Financial Oddity: The Rise and Fall of Bowie Bonds

The Thin White Duke's innovations went beyond music, fashion and film...

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Still from David Bowie, Lazarus / Youtube

As tributes roll in from around the world lamenting the passing of David Bowie at 69, a spotlight has also been thrown on his 1997 "Bowie Bonds" financial venture.

Bowie Bonds were not actually bonds, technically they were, "a privately-placed securitisation of music royalties future receivables." The financial product offered a return of 7.9% on future income from his iconic back catalogue.

This allowed Bowie to get the money upfront while forfeiting royalties for the next ten years.

This came during an era when financial assets across the board were being bundled into products like this - the securitisation of the US mortgage industry was one of the root causes of the 00's financial crisis.

"Whatever he was doing it did work," Dave fanning told The Pat Kenny Show reflecting on the financial escapade, Bowie made £35m when the package was snapped up by Prudential Insurance Inc.

It is believed that Bowie used this money to buy songs that he had written from a former manager - allowing him to own and control all of his back catalogue, which is a rare position for a musician to be in.

287 Bowie recordings were included in the package and every penny earned by those recordings from record sales, live performances, broadcast royalties and film licencing went into this fund to pay investors.

By 2004 the 'bonds' were rated as one level above junk as the record industry struggled to adapt to the post-Napster world and labels rapidly lost control of their musical properties as piracy increased and CD sales fell.

In 1997, Wall Street was flush with cash, and the record industry was entering the last leg of the CD boom and artists were still shifting millions of CDs at high prices - at the time new releases sold for £15 in Ireland.

At the risk of giving the English musician too much credit, this New York Times interview from 2002 suggests that he was acutely aware which way the wind was blowing in the industry:

"The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it.

"I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.

"Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again."

As his most popular song on Spotify (Under Pressure) closes in on 66 million streams with each play generating a tiny fraction of a cent for the copy write holder, it's fair to that his predictions were on the money.