Besides consistently releasing some of the best music ever heard, David Bowie was a financial pioneer.
In 1997, the late British (deservedly self-proclaimed) rock god decided to sell off all his royalty rights to his first 25 albums, which had lapsed back into his control. But in typical Bowie style, he did it in a rather unusual way: by turning them into an asset-backed security, which was obviously christened a “Bowie bond.”
Rallied by firms Fahnestock & Co. in New York and Prudential Insurance, investors bought rights from the Thin White Duke for $55 million, and promised annual returns of 7.9% over 10 years to customers.
“He has some songs going back twenty-five years that are still selling today, and they will still be selling [in the future],” David Pullman, the managing director of Fahnestock who was ran the securitization, told the UPenn Gazette at the time. On the underlying strength of Bowie’s appeal, and investing group, the bond earned an Aaa rating from Moody’s—the first time it had ever rated a security backed by musical royalty rights.
But while Pullman was absolutely spot on that Bowie’s popularity would remain as strong as ever—perhaps it even increased—he underestimated the changing landscape of the music industry. Streaming destroyed the Bowie bond, and Moody’s downgraded it to Baa3, which is dangerously close to junk status. However, they were paid off in the end, according to Bloomberg.
It’s easy to see Bowie’s innovative sale of his music as just another innovation in a career of many, but his prescience is not to be underestimated. Until the Internet put a hole in the music industry’s hull, music monetization was always on a beautiful incline—a period which spanned the first 35 years of his career. The man sold at an all-time high that may never be seen again.