lived in Maine for 30 years and is the foundation’s president and board chairman.

The music business is experiencing unprecedented upheaval, brought on by an interruption in touring because of the pandemic and the ubiquitous nature of music streaming services. Those forces have driven up the value of songwriting copyrights, making songbooks extremely valuable and attractive to investors, who appreciate the steady and predictable income generated by “evergreen” artists with vast catalogs of popular songs that can be used in movies, TV shows, ads, video games and other outlets.

“This is the time for us to make a move,” Dan Crewe said. “For the last few years, this has been a reality with a lot of the old publishing catalogs, which have substantial value. The phenomenon of acquiring legends’ catalogs has been going on for quite a while, and it has gotten very aggressive lately.”

The Crewe Foundation, with about $11.6 million in assets according to Guidestar, distributes about $500,000 annually. The sale, which was announced this month, will enable the foundation to continue to donate money and support causes within its philanthropic mission, Crewe said. “The sale guarantees the Crewe Foundation will be, for years to come, a major player in the small-foundation world, and we will continue to do what we are able to do.”

Bob Crewe co-wrote and co-produced dozens of songs for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and also wrote songs for Ben E. King, Leslie Gore and Roberta Flack. Contemporary artists Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim and Pink topped the charts in 2001 with a remake of his song “Lady Marmalade” for the film “Moulin Rouge.” Crewe’s music is also the basis of the hit Broadway musical “Jersey Boys.”

In all, the Crewe catalog sale involved 840 songs, said Suzanne Arrabito, director of marketing for Reservoir, a music publisher that represents more than 130,000 copyrights. Its publishing catalog includes songs written and performed by John Denver, Hoagy Carmichael and Sheryl Crow, as well recent hits by Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and others. It also owns the rights to scores by composer Hans Zimmer, whose work includes “The Lion King,” the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series and more than 100 others.

The late Bob Crewe’s catalog of songs that he co-wrote for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was recently sold for an undisclosed price. Photo by David Stoltz

George Howard, a professor of music business and management at Berklee College of Music in Boston, said the catalog sales have been good financially for artists, publishers and investors alike. Artists get paid up front and no longer have to administer and maintain copyrights, an increasingly complex responsibility because of music streaming, and publishers and investors are all-but guaranteed to earn their money back over time. According to industry statistics, 80 percent of all revenue from recorded music in 2019 came from streaming services, an increase of 20 percent from the year before. Assuming that trend continues, song catalogs are a safe investment because they create what Howard called “predictable” revenue from streaming services, “and investors like safe and predictable,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of these big catalogs purchased because there is much less degree of risk.”

Howard described the royalties associated with valuable song catalogs as “the gift that keeps on giving.”

The Crewe Foundation worked with lawyers in Portland and Los Angeles to negotiate the deal. Ari Solotoff of Solotoff Law Group in Portland and Eric Custer, a partner in the L.A. firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said a catalog sale has been on the table for a few years and closed in 2020 because of the pace and value of other recent sales. “This the golden age of sales, for lack of a better term,” said Custer, who has represented Crewe since the 1970s. “It’s a good time to sell. Prices are up, and there is plenty of competition out there.”

While Custer was not authorized to talk about the sale price, he was willing to discuss how it was reached. Catalog sales are calculated based on multiples of what is known as the net publisher’s share, or NPS, which is based on the amount of money leftover after a publisher pays royalties. A decade ago, catalogs sold for six, seven or eight times a net publisher’s share. Some sales touched double-digits. Today, most catalogs sell for 16 to 18 times NPS, according to Billboard. The Dylan sale is believed to have eclipsed a multiple of 30, making it the largest and most valuable song catalog to date.

“For a while, the ceiling was a multiple of 20. It was never over 20. But with the recent activity, Dylan breached 30. Rising tides lift all boats,” Custer said, declining to be specific about the Crewe catalog sale, other than to say, “We got ours up there. We pushed it up as best we could and got a very strong multiple. We had competing offers and were able to maximize the value.”

At the same time, the market is full of private equity investors with available cash, Solotoff said. “New money, new value and evergreen songs that have consistent revenue history means new private interests looking for stable revenue steams to build their investment portfolios, the same way they invest in timber or mortgage-backed securities,” Solotoff said. “One could suggest that music copyrights, potentially, are more stable because there is such a history of listening to popular songs, and streaming makes that easier than ever. Whenever there is a demand for something, there is a price.”

Arrabito, Reservoir’s marketing director, also would not talk about the sale price. In a statement, Reservoir CEO Golnar Khosrowshahi said, “Not only are we honored to bring Bob Crewe’s timeless works into our catalog, but we are also so proud that this acquisition enables Dan Crewe to further his brother’s legacy and help bolster the Bob Crewe Foundation’s ongoing philanthropic efforts. As a family-owned business, Reservoir is incredibly proud to support this brotherly mission and ensure that Bob’s generous legacy lives on alongside his music.”

Reservoir, founded in 2007, is a top international music publisher. Music Business Worldwide, a music industry news and analysis website, has twice named Reservoir Publisher of the Year, and it won Independent Publisher of the Year honors in 2020 at Music Week Awards, hosted by the U.K.-based Music Week trade publication.

Crewe said the decision to sell to Reservoir was based on the company’s desire to be both aggressive with and respectful of his brother’s songs. In their negotiations, Crewe and his lawyers talked to other publishers who were interested in the value of the songs as assets, but not necessarily as works of art. Reservoir committed to enhancing Bob Crewe’s musical legacy, his brother said.

“We wanted to make the move with a company that we felt comfortable with and that really wanted to be a publisher and not just an acquirer. I look at them as people who honestly care about the music, the value of the music and the husbanding of the music. I wanted to make sure my brother’s legacy was somewhat ensured,” he said. “Reservoir is an activator. Unlike other holders of catalogs who are simply hoping for an increase in income that comes from what I call the media world, they look for ways they can expand the use of the material.”

That means the songs might show up more frequently in TV shows, movies, video games, advertisements and other outlets, and they also will be shopped to other performers and projects. “Over time, I think you will see our catalog being more activated. That is the goal,” Dan Crewe said.

Meantime, Crewe, his family and legal team will no longer have to deal with the burdensome task of maintaining and administering copyrights. That takes time, effort and expertise associated with an ever-changing technological world. Increasingly, it also requires a legal team. With the Crewe catalog, it simply reached the point where it was wiser to turn it over to an expert in the field, Dan Crewe said. “I don’t want the foundation to have the responsibility of music publishing. This is about looking out into the future,” said Crewe, 86.

The Crewe Foundation, which recently named Reid Crewe, Dan Crewe’s daughter, as vice president of administration, will focus its work on increasing access to and visibility of the arts. Its mission is to support various organizations that nurture and support students by funding fellowships, scholarships and mentoring programs in fine arts and music, including the video and gaming art programs at Maine College of Art. The foundation has pledged nearly $4 million to MECA to establish a music program that encourages students to explore the intersection of music and art. In addition to his work as a songwriter, Bob Crewe was an accomplished painter and designer, and a new book set for spring publication will explore his connections to art and music.

According to its 2018 tax returns, the most recent year available, the Crewe Foundation gave away $535,165 in grants ranging from $100 to GSLEN, a New York organization that supports LGBTQ students, to $232,563 to MECA. It regularly supports organizations like Planned Parenthood, Equality Maine and the University of Southern Maine School of Music.

Comments are not available on this story.