A lot has been written over the past several months about Madonna's "new model" deal with Live Nation. I know there have been far too many stories and blog posts written about this already, but now as her last album with Warner Brothers is released and she prepares to embark on a world tour, and with the benefit of having had a little while to reflect on the new deal (hey, I'm slow!), I want to weigh in with a different angle on this story. I think she blew it - she had the once in a lifetime opportunity to change everything, and instead she got bought off. Yeah she got $120 mil, but she could have completely re-written the game book, and STILL gotten the check. I'm sure you already have read or heard much of the broad strokes of this deal in which Madonna has liberated herself from the shackles of her 30 year relationship with Warner Brothers and has now placed her touring, recorded music, website, and merchandising in the hands of the folks at Live Nation. From what I've seen -- she's getting $120 million mixed between cash and stock and Live Nation is getting 3 albums from her and rights to be her partner in promoting her concerts, selling merchandise and online businesses for the next 10 years. Look -- on the face of it, it's impossible to argue that this is not a great deal for Madonna. In the current music business of declining record sales, and the reality that she is a "mature" artist whose greatest sales and cultural impact are in her past, who could argue with $120 mil? She also gets to once again tout her status as being in the vanguard of the business side of music, as she was when she got Warner to pony up for the creation of her label Maverick, and when she got them to give her $25 million per album in the early 1990's. If Madonna has entered the "Rolling Stones" period of her career whereby recorded music is strictly a vehicle to start touring/licensing and merchandising machines rolling every few years, then getting someone to pay this much is a stroke of genius, isn't it?
The point I want to make is that frankly I feel that she's missed a massive opportunity to truly change the business on behalf herself, and of so many other artists. By moving her business from one long term agreement with a faceless corporation to another long term agreement (one in which far more of her assets are being placed) with another faceless corporation seems to me to miss the point of being a free agent and in control of her career. She took the money - I get it and don't know that I would have done otherwise, but considering the amount of money she's already made, and the amount she stands to make any time she feels like touring, I'm not sure that the money wouldn't have been there anyway.
What if Madonna actually embraced the cool fact that after 30 years she was free to do whatever she wanted, and decided on doing short term deals only? I bet some company out there would have been thrilled to be her "sponsor" for the next album/tour/merchandising cycle and would have written a huge check to be her partner for one year only. Or what if she decided that she wanted to create an artist-run cooperative of some sort that got together a great team of people from the recorded music, touring, merchandising, licensing, and digital media fields? They could be the "owners" of all the assets and sign short term agreements with others for distribution, promotion, etc. Now that would have been game changing and completely spun the axis of the industry around. I'm no genius, but I think there were so many other amazing choices she could have made rather than just taking a check from another corporation for another 10 year deal.
If Madonna, was really interested in control and changing the nature of the business, I think she could have far better achieved that by being more creative; Radiohead's "pay what you want" scheme might have been a one-off, and it might not have been successful according to certain viewpoints, but at least they used their leverage to try something totally unprecedented by a major artist. That's power and clout -- the ability to be flexible and experiment. Radiohead is free to try something totally different next time -- Madonna is not, she is still beholden to another corporate master. She took the money, and as I said before I can't blame her. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't lament the missed opportunity to really change the game that she passed by.
In the TOTALLY pointless and unrelated category ...
I would like to again point out the power of music to stay with us -- I heard The Steve Miller Band's "Take The Money And Run" on the radio last week. Now this is a song that I have not heard in at least 20 years, and the second it came on, I remembered every single word. I can't remember to take my passport when I travel abroad 50% of the time, but you can count on me to remember that "Billy Mac is a detective down in Texas -- you know he knows exactly what the facts is"!!!