The Pagemeister Posted June 19, 2008 Share Posted June 19, 2008 Stairway Surprise by Miriam Datskovsky July 2008 Issue A back-of-the-napkin analysis of the lifetime worth of the most requested rock tune in history. In the big, bad game of rock and roll, “Stairway to Heaven” is undeniably a winner. Released by Led Zeppelin in 1971, the eight-minute song is considered a musical masterpiece and is one of the most-played rock tunes of all time. Proving its longevity, “Stairway” hit the U.K. charts again last fall and was a top download in the U.S., after Zeppelin’s first downloadable album launched on iTunes. But because the band is notoriously protective of its work, “Stairway” hasn’t met its full moneymaking potential. While other artists have made big bucks by licensing songs to Hollywood and Madison Avenue—think of Bob Dylan’s “Love Sick” in that Victoria’s Secret commercial—Zeppelin has shunned most opportunities. We consulted executives in the music, advertising, and entertainment industries to come up with some numbers, real and potential, for the value of “Stairway." PUBLISHING ROYALTIES Zeppelin hasn’t licensed “Stairway” for movies or commercials. But songwriters Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and Warner/Chappell, the song’s publisher, make money off royalties from record sales, radio plays, and live performances. Zeppelin has played “Stairway” at every gig since 1971, yielding about $150,000 in royalties. Everyone from Frank Zappa to the London Philharmonic has also performed it, and let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of proms, weddings, and bar mitzvahs where it’s been played. (D.J.’s and venues pay a small annual fee for the right to play it.) Estimated gain: $400,000. Royalties from album and DVD sales total about $8.6 million. Plus “Stairway” has been played on the radio an estimated 2,985,000 times (equal to more than 45 years of uninterrupted airtime), netting nearly $2 million. It’s also thought to be the bestselling piece of sheet music in rock history, with royalties of $1 million. ESTIMATED TOTAL: $12 million THE MASTER RECORDING In 1972, Zeppelin and its label, Atlantic Records, sparred over the band’s refusal to release “Stairway” as a single. But as a result, the public had to buy the album, known as Led Zeppelin IV, to get the song, snapping it up as if it were a single. All told, “Stairway” has appeared on four Zeppelin albums, sales of which have earned Atlantic and the band $500 million, including $56 million for last year’s downloadable album, Mothership. Sales of 2 million DVDs featuring live performances of “Stairway” have brought the band and the distributor, Warner Bros., $48 million. Last fall, Zeppelin, surprisingly, signed a deal believed to be worth $2 million with Verizon Wireless that made ringtones, alert tones, and full-song downloads of "Stairway" available. The band, publisher, and label will share a 10 percent royalty on every download. ESTIMATED TOTAL: $550 million POTENTIAL EARNINGS Does the Verizon deal signal a change of heart? In 2002, Zeppelin licensed a hit for the first time: “Rock and Roll,” for a Cadillac campaign. If the band licensed “Stairway,” advertising experts say it could net as much as $8 million for just one campaign—and a lot more if Zeppelin does other deals. (Licensing songs for use in TV and movies brings in much less: about $80,000 for one deal.) Royalties from the song’s use on sites like YouTube offer a new potential earnings stream: A YouTube search for “Stairway” brought 11,000 results. But if Zeppelin wants to cash in, it should move before nostalgic baby boomers get too old. “If the target market is 45-plus, the song is extremely valuable,” says Izzy DeBellis, executive creative director at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners. “It’s associated with every last dance you ever had. Prom—it was the makeout song. If you were still dancing slow at the end of the song, you were in.” Estimated total: $10 million or more THE BOTTOM LINE Nearly 37 years after the release of “Stairway,” there seems to be no end to its revenue stream. But Zeppelin could up the total if it wants to go commercial. VALUE OF "STAIRWAY" EARNINGS: $562 million VALUE OF POTENTIAL LICENSING DEALS: $10 million and up TOTAL VALUE OF "STAIRWAY": $572 million or more Sources: Todd Brabec, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; Led Zeppelin: The Complete Guide to Their Music, by Dave Lewis; Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems and SoundScan; Recording Industry Association of America; Danny Strick, president, Sony/ATV Music Publishing; Alan Wallis, executive director of valuation and business modeling, Ernst & Young. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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