It may have been a lousy year for record sales, but 1991 has been the best year ever for record deals. Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, and Mötley Crüe have all won contracts that guarantee them more than $30 million — and in the case of Michael Jackson the figure is closer to $50 million. Now, as 1991 rocks into 1992, the mother of all mega-deals seems about to be announced. This one involves that certifiably material girl, Madonna, and just about every form of mass entertainment — records, movies, television, books, video — known to humankind. The rumored price tag for the package is $100 million, although music-industry experts believe the actual guaranteed money, not including royalties and perks, may be considerably less.
Madonna began negotiating with Time Warner, the parent company of her current record label, Sire (and of Entertainment Weekly), this past summer, even though she still owes three albums to Sire under her current contract. At the first session — a power-packed little gathering that included, among others, Time Warner cochairmen Steve Ross and Nick Nicholas, her manager, Freddy DeMann, and Madonna’s agent’s boss, Creative Artists Agency chairman Michael Ovitz — Madonna outlined her plans to go multimedia. In the lit world alone, she offered a number of projects to Warner Books, including an autobiography and a collection of erotica.
Madonna spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg says negotiations have been progressing steadily since then. Quickest to come together is the new record deal, which will reportedly pay her $5 million for each of five albums, compared with her old price of $3 million apiece. Although insiders report that Warner Bros. Records chairman Mo Ostin held up negotiations for a month or two when he felt Madonna’s people were going around him to his boss, Warner Music group chairman Robert Morgado, Warner denies that it happened.
Oddly enough, Madonna’s big holiday package comes at a time when her record sales have been declining. Her new studio albums since 1984’s Like a Virgin, a 7 million-seller, have fared progressively worse at record stores — and yet music represents the heart of her negotiations. Donald Passman, the lawyer who handled Janet Jackson’s new contract, thinks all the rocker superdeals have helped push the dollar amounts higher. ”It’s like dominoes,” he says. ”Each big deal trips the next one in line.”