Blackwell, Marley, Island Records & US Fifty Million Dollars Later

It was only two days ago I was discussing the legacy of famed reggae artist Bob Marley and the fortune that has been made after his death, when I came across news of a US$50-million deal signed last Saturday by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, with Primary Wave Music Publishing, a boutique New York music company.

According to The Straights Times, under the deal, Primary Wave will control 80 per cent of Mr Blackwell’s share of two catalogues: Marley’s songs and Blue Mountain Music, which was set up in 1962 and has reggae hits by Toots & The Maytals and rock classics by Free and Marianne Faithful. Which means that we can look out to hear more Bob Marley songs included in Hollywood blockbusters or corporate commercials.

#RELATED: Reggae Spider! Australian Marine Spider Named After Bob Marley

Forbes Magazine estimates that the Marley brand earned US$23 million (S$30.4 million) for the Marley family last year, partly from the sale of family-branded products such as speakers and coffee. The Marleys, currently handles most aspects of his estate while Mr. Blackwell controls the rights to the music publishing catalogue, including classic reggae songs such as One Love, One Heart composed in 1965.

Marley’s songs have been streamed more than 1.7 billion times in the United States alone (Nielsen) and his fame permeates deep into emerging markets such as Africa and India, which makes this deal a lucrative one for Primary Wave Music Publishing, the living Marleys and Mr. Blackwell.

There isn’t a crevice of the world where Bob Marley isn’t a god -Larry Mestel, Founder Primary Wave

In 2014 the late reggae superstar’s family teamed up with a private equity firm to launch “Marley Natural”, a Cannabis company that will offer “heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains” inspired by those Marley enjoyed.

My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herb. He viewed the herb as something spiritual that could awaken our well-being, deepen our reflection, connect us to nature and liberate our creativity. -Cedella Marley

The company is expected to ship the unique strain to states where the drug has been legalized. According to the Guardian, the marijuana deal could potentially put Marley in the top spot, now occupied by Michael Jackson of the highest paid dead celebrity if the industry does take off.

So close to three decades since his death, the ability of Bob Marley to generate wealth is increasing with the passing of time for someone who had little interest in money or world possessions while he was alive.

In 2011 Billboard magazine estimated that the trade in pirated Marley music and merchandise was worth $600m a year mainly because the star died without leaving a will which leads to litigation over who has ownership of his recordings, publishing and other assets.

These are expected to continue as the value of his brand increases, more so now in light of this new deal signed by Mr. Blackwell and Primary Wave.

About Primary Wave

Primary Wave has a relatively small catalogue of about 12,000 songs – its roster includes Smokey Robinson and Def Leppard – that it promotes heavily through commercial tie-ins, movies and television shows. The company has carved out a lucrative niche in music publishing by focusing on aggressive branding and marketing campaigns.

They have about US$400 million to invest in music on behalf of its investors, a group that includes BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager. In a competitive market, Primary Wave’s main pitch to songwriters is that it can find new ways to market old material.

Story originally published by The Straights Times: Cashing in on Bob Marley’s music legacy.  


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