On the Potential Commercialization of Bruce Springsteen

And here you have it:

NEW YORK – December 16, 2021 – Sony Music Group today announced it has acquired Bruce Springsteen’s entire recorded music and songwriting catalogs through separate agreements. The two agreements cover the recorded music and music publishing rights to all of Springsteen’s songs, including “Born to Run,” “Born In The USA” “Dancing in the Dark” “Glory Days,” “The River,” “Hungry Heart,” “Brilliant Disguise” and “I’m On Fire,” among many others. Sony Music Publishing partnered with Eldridge on the songwriting catalog purchase.

And the news release goes on from there, including a quote from Springsteen: “I am one artist who can truly say that when I signed with Columbia Records in 1972, I came to the right place. During the last 50 years, the men and women of Sony Music have treated me with the greatest respect as an artist and as a person. I’m thrilled that my legacy will continue to be cared for by the Company and people I know and trust.”

A few things.

First know that Springsteen is 72 years old, and according to the Social Security Administration, a 72-year-old has a life expectancy of 13.25 years.

It is reported that the purchase is on the order of $550 million. Presumably, that would be liable to the 37% federal tax rate, which would leave him with $346,500,000.

Serious walking around money.

The second thing is something that seems a bit, well, unlikely. Although Springsteen is quoted as saying “I’m thrilled that my legacy will continue to be cared for by the Company and people I know and trust” (I like the way Sony lawyers had the word company capitalized), there is that partnership with Eldridge.

Who?

Well, according to it:

“Headquartered in Greenwich, CT, with offices in New York, London, and Beverly Hills, Eldridge is dedicated to growing market opportunities into significant businesses. We are interested in providing businesses and management teams with capital and resources to help experienced leaders and their teams execute their strategic plans. We provide debt and equity capital along with perspective, relationships, and a network of supportive businesses with a shared commitment to growth.”

Note:

• “growing market opportunities into significant businesses”
• “a shared commitment to growth”

This is a hard-core company dedicated to making money, pure and simple or impure and hard. It doesn’t matter. This is not some sort of charitable institution that exists to house the Compleat Works of Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen in a hermetically sealed container full of argon gas.

They are going to leverage the Springsteen catalog to its utmost.

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“This watch costs more than your car. I made $970,000 in sales commissions last year. How much you make? You see, pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing. You’re a nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here? Close! You think I’m too hard on you? You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? If you can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don’t like it, leave.”–David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross

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The last time Springsteen and the E Street Band toured was 2016. So it isn’t an issue of COVID that kept them off stage. Arguably, he kept them off stage because in 2017 “Springsteen on Broadway” opened and had a 236-show run.

So odds are Springsteen and the group are not going to be going out on stage on a consistent basis going forward with that five-year hiatus underlining that proposition. And odds are that were they to go out, this would not be the sort of thing that has occurred in the past, including feats of remarkable physical prowess: Just one of those drop skids across the stage could result in a serious problem: According to a study presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, “The mean age for primary total hips has declined significantly from 66.3 years to 64.9 and knees from 68 years to 65.9.” He’s beyond the mean.

Earlier this year Springsteen appeared in a commercial for the first time in his career. The commercial, “The Middle,” which was broadcast during the Super Bowl, was sponsored by Jeep. Although Springsteen drives a Jeep during the commercial—a 1980 CJ-5—it is not a “Jeep” commercial, per se. The spot opens with Springsteen reciting, “There’s a chapel in Kansas,” and rolls through a script that essentially works to address the sociopolitical split that exists in the U.S. That chapel is in the middle of the country: we should all meet in that Middle. The final tag on the screen, overlaying a map, reads “To the ReUnited States of America.”

If only.

This commercial is in keeping other commercials that were the ideas of Oliver Francois, who is now the global chief marketing officer of Stellantis, the company that owns Jeep (and Dodge and Chrysler and Ram). When Francois was in Detroit, working at what was then FCA, he did something that was completely different in the realm of automotive advertising. Rather than showing shiny, sexy sheet metal with driving music as soundtrack (e.g., the 2002 Cadillac CTS Super Bowl commercial with Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”), Francois decided that he’d use the big stage of the Super Bowl to make a bigger statement, that would be associated with vehicles.

Such as the 2011 Eminem-starring “Imported from Detroit.” Then in 2014 Bob Dylan does a magnificent turn in commercial about the authenticity that is characteristic of America (pre-“The Middle,” that is). Dylan, at one point in the commercial, walks out of an old, cage-style elevator, looks directly at the camera and says, “Detroit made cars, and cars made America.”

While both the Eminem and Dylan spots were for the Chrysler 200, they far transcended the cars they were sponsored by.

Now Sony owns Springsteen’s catalog. Now Eldridge is working to increase the return on the investment.

Will the commercials that use Springsteen’s music be like the small films created by Francois and his colleagues? Probably not.

Will we cringe when we see detergent or chicken sandwiches or some unpronounceable pharmaceutical being promoted with Springsteen anthems in the background? Of course.

Did Springsteen “sell out”? No.

He did the work. And now he is taking the return on that investment.

He did the work.

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