Elvis record company up for sale at $250m

Carlin Music’s copyright portfolio includes songs by Elvis, David Bowie and Dolly Parton

Carlin Music was founded by Freddy Bienstock, a wartime US immigrant from Vienna. Photograph: iStock

Carlin Music was founded by Freddy Bienstock, a wartime US immigrant from Vienna. Photograph: iStock


Carlin Music, the publishing company built up by Elvis Presley’s record picker, has been put up for sale with a $250 million (€235 million) price tag.

The publisher controls the copyrights to a vast array of vintage songs ranging from What A Wonderful World to Elvis Presley’s That’s Alright Mama to the soundtracks to Fiddler On the Roof and Cabaret. It also owns the rights to AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and counts Dolly Parton, David Bowie and Scott Walker as songwriters on its books.

The catalogue of more than 100,000 songs is one of the largest independent publishing assets available to buy. It has attracted trade buyers and financial investors looking for the predictable returns of older hits that are commonly played on radio, used in TV shows and covered by other artists. 

Sources familiar with the situation said that a variety of bidders had entered the sale process. Sony/ATV, Atlas Music and Concord Music are rumoured to be interested in a takeover of Carlin. All have invested in publishing assets in recent years but were not available to comment. Other potential buyers, including the acquisitive German company BMG, have opted against a bid, according to a source. Carlin Music declined to comment.

Wartime immigrant

Carlin Music was founded by Freddy Bienstock who emigrated from Vienna to New Jersey with his family at the start of the second World War. At the age of 14, he landed a job in the stockroom at Chappell and Co on Tin Pan Alley. He become a so-called song “plugger” before overcoming an initial aversion to rock’n’roll to work as a song picker for Elvis Presley. He hired songwriters to soundtrack all of the star’s movies and even levied an “Elvis tax” that lowered their royalties in order to work with the singer.

Mr Bienstock acquired Belinda Music, a British company established to represent American artists, in 1966 and renamed it after his daughter Caroline.

He developed a close relationship with the likes of Cliff Richard and The Kinks while bolstering the Carlin publishing business through a series of acquisitions. He ultimately took control of Chappell, where he had started as a teenager, before the business was sold to Time Warner. He maintained Carlin as an independent publisher and acquired rights to lucrative hits including the song Fever

Mr Bienstock died in 2009 and his wife Miriam, a co-founder of Atlantic Records, took control of the publisher until her death in 2015. His daughter and son Robert still run the business.  

Carlin is not the only large catalogue potentially up for grabs, with Canada’s Ole reported to be up for sale for about $800 million.

There has been a wave of consolidation in the music publishing sector as financial backers have scoured the market for lucrative copyrights that generate revenue when songs are used.

Deals have ranged from small family-owned assets to the $750 million that Sony paid the estate of Michael Jackson to buy out the Sony/ATV joint venture. 

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017