Phil Spector’s estate is poised to oversee music assets likely worth tens of millions of dollars following his death on Jan. 16, according to Billboard calculations.
Those assets include his songwriting credits on 186 songs, per the BMI song database; ownership of the Philles Records catalog of 12 albums, including A Christmas Gift For You and releases by The Ronettes and The Crystals; and production royalties for tracks produced for artists where he didn’t own the masters, like for Ike & Tina Turner, The Ramones and The Beatles.
Spector’s publishing catalog is chock full of iconic songs whose royalty flow is amplified by the thousands of cover versions of those tracks over the years. For example, a song like “Then He Kissed Me” and “Chapel of Love” each at near 600 times; “To Know Him Is To Love Him” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” each at nearly 900 covers; “Da Doo Ron Ron” almost 1,300 covers; “Baby, I Love You,” nearly 500 covers; “River Deep Mountain High,” nearly 800 cover versions; “Spanish Harlem,” more than 1,800 covers; and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” with more than 1,000 covers, according to the Mechanical Licensing Collective’s new database. (Note: the MLC catalog is young, so the actual totals could increase.)
Take “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and its 1,059 covers: In 2020 for 60 versions that include recordings by Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Barry Manilow, Cilla Black, Elvis Presley, Hall & Oates, and, of course, the Spector-produced Righteous Brothers original from 1964. Those versions collectively generated nearly 23,000 track downloads, around 19 million audio-on demand streams, more than 4 million streams, 14 million programmed streams and just over 8,000 radio spins, generating an estimated $85,000 in global publishing royalties, according to Billboard’s calculations. But like most of Spector’s songwriting, he wrote that in collaboration with others — Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann in this case — and he was only entitled to a third of the royalties. Currently 26.67% is owned by his Mother Bertha Music publishing company, which is administered by Sony/ATV, while ABKCO (which at one time issued the Philles catalog) owns 6.66% of the song and the remainder 66.67% going to the Barry and Greenwich shares. Consequently, Spector’s share earned, a roughly $23,000 payday for that one song last year.
Based on that math and looking at the number of cover versions of Spector’s songs, his total catalog would earn upwards of $1 million annually in mechanical and performance royalties. On top of that, considering the iconic nature of some of his songs, Billboard estimates — conservatively — another $500,000 in synch revenue each year, placing the overall catalog revenue at $1.5 million. Averaging a typical three-way songwriting split across the catalog, then that would deliver $500,000 a year to the Spector estate.
To calculate the total catalog’s value, now we consider publishing multiples. When Bob Dylan’s was sold to Universal Music Group Publishing — in what is believed to have been the highest price ever paid for a single songwriter catalog — he benefited from being the sole songwriter on most of the songs with singular power to approve or deny synchronization requests. Spector’s catalog needs more than one sign off, which might discount the pricing when potential synch revenue is factored into the pricing model. But with so many iconic songs, we can safely apply a 20 times multiple to Spector’s $500,000 annual publishing income. That comes out to $10 million for Spector’s publishing catalog value.
Spector’s master recordings catalog includes all the Philles Records releases, which combined moved about 200,000 album consumption units in 2012, with The Ronettes comprising the bulk of that with about 125,000 units, according to MRC Data. Spector’s master recordings issued under his own name — mainly compilation albums that are composed of songs from the Philles catalog and from his producer roles — aren’t huge movers but do respectable business generating about 22,000 album consumption units last year.
Billboard calculates that the combined compilation albums issued under Spector’s name and the Philles Records catalog generated 14,000 in album sales, 72,000 track downloads, 238 million audio-on demand streams, 25 million video streams and 88 million programmed streams in the U.S. last year. Using blended wholesale prices for the various formats and doubling revenue to include activity in the rest of the globe, Spector-related recorded masters would have generated about $3 million globally last year. Add $500,000 to that for recording synch revenue and Billboard estimates $3.5 million total annual revenue for the Spector-owned master recordings.
Depending on when Spector’s current licensing deal runs out with Sony Music Entertainment — he previously licensed his catalog to EMI Music Publishing, now owned by Sony Corp., which cut a deal for the albums to be re-issued by Sony Music Entertainment’s Legacy division — if the estate was to sell the catalog it might trade at discount due to the European copyrights and some Philles early releases might be in the pubic domain, which mean that their EU copyright would only last another 10 or so years. (In 2011, the European Union passed a new Copyright Directive extending the copyright on master recordings from 50 to 70 years but if a record fell into the public domain before the directive was adapted, the directive didn’t reinstate copyright. With iconic revenue masters now trading at about a 13-times multiple of annual income, the Spector catalog might get a 10-times multiple — totaling $35 million for the recordings.
Combining Spector’s publishing catalog value ($10 million) with his recording catalog ($35 million), Billboard estimates his total catalog value at $45 million.
Note: This calculation does not include any production royalties; and image and likeness valuation seems unlikely.