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Was Michael Jackson Right About Record Labels?

Was Michael Jackson Right About Record Labels?

By Ryan Velez

Many people have an inkling that there’s a bit of dirt being done in the record business, looking to some of the stars who have been left broke despite their success on the chart as proof. In a recent article for Medium, writer Maulud Sadiq breaks things down, showing how even one of the all-time greats in music was affected by these practices.

Part of the story begins with the relationship between Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.

“The story goes like this. McCartney wanted to work with Mike Jack since the 70s, wrote ‘Girlfriend’ for him. Finally, the two met up, did some songs together (all of which I hated), and McCartney began schooling MJ on the importance of publishing, using his own mishaps as examples. He told Mike how he had lost control of many of his Beatles songs, first to Dick James, a publisher, then to ATV, the company James sold the publishing to.

If you don’t know anything about Michael Jackson know this, he was a student of the game. He ain’t get to where he was by not being that. So Michael Jackson began finding a way to get into that business. MJ hit up his attorney, John Branca, and started buying whatever was available. I’m sure that caught the attention of some people. Karen Langford, a paralegal and long-time associate of Jackson had this to say about Mike’s publishing buying spree:”

“He wanted to be the number one publisher in the world. And . . . it would come up in lots of different ways, but [his goal] was always number one, getting to that number one spot. Being the biggest, being the best…” This would culminate in Jackson buying The Beatles publishing for $47.5 million. McCartney would be blindsided, and the relationship between the two would never be the same.

However, this would later backfire for Jackson. “MJ bought ATV in 85 with the account administered by Walter Yetnikoff’s CBS. But then in the Fall of 86, CBS publishing interests were bought by a company, SBK. SBK is Stephen Swid (the S), Martin Bandier (the B), and that K, you guessed it, Charles Koppelman. SBK didn’t own ATV, but they had leverage (after landing that deal, Koppelman called his wife and told her “our children are protected, our grandchildren are protected”). A year later, November of 87, Sony bought CBS Records (comprised of Columbia, Portrait, and Epic, Jackson’s label) for $2 Billys.

When it came time for Mike’s contract to come to an end, Sony buttered Jackson up; some o’ Thanksgiving turkey buttering. Check how the LA Times describes it:

Jackson, 32, reportedly could receive more than $120 million per album if sales match the 40-million-plus level of his smash mid-’80s album “Thriller.” Two sources close to the talks said the reclusive singer is guaranteed an advance payment of $5 million per record plus a 25% royalty from each album based on retail sales.” However, after Dangerous, he only put out a few albums before his death and made some statements that ruffled Sony’s feathers. Perhaps the biggest one was at an Al Sharpton function:

“The minute I surpassed Elvis and the Beatles, they called me a freak, a homos*xual, a child molester. They said I bleached my skin. Everything to turn the public against me. It was a complete conspiracy. . . . I know my race. I just look in the mirror. I know I’m Black.” In 2012, Sony/ATV made an announcement that they would be the administrator of all of Jackson’s music. In 2016, they bought the other half of his ATV publishing. Were Jackson’s statements those of an addled mind like many people thought at the time or was he trying to share the machinations of a field that few people got to see?

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