(April 16, 2002)
Making its way to press and news agencies globally via the Internet is a document that meticulously outlines a nasty legal battle between Sony Music and its most famous superstar, Michael Jackson. If the allegations mentioned in the release are true, then Sony, in a move that is unusual but not unheard of in the high stakes world of pop music, is playing hardball to wrest control of ATV Music publishing company from Jackson in retaliation for the star’s reported attempt to leave the label for which he has recorded since 1975. The circulation of the email, the origins of which we haven’t been able to trace but which contains information only insiders would be privy to, chronicles all the ways Sony has allegedly set out to keep Jackson’s Invincible CD from turning a profit and why, and appears to be a campaign designed to bring attention to Jackson’s plight. EUR contacted Epic Records, the Sony Music division/label that released Invincible, but at deadline time, we had not received a response. Below is the communique in its entirety. ======================= Today, only five months after the release of INVINCIBLE, Michael Jackson is invisible… His new album has disappeared from the charts around the world. This situation is quite unusual for the King of Pop, an artist whose albums have always been hot items in terms of promotion for at least two years after their release. Today, only five months after its release, INVINCIBLE has become invisible. It did sell an astonishing 5 million copies in less than 3 months though, a record-breaking figure in such a short time, even by Michael Jackson’s standards. But after enjoying a successful launch, Jackson’s best ever, INVINCIBLE suddenly dropped out of the charts and became yesterday’s news. What are the reasons behind the fall of INVINCIBLE? How come a successful album with a huge potential suddenly stops being promoted? THE TRUTH The reason why INVINCIBLE is no longer being promoted by Sony Music is because the record company is fighting with Michael Jackson over a financial matter. A few years ago, as an advance on payments on the forthcoming sales of INVINCIBLE, Michael Jackson negotiated a loan from Sony Music, a common transaction between artists and record companies. In order to validate the loan, Michael Jackson had to put his ownership in the ATV Music Publishing catalog (including the 251-song Beatles’ catalog) as collateral. The ATV Music catalog was bought by Michael Jackson in 1985. In 1995, it was merged with Sony Music’s Sony Music Publishing catalog to become ATV/Sony Music Publishing. When merging his ATV catalog with Sony’s, Michael Jackson pocketed a sum estimated to be 95 million dollars. Today, Sony Music is pressuring Michael Jackson to refund the loan he took from them. And they have the means to do so. The problem is that Sony Music are simultaneously preventing Michael Jackson from repaying the money he owes them by sabotaging the promotion of the INVINCIBLE album, Jackson’s main source of income to refund the loan. So far, the INVINCIBLE album has sold 5 million copies worldwide. Sony Music need to reach the 7 million copies mark before they can make money from sales of the album. As for Michael Jackson, he is recouping the outstanding cost of the recording of the album on his portion of the money generated by the sales of the album. That means he hasn’t been getting any money from INVINCIBLE up to now. In order to generate monies for Sony Music and Michael Jackson, the INVINCIBLE album needs to make sales beyond the 7 million mark. It shouldn’t be difficult for the King of Pop to reach that mark. Thriller sold 52 million copies, Bad 25, Dangerous 26 and HIStory, a double-CD, 14 million copies. However, INVINCIBLE is not selling anymore. Except in the USA, where Sony Music is not shipping more than they can sell, in other parts of the world, including European markets, Sony Music have been receiving massive returns since January. In Germany, France and the UK, Europe’s biggest markets, wholesalers are returning unsold copies of INVINCIBLE by the thousand. Indeed, nobody was expecting the promotion of the album to end so suddenly. But why would Sony sabotage an album they paid for? And Why would they put down their biggest-selling artist? Simply because they could get Michael Jackson’s half of ATV Music Publishing by doing so. If Michael Jackson fails to reimburse his loan, the ownership of his share of the ATV Music Publishing catalog will fall into the hands of Sony Music. Sony/ATV Publishing is currently the third largest music publishing company in the world. The money it generates and represents goes beyond Michael Jackson’s loan from Sony or possible revenues generated by the INVINCIBLE album. Besides, a music catalog is easier to deal with than an artist with strong opinions on how his career should be managed. Sony Music is thus trying to sabotage the INVINCIBLE album. But it is important to the record company that the maneuver be not obvious. It is essential for Sony Music that the public and media be not aware of the matter. Bad publicity is a menace they are afraid of. The goal of our association MAKE INVINCIBLE VISIBLE is to make people aware of the situation between Michael Jackson and Sony Music. As Michael Jackson fans, we have been watching helplessly the killing of the INVINCIBLE album. Until now. Unlike previous feuds between record companies and artists (Prince vs Warner, George Michael vs Sony Music, etc…), the Michael Jackson vs Sony Music situation is different in the sense that the artist wants his album to sell and is ready to promote it, but the record company isn’t. INVINCIBLE is Michael Jackson’s last album with Sony Music, despite what the record company says. This is his last album with them. Here is a chronology of facts that documents the feud between Sony Music and Michael Jackson with detailed examples. June 2001 Sony Music pick “You Rock My World” as the first single off of INVINCIBLE. Michael Jackson favored “Unbreakable” and had already started to conceive the video for the song. The last-minute change of single forces him to rush the conception of a new video to accompany “You Rock My World.” Sony Music contact director Hype Williams who comes up with a treatment for the video. Michael is not satisfied with it nor with the budget Sony propose for the video. Paul Hunter, a new director, is hired. After numerous disputes on the budget of the video, filming finally starts. August 2001 Michael Jackson is working on his forthcoming Madison Square Garden concerts. Sony Music learned the news of the events in the media. They are displeased with the fact that they are not involved with the project and decide to boycott it. Sony Music offices around the world receive a memo that forbids them to organize any kind of promotional activity in connection with the Madison Square Garden concerts. The shows will eventually be sold out and will become hugely popular TV events in the USA, despite the absence of promotion and implication from Sony Music. Moreover, Sony Music show no interest in acquiring the rights to the concerts to be used worldwide as a tool for the promotion of INVINCIBLE. As a consequence, less than five countries around the world will broadcast the concert. The fee concert producer David Gest is asking for the show is so high that even big markets like Germany, France or the UK can’t afford it. September 2001 -“You Rock My World,” the first single from INVINCIBLE is a strong radio hit in America. Billboard Magazine analysts and music industry observers predict the song could easily reach the #1 slot in Billboard’s HOT 100 provided there was a single commercially available (American charts are based on radio airplay and sales combined together). However, Sony Music repeatedly delay and postpone the commercial release of the “You Rock My World” single. Ultimately, the single will not be commercially released at all in the USA, in spite of a strong demand from record-buying customers. To justify their decision, Sony Music claim the release of a commercial single could harm the sales of the album. But the singles market in the USA is a small one. A single like “You Rock My World” would have sold a few thousand copies, enough to gain crucial points for the Billboard charts, but not enough to harm the sales of the album. Besides, the promotional impact of a #1 single on the public is strong. Sony Music’s decision not to release the single was clearly biased. -Jay-Z, who remixed “You Rock My World” at Jackson’s request, refuses to let Sony Music use his remix on the commercial singles of “You Rock My World” worldwide because the record company refused him the right to use Jackson’s vocals on a remix of his hit song “Girls, Girls, Girls” they recorded together. -After “You Rock My World,” “Cry” is the new single released from INVINCIBLE in America. Director Nick Brandt is hired to film the video. However, from the beginning, Michael Jackson is not happy with the low-budget project Sony Music is proposing. He becomes so displeased with Sony Music’s stiffness on the video situation that he decides not to appear in the video. The video will eventually be released without his participation. October 2001 INVINCIBLE is released around the world. In the USA, the album is released with a minimum of promotion. When the album becomes a success in America despite the modest promotion, Sony Music takes credit for it by conveniently claiming the low-profile promotion was a plan to have people focus on music. November 2001 -Michael Jackson finalizes the production of “What More Can I Give,” a charity song for the families of the victims of September 11, featuring an all-star cast of singers (including Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Britney Spears, Carlos Santana). Unfortunately, Sony Music refuse Michael the right to release it. Due to contract obligations, Michael Jackson can’t release the record with another company without Sony’s approval. Since Sony Music doesn’t want to make things easy on an artist they are in constant fight with, they use the “What More Can I Give” project to pressure him. If he wants to release it, he has to let go on more financial interests. After trying each and every legal way to release his charity single, Michael Jackson finds out he is cornered and eventually gives up the project. -“Butterflies” is the third single off of INVINCIBLE to be released to radios in America. The song becomes and instant hit and starts to climb the Billboard charts. Unfortunately, Sony Music is still not willing to release the song commercially to help it reach the #1 spot on the charts. More problems occur when the project for a “Butterflies” video is discussed by Michael Jackson and Sony Music. Once again, Michael Jackson is not satisfied with the treatment Sony Music propose him and does not want to participate in a project he doesn’t believe in. Discussions come to a deadlock and the “Butterflies” video project is scrapped. February 2002 Sony Music intensifies its financial pressure on Michael Jackson. The artist is forced to consider doing a World Tour in order to raise money to finance his other projects and the refund of his loan. However, Michael Jackson had made it clear that he didn’t want to tour anymore. Now, he’s forced to reconsider his decision. March 2002 -Three promotional TV appearances scheduled in Europe in March are canceled as a result of Michael Jackson’s feud with Sony Music. -At Sony Music’s request, director David Meyers works on a treatment for the “Unbreakable” video. However, Michael Jackson isn’t satisfied with the project. But his own concept for the video is deemed too expensive and Sony Music won’t finance it. As a result of this new dispute, Michael Jackson decides to produce the “Unbreakable” video by himself and starts to work on the project alone. -By the end of March, Sony Music delete Michael Jackson from their “international priority” list of projects. Only five months after the release of INVINCIBLE, the album is no longer considered as a “priority” by the record company. As a comparison, the HIStory album stopped being an “international priority” by the end of 1997, more than 2 years after its release. Sony Music are trying to suffocate Michael Jackson financially. They are preventing him from properly promoting his album in order to obtain his share of the ATV Music Publishing catalog. This maneuver is unfair. It is plain sabotage. INVINCIBLE is a great album. It sold faster than any other Michael Jackson album and was promised to a great future. Don’t let Sony Music bury INVINCIBLE. Spread the truth and support Michael Jackson.