What does Bruce Springsteen’s new deal tell us about the Boomer generation?

IT’S not bad for a lifetime’s work, is it? You probably wouldn’t turn your nose up at $500million (the best part of £377m). So maybe it’s no big surprise that Bruce Springsteen has reportedly decided to sell his back catalogue of 20 studio albums and 300-odd songs to Sony Music.

That’s some $200m more than Bob Dylan got for his from Universal this time last year, after all. And poor Neil Young only picked up a mere $150m for his from UK investment fund Hipgnosis at the start of 2021.

It is a marker of two things, it seems. One, that legacy artists, as they’re known, are getting on a bit.

Dylan has entered his ninth decade. Springsteen is still a sprightly septuagenarian. But though they are both still making records and doing tours they are now well into their third age and, at some point, they will slow down. And so why not cash in when the going’s good?

Springsteen is said to have earned $15m last year. Not small beer. But the appeal of a possible $500m pay-out is not hard to fathom. (There are even savings on your tax bill, it seems. Something to do with capital gains tax.)

Read More: These music industry figures don’t add up

It also reminds us how valuable cultural capital is. Indeed, Goldman Sachs has predicted that music revenue will be worth somewhere in the region of $131 billion (just under £100bn in sterling).

I can imagine some (most) musicians raising an eyebrow at those figures given how difficult things have been in recent years as Covid and streaming services have given their incomes a kicking. But when you’ve written Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark you don’t have quite the same issues. And there is money to be made from leasing familiar songs to film and TV companies as well as advertisers eager to throw a little Springsteen-flavoured sparkle over their beer commercial. (Born In the USA is tailormade for it if you’re an American brewer.)

What it also shows us is that the Boomer generation is still a prime market. Nostalgia for our youth, as summed up in a song, is something that can be effectively monetised. And the fact that our kids know who the Beatles are too means these songs might, commercially speaking, have a long tail.

I do wonder, though. At some point songs written in the 1950s and 1960s will no longer be prompts to our lived pasts. They will, as time passes and their creators disappear, move into history. At what point do they begin to sound old, even irrelevant to listeners?

We do seem to be in a curious cultural moment, a kind of eternal now where much of the music of the 20th century still seems to resonate. Partly that’s because newness no longer comes with a rejection of what went before (the story of pop in the 1960s and 1970s certainly).

But that can change, can’t it? Companies like Sony Music and Hipgnosis are betting that if it does it won’t be for some time yet.


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