Inside the David Bowie catalogue and documentary with the icon's music publisher at Warner Chappell

Inside the David Bowie catalogue and documentary with the icon's music publisher at Warner Chappell

Next month is a big deal for David Bowie fans: Moonage Daydream, the first official film since his death in 2016, is at cinemas from September 16. With an initial run at IMAX screens, and a stellar soundtrack playing in Dolby Atmos or 12.0 IMAX audio, it’s set to be one of the most impactful rock documentaries of recent years.

It’s also a significant moment for his new music publisher, Warner Chappell, and Guy Moot, the executive who signed the deal with Bowie’s estate representatives at RZO. While no acquisition figure has been confirmed, it was reportedly worth more than $250 million. 

Speaking to Music Week for an extensive Moonage Daydream feature in our latest issue, Guy Moot, Warner Chappell’s CEO and co-chair, confirmed that the Bowie deal earlier this year was a full catalogue acquisition including the writer’s share of royalties. 

Just over six months on, big sync and commercial deals are already happening, and the documentary (co-produced by BMG’s film division) will be a landmark moment. Although there have been other films in recent years, such as Francis Whately’s series for the BBC, Moonage Daydream is the first film sanctioned by the estate since Bowie’s death, which meant that director Brett Morgen had complete access to the archive for the project.

A Moonage Daydream album companion release via Parlophone has today been confirmed for digital release on September 16. It features songs spanning Bowie’s career and includes previously unheard material, unique mixes created for the film and this release along with dialogue from Bowie himself. The first track to be released is Modern Live (Moonage Daydream Mix). The 2CD version of the album companion will follow on November 18, with a 3LP vinyl edition in 2023. 

To mark the upcoming release of Moonage Daydream, Warner Chappell’s Guy Moot opens up about the responsibility that comes with being the late icon’s music publisher, shares insights on the much-anticipated documentary, and reveals WMG’s vision for future film and digital projects…

Can you think back to a formative experience with the music of David Bowie?

“I think Bowie to me was just learning from my elder brothers. David Bowie was part of British culture and fashion. At that time it was predominant on radio, which was my formative friend at a very young age. But then, of course, Let's Dance came along and that video… When that came, for me that was the height of the MTV generation. That video completely reignited everything Bowie at that point as well.”

Some years later, how do you now feel about Bowie in a professional capacity? How do you rate him as a songwriter in the pantheon of greats?

“Well, you're talking to the man who co-runs the company who just spent a lot of money on the David Bowie catalogue. I think he's absolutely the gem of all gems. The thing is, you keep having to think about Bowie - the creativity, the interpretation of his music. That was the great thing about the man, he was always on the move, always wanting people to interpret his creativity in different ways. There is no one-size-fits-all [interpretation] for David Bowie. It’s culture, it’s fashion, it’s social [change], and, of course, incredible songs… but such a diversity of great songs as well.”

When we looked at David Bowie's catalogue, we felt it was really something that was timeless

Guy Moot

Do those classic songs have the ability to reach new audiences?

“A big part of us working with this catalogue, and feeling passionately in the way that we do, is always going to be about introducing new generations to his work. And when we looked at this catalogue, we felt it was really something that was timeless, that everybody could find an angle into because of this kind of creative catalyst that is David Bowie's work - musically, fashion-wise, culturally, and everything else. It's hard to compare it to other great catalogues, but we really felt this one in particular was timeless compared to some others that might age differently, or more geographically. It's a global phenomena.”

How are you starting to work with these rights, and what was the relationship prior to this deal?

“The relationship was actually on the record side, but there was a good relationship within Warner Music Group. We believe there's so much to come out of the catalogue because of all those creative angles into it. So there are other films, there’s obviously a very coordinated sync presence, there's what we'll do in terms of our digital deals. But overall, there's also a close working relationship with RZO, and a moral integrity to this catalogue, which we take very seriously. It's about actually valuing this catalogue and making sure we can get fair recompense.”

How do you balance the financial outlay with the job of  protecting the legacy? 

“Ultimately, we would never do something against RZO’s wishes or the estate of David Bowie. We had detailed conversations getting into this. I think you're going for a higher calibre of sync client, a higher calibre of film script. Value is not just in spreading it like peanut butter all over the place, value is actually in being very selective in how and when you get usages. At the same time, there's also a myriad of other opportunities out there as well in the digital space that will come along. There was one from Adobe, which came out of our Dutch office, that was a very immersive experience with a licensing fee behind it. So again, we look at the value not just in terms of how much, we look at the value of how does it connect to that next generation, how does this connect geographically to get a wider audience? So value is not just in the present, it is in the long term.”

Is there scope for working more on the second half of Bowie’s songwriting career? The syncs have tended to be earlier classics…

“Absolutely. There's a lot of songs, a lot of work. We call it Team Bowie; we have a lot of people who are very passionate about that second half of the catalogue. I think there is so much to come out of that as well.”

Who are some of the key people in Team Bowie?

“Well, Tom [Cyrana] and Bill [Zysblat] at RZO are key people for us. We run everything through them, they're a pleasure to work with. Internally, really there's too many to mention, but it's a real worldwide effort around global sync head Rich Robinson, but then talking to all of our teams around the world. Again, we've got to be globally coordinated. We saw the B&Q advert [featuring Sound & Vision] come out of the UK, there was a Paco Rabanne ad [for the Fame fragrance] out of France. I thought the B&Q one was a beautiful ad actually; it was classy. I was very impressed with the ad.”

The new documentary was already near completion before you signed the songwriting catalogue. How are you working with that project now?

“Well, obviously there will be a lot of extra interest [in Bowie] around the film. I had the pleasure of seeing the film, and I thought it was a great piece of work. It showed the different phases [and it helps] you to understand the creative mind - not that I think we'll ever completely understand how David Bowie’s creative mind worked. But, again, it’s the infinite possibilities of ideas, constantly being on the move, constantly stimulating himself to be more creative. I thought it was a fascinating film, I learned a lot from it myself. There are so many layers to peel off with David Bowie, all the different different characters, the different ideas, the geographical [element]. I mean, as someone who moved to LA, I love that there's a bit in the film [from 1975] where Bowie said, ‘So, I decided to move to somewhere that I hated the most.’ But it created something and he ended up loving it - I love that part of the film.”

How will this film help the catalogue now that you're representing it?

“It will help people understand the creative genius that he was, and the creative process (as much as you can). And the footage is incredible, just the hysteria. This documentary that was put together by BMG is a fantastic piece of work. I just think it's one small part of the journey. I can't give too much away, but we're constantly in discussion with people who want to interpret David Bowie’s works into film. It might not be a biopic or anything biographical, because I think there are infinite possibilities. I don't think David Bowie wanted anything particularly to be finite about his work, so that people could keep interpreting it and keep reimagining it. So it's one step in helping the understanding, but opening up an array of possibilities for the future.”

The film will help people understand the creative genius that he was... and the footage is incredible

Guy Moot

So a biopic is not something that's on the cards right now?

“I can't speak for the estate or for David Bowie, but no, I don't think it is - and I totally get it. His work wasn't finite, it would always go on, and to be honest with you I don't know how you could do it in one film. There are very many characters, I don't know how you put that in one film. So there are no plans for that; it's for people to reimagine his work and to make it infinite, not to give ‘this is the story’ back.” 

Were there any particular moments in the documentary where you thought the soundtrack worked particularly well with the footage?

“It's quite fast editing. Just all of it, I just love the footage. I think what stunned me was that I’ve never really experienced that sort of hysteria for David Bowie. And those performances, the footage they got was incredible - and the interviews. Also, the fans’ reaction, speaking to those people queuing outside was something where I’ve never looked at it from that perspective. And then, really, just him talking about his creative process, how he constantly challenged himself. It was to paint, it was to write, it was to travel, it was to put yourself in uncomfortable positions. The German year was pretty intense. So I can't really say there was one particular moment, the whole thing was fascinating to me.”

I'm guessing you never got to meet David Bowie, just because you weren't working at the companies he was involved with?

“Sadly, not. I know many people who did, including my good friend Alan Edwards [Bowie’s longtime publicist], who tells me a lot. But, of course, I would have loved to have met him. Sometimes, it's great just to have your idols on that mythical platform. I'm not saying it would have been anything but amazing to have met him. But in some way, it creates that mystique… But yeah, at the same time, I wish I’d met him!”

Warner Music is now representing Bowie for both publishing and recordings. How are you working with the Rhino label on catalogue campaigns?

“It’s great, we speak constantly to Kevin Gore and the team there, we run lots of ideas [past them]. We're also going to be very involved at the Warner Music Group level, where there are film ideas and potential film investments following on from this film. I can't say too much, but there are two or three things on the horizon that we are already looking to develop between records, publishing and Warner Music Group film investment. So there’s definitely a lot of work around that. We have weekly meetings about this internally at Chappell, monthly meetings with records [catalogue division Rhino/Warner Recorded Music], and constant meetings with Warner Music Group about potential film ideas, animation ideas. It’s film and properties for IP development, in coordination with our Warner Music Group corporate entity. So there are two or three projects on the go at the moment where we've been heavily involved in making it happen, and possibly we might invest going forward.”

We know Bowie was forward-thinking in terms of the internet and video games. Is there new media and technology where Bowie can work in the modern era?

“Absolutely, there’s the metaverse, there's animation projects. Again, the roles and the various stages of Bowie are just open to so much creative interpretation. There's a myriad of ideas that we're being approached about but, again, understanding that none of this is just a finite story. It has to be reimagined.”

How significant are the royalties for streaming and also vinyl, with Bowie leading sales on that physical format?

“He is the leader in vinyl, which is fantastic, and we're seeing a rise in that everywhere. It's just perfect for vinyl, the artwork, the imagery that goes with it. As a publisher, we've got the recent increase in the mechanical royalty rate in the US. So in terms of digital [revenue], we'll see. It's been set up a little differently prior to us. A lot of things would run through local societies, we tend to do our deals more directly and use processing partners. So we will see some gains in the digital world there as well, just from being more effective and centralising some of this.”

Finally, what do you think the future holds for Bowie and Warner Chappell - and is this a career-defining deal for you?

“I think you have to stay humble and honoured to represent this catalogue, and treat it with the integrity that it deserves, but realise that there is so much more to come out of it. I don't think there's any end; I don't think there's any finish line. This is an acquisition, we own it and that goes on and on and on. We didn't get into this not having a long-term plan with targets to hit and creative milestones. Once we've done three or four years, we'll continue to write and plan ideas to exercise in tandem with RZO. His creativity is an infinite responsibility really, isn’t it?”

Music Week subscribers can read our full David Bowie Moonage Daydream feature including Guy Moot, BMG’s Fred Casimir, director Brett Morgen, Outside Organisation founder Alan Edwards and Rhino’s in the latest issue - or click here

PHOTO: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Getty 

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