The Beatles have officially declared they will release their entire back catalogue through streaming services beginning at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve tonight.
In an announcement on their official website, the entire Beatles’ catalogue will begin streaming on all major streaming services. Their long and sordid battle with music publishing ownership has been well documented, and this is a very exciting new chapter.
The strange business debacles of The Beatles officially began in 1962 when Decca Records declined to offer a record deal after an audition by the best live band in England stating, “Guitar groups are on the way out.” The band then soon struck a deal with EMI’s Parlophone label and they were off to the races.
In 1963, on the precipice of full-blown Beatlemania, John Lennon and Paul McCartney alongside music publisher Dick James and Beatles manager Brian Epstein formed Northern Songs as a limited company that would publish the Lennon and McCartney songwriting. It went public in 1965 so they could save on capital gains tax. Epstein suddenly died from an accidental barbiturate overdose in 1967 and though the lads tried to renegotiate their deal with James, he sold his shares in Northern Songs to Britain’s Associated Television (ATV) without informing any of the Beatles or their record label Apple Corps./Apple Records. Litigation ensued for many years but The Beatles’ catalogue became so obscenely expensive and exclusive no one was able to purchase it from ATV.
After the tragic death of John Lennon in 1980, McCartney and Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, attempted to team up to buy out the shares together and regain the Beatles catalogue. Paul did not want to try on his own as he felt it would appear he was being “grabby” for “owning John Lennon’s bit of the songs.” Paul and Yoko were unable to reconcile well enough to agree on the deal and it eventually fell through once again.
McCartney explained these woes to Michael Jackson in 1982 and how he became far more business savvy through losing his songs’ publishing. McCartney went on to acquire catalogues from everyone including Buddy Holly to mainstream Broadway hits. In 1985 Michael Jackson took Paul’s advice and infamously bought ATV Music Publishing including the Beatles’ star-studded catalogue for $47.5 million. Michael Jackson agreed to merge ATV with Sony Music for £59 million making Sony/ATV Music Publishing the largest music publishing company in the world with Jackson as owner of half of the company.
Beatles’ songs remained conspicuously absent from digital platforms until 2010. Apple Records’ long term chief executive Neil Aspinall retired in 2006 and was replaced by former Sony/BMG Executive Vice President Jeff Jones who came to the company with a plan to broker a deal to mend a long-lasting dispute with EMI over Beatles’ royalties and work on a rerelease of their entire back catalogue on all platforms including iTunes by November 1, 2010 where they sold 450,000 albums and 2 million singles in the first week.
The paradigm of modern music listening has significantly changed in the last several years. The streaming wars are in full effect now that there are actual competing services with Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal as the front runners. These Big 3 have been taking the lion’s share of music listeners from purchasing and downloading individual songs on iTunes towards paying monthly subscriptions to listen to their libraries as much as they want. This year, Warner Brothers CEO Stephen Cooper announced, “Streaming continues on a trajectory to become our largest revenue source” as digital streaming exceeded download revenue for the first time. Powerhouse artists like Adele, Joanna Newsom, Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, and Taylor Swift have been vocal about their frustrations with Spotify’s royalty payment methods for artists and held out against the services. However, as the 1%, they are so successful they do not need the streaming services’ help to distribute their music, particularly evidenced with Adele’s record smashing sales of her latest album 25.
The Beatles have opted out of every streaming platform thus far but that’s all going to change tonight. The Beatles’ catalogue has previously had two fashionably late shifts in music distribution: the first was from cassette to CD in 1987 even though audio CD’s came out as early as 1981; the second was the aforementioned move to digital mp3’s via the iTunes store in 2010 despite iTunes beginning to sell songs in 2003. The Beatles’ catalogue is the most coveted and best-selling in the history of recorded music and their decision to finally move to streaming platforms is a huge indicator of standard music listening in the present age.