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June 27, 2019
What Chris DeGarmo’s Sale of His Queensryche Publishing Means
By Brian Heaton
As reported yesterday, Chris DeGarmo has sold his share of the publishing rights to a number of Queensryche songs to Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Although DeGarmo hasn't publicly commented on the sale, some common business sense and speculation may provide some clarity as to what may have factored into his decision, and what it means regarding Queensryche.
Before we break down what the sale means, some basic music business details are necessary. Songwriters receive royalties (a percentage of the money earned based on sales of a song they wrote) on a quarterly basis. The amount is split if the song is co-written with other artists.
There are other factors in play (such as if the label is still owed money by the artist, mechanical vs. performance royalties, etc.), but generally speaking, and for the sake of brevity, let's just keep it simple. Each quarter, a songwriter gets a check/payment, along with details (depending on who is administrating the account) on how much each song earned.
Those royalties/payments come from many sources, including downloads, streams, radio play, CD sales, vinyl sales, etc. Before illegal downloading began, successful songwriters who had a few hits made a bundle, and that was basically how they made their living. Back then, if you had a big record, or if you wrote songs that appeared on big records (think Desmond Child, Diane Warren, etc.) those royalty checks were gigantic (again, assuming no other factors).
Established artists who wrote their own songs and had a bunch of hits in their prime years (such as Queensryche), have been receiving those royalty checks for all these years. But as the marketplace changed, and music sales plummeted, so did royalties to the artists, which led to the growth of touring that you see now. The way to make money now is about constant touring, not record sales.
Relating all that to DeGarmo, and stating the obvious, he hasn't toured with Queensryche in 22 years. He's made all his money from his work in Queensryche for the past two decades based strictly on his publishing. And over time, that publishing revenue (like most artists) has likely experienced a steady decline, except for some brief spikes when Queensryche made a bit of noise in 2006/2007 when Operation: Mindcrime II was released.
Remember that DeGarmo has the majority of the publishing shares on Queensryche's most successful and lucrative songs. He wrote or co-wrote the band's primary catalog. Look at the “Bestselling” Queensryche songs on Amazon.com. As of 6:30 p.m. Pacific on June 27, 2019, eight of the top-10 songs were songs written or co-written by DeGarmo. Four of the top-five were songs that he has sold his publishing rights to.
Now, given that data, the natural question would be: If that's all true, why would Chris sell his publishing if the songs are the top-selling Queensryche tracks? The answer is likely a combination of a few things, including the estimated future value of Chris' publishing, and ultimately, what he envisions for his future, both personally, and with Queensryche.
As mentioned above, publishing revenue has likely fallen like clockwork year after year for DeGarmo. He may get the largest amount of royalties in the band, but just because you get most of the pot doesn't mean anything if that pot is shrinking.
When Queensryche split with Geoff Tate in 2012, with Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, and Michael Wilton getting the legal rights to the band name, it was a significant turning point. Not just for the four remaining original members of the band and their careers in the music industry, but for DeGarmo as well. A lot of attention was paid to Queensryche at that time, which likely led to a small spike of people buying the Queensryche back catalog, and the resulting uptick in publishing for DeGarmo and the rest of his former bandmates.
The problem is, speaking from a business perspective, it doesn't appear Queensryche's profile will increase much going forward, given the band's activity since the split seven years ago. They've stayed fairly even as a club-level headline act, and I'd argue their earning potential has taken a further hit with Rockenfield (another original member) leaving, resulting in Queensryche now having only two original members (Jackson and Wilton).
In a nutshell, DeGarmo's publishing may see a bump here or there, but it is going to continue declining as Queensryche ages and ultimately, at some point in the future, ends.
Looking at the songs from Operation: Mindcrime and Empire that Chris wrote or co-wrote, it’s easy to see why he'd sell. Those tracks are his money-makers, and their value continues to go down. My guess is, at some point in the last two years, seeing the 30th anniversaries of each record on the horizon (where another spike in sales of those songs is likely), Sony/ATV reached out to him, and they negotiated a financial figure that provided DeGarmo a significant nest egg in return for the publishing to his most popular (and valuable) work. This gives DeGarmo financial stability and gives Sony/ATV a catalog of popular songs that will have a selling life expectancy (albeit at a lower value) in perpetuity. Both parties win.
This kind of transaction is common. As I mentioned yesterday, KK Downing from Judas Priest recently sold his publishing to Round Hill Music. Sony/ATV owns a portion of the Beatles' catalog. There are a ton of examples. It's all about finding that sweet spot that enables an artist to profit one last time and gives the purchaser a catalog of value. In this instance, I think it’s safe to say that DeGarmo “got out” at the right time, with Sony/ATV betting that in the long term (30+ years) that they'll recoup the purchase price and make a profit.
It’s worth noting that Chris didn’t sell ALL of his publishing. He still retains it on all other Queensryche records, and the non-Queensryche tunes he has written. Those tracks (the stuff on The Warning, Rage for Order, etc.) likely don’t generate enough revenue to really be a sound investment for another party. As a result, until they do, DeGarmo continues to hold on to them and receive quarterly royalties from the sale of all those other songs. DeGarmo celebrated his 56th birthday on June 14. He's been out of Queensryche (despite two attempts to reunite in 2002/2003 and 2007, respectively) for over two decades, and he’s been a airline pilot for a good chunk of that time. It makes total sense as he approaches his 60s, given that he works just like the rest of us, that he’ll be considering retirement in the next four or five years. The sale of his publishing is a smart liquidation that contributes to his overall portfolio.
Queensryche and Chris' Future
The business reasons for selling his publishing to the songs on Empire and Operation: Mindcrime are clear. What Chris’ publishing sale means for Queensryche, or his prospects of working with them again, is a bit murkier. In short, it could mean nothing, or it could be a clue as to what he thinks of Queensryche’s future potential.
Editor’s Note: I don’t know Chris at all. I met him a few times at fan club events in the 1990s, and it was great to meet, chat with, and take a couple of pictures with my favorite guitarist and songwriter. I’ll never forget it and treasure those memories. But even when I had a relationship with some of the Queensryche guys from 2011-2014, I never spoke with Chris. He was completely separated from Queensryche (other than the potential of the lawsuit going to trial and playing golf with Wilton occasionally). For a short time, Chris and I had a mutual friend outside of Queensryche, but our paths never crossed. So, the following is just me reading the tea leaves and speculating.
I wonder if the sale of Chris’ publishing is also a signal that in his mind, the ship has finally sailed on the original lineup of Queensryche ever reuniting. I wrote a couple of years ago that a reunion of the original band had a short window. The last viable time, in my opinion, was a 2020 reunion tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Empire.
With Chris selling his publishing to that record, however, it stands to reason that a reunion isn’t in the cards. It would make no sense to sell if the value might trend upward during a reunion. To do so would be foolish. The fact Chris sold the publishing now (or a year ago), prior to that 30th anniversary of Empire next year, may be an indicator that he’s fully moved on from Queensryche and any hope of getting back together.
In addition, I can’t help noticing the timing of DeGarmo’s sale, and Rockenfield’s departure from the band. They probably aren’t related, but I wonder if the continued splintering of Queensryche may have contributed to the decision-making process of Chris. Many people buy the “parental/personal leave” answer from the band regarding Rockenfield’s absence. That may have been the reason initially, but if anyone still believes that, I have a bridge to sell you…
Then again, you never know what the future holds. Business is business. Just like there’s no stopping KK Downing from rejoining Judas Priest (however unlikely that is) after he sold his publishing, there’s nothing preventing DeGarmo from ever doing anything with Queensryche or pursuing work in the music industry again. But from a financial standpoint, if he had any inkling to reunite with his original bandmates for a last album and tour, it would have made more sense to wait and sell his publishing near or at the end of that cycle.
Whatever the future holds for DeGarmo, he has always had a knack for seeing the writing on the wall and making wise decisions. The sale of his most valuable publishing shares of Queensryche songs is a sound move. Whether it is also indicative of his thoughts on Queensryche is another story. But given the thoughtful and classy way DeGarmo handles public interest in his music career, I don’t see it as a topic he’d be willing to address openly—nor should he.
Regardless, congratulations to Chris. Not many musicians of his era have the level of success he has had and been able to walk away and experience success in an entirely different career. The fact his music has both touched lives and afforded him the opportunity to provide for his family is a grand achievement that we all strive to attain.