Jackson thrillers still to come
By RYAN NAKASHIMA and LINDA DEUTSCH
Associated Press Writers
The record-breaking deal in which Michael Jackson's estate will get up to $250 million in the next seven years probably isn't a huge gamble for Sony Music Entertainment, which will pay the money out.
Before he died last June at age 50, Jackson, a prolific songwriter, left dozens of unreleased recordings that are sure to be in high demand. Those include studio sessions from some of his best albums and songs recently recorded with the likes of Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am.
Under a deal officially announced Tuesday, Sony has guaranteed Jackson's estate $200 million for 10 projects over the next seven years. One of them, a movie and album called "This Is It," was already completed. If certain conditions are met, the payment could rise to $250 million.
Since Jackson's death, estate co-administrator John McClain, a childhood friend and Jackson producer, has combed through boxes of tapes and recordings Jackson left behind. McClain and the other co-administrator, John Branca, who cut the Sony deal, each stand to make 5 percent on every new dollar of revenue brought into the estate.
McClain found about 60 songs, in various forms, that have never been released, according to people familiar with the songs, who spoke on condition of anonymity because what will be done with the material remains in flux.
Even if only half of the songs are commercially viable, that's enough for two or three albums. And some songs could also be packaged with already-heard material. That might even add to an album's value, because fans have been flocking to known commodities in music. For example, 14 remastered albums from The Beatles catalog sold 13 million copies worldwide in the four months after their released last September. Bob Seger's "Greatest Hits," which came out in 1994, is the best-selling catalog album of the last decade, with 9 million sold to date.
Jackson's own two-disc set that accompanied the concert rehearsal footage in "This Is It" has sold 5 million copies, and it had only one new song — the title song, which Jackson wrote with Paul Anka around the time the "Thriller" album was becoming a smash hit.
With the album selling for $10 to $14, the revenue generated from sales is already well beyond the tens of millions of dollars in per-project guarantees Sony is promising.
"He always said his children would never have anything to worry about because he had volumes of songs to release," said Raymone Bain, who began representing Jackson during his child molestation trial in 2005, in an interview Tuesday.
Bain, who is suing the estate for fees, said Jackson told her he had "thousands of recordings" that he wanted to aim at a youthful audience, and spent nights during the trial writing new tunes as therapy.
"He wanted to prove to a new demographic group that he was still a major player in the industry," she said. "That's why he added Akon and Fergie and will.i.am to the 25th anniversary recording of 'Thriller.'"
Meanwhile, his older fan base is still around, and more accustomed to buying whole albums than are younger fans familiar with free song-swapping online.
Tommy Mottola, former chairman and CEO of Sony Music, said last summer that Jackson's posthumous releases could outsell even those from Elvis Presley, whose voice has sold around 300 compilation albums since his death in 1977.