Did you know that the Church of England is a co-owner of Beyoncé's Single Ladies, Rihanna's Umbrella and Justin Timberlake's SexyBack? It sounds bizarre - but the church is one of hundreds of investors in a company called Hipgnosis, which, for the past three years, has been hungrily snapping up the rights to thousands of hit songs.
So far, it has spent more than $1billion (about Sh108 billion) on music by Mark Ronson, Chic, Barry Manilow and Blondie. Its latest acquisition is the song catalogue of LA Reid, meaning it has a share in tracks like Boyz II Men's End of The Road, Whitney Houston's I'm Your Baby Tonight and Bobby Brown's Don't Be Cruel.
When those songs get played on the radio or placed in a film or TV show, Hipgnosis makes money. And so, by association, does the Church of England, along with other investors like Aviva, Investec and Axa. According to Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis, the music he's bought is "more valuable than gold or oil".
"These great, proven songs are very predictable and reliable in their income streams," he explains. "If you take a song like the Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams or Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer, you're talking three to four decades of reliable income." He says hit songs are a stable investment because their revenue isn't affected by fluctuations in the economy.
"If people are living their best lives, they're doing it to a soundtrack of songs," he explains. "But equally, if they're experiencing the sort of challenges we've experienced over the last six months, they're taking comfort and escaping in great songs. So music is always being consumed and it's always generating income."
In fact, with Spotify users increasing by a monthly average of 22 per cent between March and July, streaming royalties have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, Hipgnosis' share price has largely withstood the turmoil that has affected much of the business world. Mercuriadis, from Quebec, Canada, got into the music industry after calling the Toronto office of Virgin Records every day for months until they gave him a job in the marketing department, where he worked with acts like UB40, The Human League and XTC.
In 1986, he joined the Sanctuary Group, ultimately becoming its CEO, where he managed the careers of Elton John, Iron Maiden, Guns N' Roses, Destiny's Child and Beyoncé, as well as working on the relaunch of Morrissey's career in 2004. Kanye West recently called him one "of the most powerful and knowledgeable people in music".
"I've been very lucky to work with everyone I've ever wanted to work with," says Mercuriadis. He says the key to managing any successful artiste is to "fight hard for them" and "tell the truth", even when it's uncomfortable. "The thing that most people don't realise is that, if you have a career that's the length of Elton's, you're going to be the coolest artiste in the world seven times over. Equally, you're going to be the most uncool artiste seven times over. He admits he's been "fired for telling the truth" in the past - although he won't name names.