No matter what you think about his behavior and politics, Kanye West is a musical machine. As of this writing, he’s sold more than 160 million albums, scored 69 Top 40 and 20 Top 10 hits, and earned 24 Grammy Awards. He’s also collaborated with some of the biggest names in rap — and music in general, such as his “FourFiveSeconds” collab with Rihanna and Paul McCartney. Put it all together and it’s an impressive catalog of work.
And West might be looking to sell it.
Billboard reported West and his team are possibly testing the market for his musical catalog, which Sony Music Publishing currently administers. And, in typical Kanye fashion, he’s looking for a big return: a 35x multiple on his publishing earnings. So just how much money could that be?
Per Billboard, West’s catalog generates about $13.25 million in publishing royalties annually. Multiply that by 35 and you get $463.75 million. But it’s not quite that simple. Remember how we talked about West collaborating with other musicians? Those people have to get paid, too. Additional songwriters, performers, and creators of sampled songs featured on West’s tracks all receive a piece of the pie.
Factoring that complexity in, Billboard estimates a more modest breakdown for West. He earns about 35% of songwriting royalties from his first four albums — The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, and 808s & Heartbreak — and 20% on everything that’s come since, from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy onwards.
That leaves West with about $5 million per year in publishing royalties. A 35x multiple would mean $175 million if the catalog sells successfully. But again, it’s not that simple. Even the biggest pop superstars haven’t managed to snag a return of 35 times their earnings. Bob Dylan sold his catalog to UMG for 28 to 29 times his royalties. Hipgnosis Songs Capital bought Justin Timberlake’s catalog for 28-times gross profit, at most.
West’s catalog is also still in its prime, and a buyer could be worried about the potential earnings decay in his songs. It happens with just about every artist — when their song first hits radio airwaves, it gets played ad nauseum. But as time goes on, the radio rotations become less frequent. Some of Kanye’s songs that have been massive hits over the past decade will never return to radio in the coming years, which would lower the annual returns.
Any buyers would also have to reconcile with West being one of the most unpredictable musicians out there. He’s already run for President of the United States, crashed an awards ceremony, and changed his name. It’s not farfetched to think something else could happen that hinders future earnings, even if only temporarily.
Representatives for West have denied shopping his catalog around. But with the recent trend of musicians forgoing regular payments in the future for a big payday now, a sale of Kanye’s music wouldn’t be surprising. Certainly no more surprising than some of the other things he’s done.