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David Bowie’s finance innovation: Music-backed ‘Bowie bonds’

Album cover to David Bowie's "Heroes", released by

Album cover to David Bowie's "Heroes", released by RCA Records in 1977. Credit: RCA

The man behind “The Man Who Sold the World” was the first recording artist to go to Wall Street to tap the future earnings of his music, paving the way for a thriving market for esoteric securities backed by everything from racehorse stud rights to commercial washing machines.

David Bowie, who died Sunday of cancer at age 69, sold $55 million worth of bonds in 1997 that were tied to future royalties from hits including “Ziggy Stardust,” “Space Oddity” and “Changes.” Following his example were singers James Brown and Rod Stewart and the heavy-metal band Iron Maiden. Securities backed by royalties allow artists to raise money without selling the rights to their work or waiting years for payments to trickle in.

“Bowie’s bonds were as groundbreaking as his music,” said Rob Ford, a London-based money manager at TwentyFour Asset Management, which oversees $7.7 billion. “Not only were they followed by a number of other artists, but they set the template for deals backed by a whole range of assets.”

The so-called Bowie bonds were sold privately to Prudential Insurance Co. of America. The securities were initially rated A3 rating by Moody’s Investors Service, the seventh-highest investment-grade rank.

In the 2000s, Internet piracy led to a drop in sales and Moody’s cut the rating in 2004 to Baa3, one level above junk. The decline in worldwide recorded-music revenues slowed in 2014 as more people subscribed to streaming online services.

The Bowie bonds were paid off after 10 years, said Moody’s spokesman Thomas Lemmon.

“David was extremely savvy and got things instantly,” David Pullman, the Los Angeles banker who arranged the Bowie bonds securitization, said in a phone interview Monday.

The market for securitizing intellectual property, which Bowie started, now includes film rights, pharmaceutical patents, restaurant franchises and the “Peanuts” comic strip.

Still, Bowie “changed the way people think about art and commerce,” Pullman said.

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