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Merck Mercuriadis’ vision is simple. He wants to disrupt the music publishing industry so completely that it ceases to exist in its current capacity. By turning the focus from song creation to song management, Mercuriadis and his team at Hipgnosis Songs Fund aim to frame music royalties as an asset class, not unlike gold or silver. They’re already a publicly traded company on the stock market in the U.K., and they’re eyeing Wall Street in the next 18 months. Merck Mercuriadis, who Kanye West calls one “of the most powerful and knowledgeable people in music,” wants Hipgnosis to get rich, but he also wants it for his artists, and for you, too. The difference, though, between music as an investable asset and anything else, is that songs are more stable, simply because music is the most predictable commodity available (according to Mercuariadis anyway).
Hipgnosis is, at its core, a test to see if songs can function as investments, similar to the way oil, gold, and publicly traded companies do. For instance, the song acquisition investment company recently purchased 50 percent of RZA’s catalog, which totals half the copyright interest of 814 songs. This includes 50 percent of both the writer’s share and the publisher’s share. And because RZA was a co-writer on so many Wu-Tang solo albums, Hipgnosis will also see money from the catalogs of artists like ODB, Raekwon, and GZA. The group has made other forays into the hip-hop world, including buying 100 percent of No I.D.’s catalog. This includes 100 percent of writing shares, so for Hipgnosis’ undisclosed and presumably large investment, they’ll now receive the income every time a song with a No I.D. credit appears in a film or on TV.
For those bristling at the capitalistic intrusion of art, Mercuriadis positions himself as the least offensive operator. He’s a manager of songs and artists, not prospective ideas. But many questions remain as the fund continues to turn heads with its exorbitant spending and Mercuriadis’ outsized personality. Can his group really change the way the industry deals with royalties? Will the risk of equating new hits with old classics hurt the Fund? And, most importantly, how will the US market respond when the U.K.-born company brings their hypothesis for a greater, more equitable industry stateside?