HOW DO YOU HANDLE A PROBLEM LIKE MADONNA? —Stellar exclusive from Roger Friedman/Showbiz 411: Madonna is at a crossroads now. Her record deal with Interscope is over after a decade of not selling records, CD’s, downloads, or streams.Variety first reported this news last week.
It’s a situation not uncommon to older artists. Madonna was once a bestselling pop star with Warner Music. Then she moved into the Interscope phase, which was tied to her concert tours. The albums were bundled with tickets to make it look like they were selling.
But in recent years, the record sales have dried up as radio stations don’t play new music by legacy stars. It’s hard to believe that the woman whose records are ubiquitous on oldies and disco stations can’t get arrested now on radio. The one time Material Girl turns 62 in a couple of weeks.
Madonna’s total sales this year, according to Buzz Angle/Alpha Data, comes to 28,300 albums in CD sales and paid downloads. Her last album, Madame X, has sold 170,000 copies since it was released on June 14, 2019. Of that number 125K was CD’s and downloads. The rest came from streaming. I’m sorry to say, but that’s not enough to engage a contract from a major label.
Madonna could go the way of a lot of older artists and sign a vanity deal with BMG. But they just rubber stamp the release and do no marketing or distribution. (Ask Chrissie Hynde.) Warner’s could make a distribution deal with her since they have her biggest catalog. But there’s no money there for new Madonna music.
What Madonna could do is revive her Maverick Records as indie, use an outside distributor, and hire PR, radio, ad, social marketing etc people. What Madonna hasn’t really explored are box sets, taking old albums and making anniversary packages, finding lost recordings. For some legacy artists, that’s become a good business. (See Paul McCartney.)
But Madonna just posted to Instagram that she did everything to make her career, she had help from no one. She did it her way. So she may not find a lot of people who want to help her now when she needs it.
Having been intimately involved in Madonna’s early-career (The Funhouse; Mark Kamins; Jellybean; Sire) I can tell you Roger has really hit the nail-on –the-head this time. Madonna has re-invented her image (or, at least tried to) so many times … I bet even she’s a bit confused now.
Watching the Go Go’s documentary I really zeroed in on the problem: Is Madonna relevant anymore? Sure, she, along with Cyndi Lauper, was at the forefront of femme-artists who would go onto making, not only major record sales, but major pop culture changes. Remember when Madonna wore those cheesy black-rubber bracelets? All the gals did back then … and, even some of the guys.
She was, for better or worse, a major, pop-culture phenomenon. Her music was first and foremost, but the way she looked and acted, just totally unique. Taylor Swift, Britney Spears and Katy Perry owe a lot to Ms. Madonna.
Truth be told, before Madonna, there really hadn’t been such an iconic female figure figure since Cher.
She changed culture for sure. Remember her singing “Like A Virgin” in a wedding dress at the VMA’s at Radio City? Right?
Can she get back in the saddle? Of course. Though last week she practically dismissed everyone who had helped her along the way in an Instagram post, believe me, there are literally dozens who’d help her out in a New York-minute. From Shep Pettibone to Nile Rogers, Bobby Shaw and Seymour Stein too … they’d all be there. The reason why? They made some great music … and, boy, do we need it now more than ever.
THE BOSS AND BENNY — As I’ve said, I’m not a great fan of Bob Lefsetz’s weekly letter, but his mailbag is always chock full of interesting responses. This one, regarding the late- Benny Mardones and another artist, speaks volumes. Take a look:
After reading your latest mailbag, I had to pass along a quick story about Benny Mardones.
I only was with Benny for one day – but what a day! A pal of mine was talking about a friend of his who wanted to visit his ailing mother in the East and needed to travel from California – but was hoping to book a gig along the way to handle some of the expense. He told me the guy was a great singer and super person. But when he told me it was Benny Mardones, the old disc jockey in me was blown away.
I didn’t want to insult him – but I could come up with some cash if he was willing to sing at my wedding — which was approaching in about a month. Benny was thrilled to get the gig.
We invited him to play golf with us the morning of the wedding and he became part of our wedding party. At the reception, he performed several songs…obviously including “Into the Night.” (Which, as my wife is a few years younger, caused me significant grief that Benny encouraged from the stage.)
However, there were two aspects I will never forget. When the audience jumped up to give him a standing ovation, Benny broke into sobs on stage. He told the crowd, “You don’t know how much this means. It has been years since any audience stood up for me.” That broke our hearts.
Then, he took me aside and told me a story. He talked about when “Into the Night” was the hottest song in the nation. He – and hangers on – were partying at Chateau Marmont. Also at the pool was another performer who happened to be there getting sun and reading the “Wall St. Journal.” Bennie told me that he went over and made fun of the guy, asking him if he was a musician or a businessman. The guy responded, “You gotta be both.”
Benny said that he was too busy partying to listen. Then he told me that was Bruce Springsteen. Benny said, “Never forget that your art is also your business. Maybe things would’ve turned out better for me if I would’ve sat down and talked to Bruce rather than running out with those who wanted to bask in my momentary fame.”
Benny was an amazing man – and sharing that special day with him is something I’ll never forget. – Scott McKain
SHORT TAKES — Monkee-Micky Dolenz spoke to Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene Monday about an exciting new project for him. Stay tuned … Two-fer: Here’s wordsmith Mike Greenly’s podcast interview with Ray K: https://www.spreaker.com/user/thebandgpodcast/tic-mike-greenly …
and, Ray’s podcast with Vic Kastel on his debut album Time Traveler: https://www.spreaker.com/user/thebandgpodcast/tic-vic-kastel-no-intro … ABC’s Agents Of Shield ends Wednesday with a two-hour episode. This offshoot from the world of Marvel Comics has been nothing short of spectacular this year; time-traveling through the years, each show came with a new theme song and new graphics. From gangster-ridden New York in the 40’s, to the outrageous 80’s. Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson has done just outstanding work here as has the rest of the cast. There’s nothing wrong with a strong finish. Bravo all! … HBO’s re-do of the classic Perry Mason ended its debut season Sunday with just a terrific episode. It wasn’t the ending everyone had expected, but it perfectly set up Season 2 and the more I think about it, ended just perfectly.
Matthew Rhys as Mason and Tatiana Maslany (in a breakout role) were exceptionally good and the final moments between the two were just perfect. In case you wondered; I can see her returning in Season 2. More on this next time … And, Donnie Kehr’s Rockers On Broadway is a go for Monday, November 9; some of the program will be recorded and some, live from NYC’s LPR.
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Joel Diamond; Randy Alexander; Eppy; Rick Eberle; Heather Moore; Tony Mandich; Judy Libow; Steve Leeds; Paul Cooper; Gunther Howe; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Bruce Morrow; Pete Antell; Barry Fisch; Bob Feiden; Barry Fisch; Michael Friedman; and, BELLA!