Dylan cut a $300 million deal for the publishing of his catalog, which includes songs that his company published on behalf of the Band. While that could potentially mean songs could be approved for use in ways Robertson wouldn’t like, he said that aspect of the music industry is in the past for artists like him.
“They have the publishing on the songs from Music From Big Pink,” he told Rolling Stone in a new interview. “But it comes back to the Band in a couple of years. So it wasn’t like Bob was able to sell my music. It reverts back. He sold everything of his. He couldn’t sell everything of mine. … My whole catalog is with Universal. So I haven’t for a second thought, ‘Oh, my God, what are these people doing to me?’ or ‘Where has it gone?’ I’m part of that family. So it wasn’t upsetting at all. And I’m happy for Bob.”
He said he understood why Dylan made the deal, after “seeing when some people pass away, like Prince or Tom Petty, and then the families are stuck with a mess, and everybody hates one another and all of that shit. … It’s not a bad idea to get this shit sorted out while you’re still around. It’s a different time now. All of us — we’re in a completely different stage of all these things. At one time, rule number one was you never sell your publishing. You never sell your songwriting. You never sell your record royalties. And that’s changed.”
One of the biggest changes, Robertson said, is that because less people are buying recorded music, royalty income is far lower, meaning that publishing rights have become a more significant part of legacy artists’ incomes. He admitted that he once tried to buy the rights from Dylan, who owned them via Dwarf Music, but there were “complications” as a result of “things that were going on” in Dylan’s life at the time.
“Bob has always been great,” he noted. “Any time anything came up, the phone would ring immediately. … So, like I said, it’s not anything that keeps me awake at night at all.”