While it’s true that, according to the old adage, “you can’t take it with you,” there’s nothing that says you can’t leave more of it behind after you’re gone.
Michael Jackson — or more accurately his estate — will soon be the beneficiary of the ways in which death can be an astute career move, almost nine months after the singer pharmaceutically shuffled off this mortal coil. News reports surfaced today that the beleaguered Jackson estate is finalizing a deal with Sony Music that guarantees the estate $200 million for 10 Jackson projects, including an album of unreleased material, to be released over the next seven years.
The deal makes it the most lucrative contract in recording history. With various sweeteners, merchandising deals and incentives related to sales, the final amount could be as much as $250 million.
“During his life, Michael's contracts set the standard for the industry,” said John Branca, the co-executor of Michael's estate, in a statement. “By all objective criteria, this agreement with Sony Music demonstrates the lasting power of Michael's music by exceeding all previous industry benchmarks."
This goes a long way to retiring the Everest of obligations, unpaid bills and lawsuits that Jackson faced before he died in June 2009, debts that some have estimated at as high as $400 million.
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One of the reasons this could pave the way for ultimately retiring those bills entirely has to do with a simple fact: a much slower burn rate. Without MJ around to spend money as fast or faster than he made it, those obligations are now pretty much a stationary target.
But for the public, it’s not about the money anyway. What piques the interest of fans, and will until sometime around 2017, is the prospect of fresh music from the pre-eminent entertainer of our time. In life and death, Michael has cast a long shadow; it’s estimated that 31 million copies of his back catalog have been sold since his passing. Like Elvis, Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix (whose latest album, “Valleys of Neptune,” was just released almost 40 years after his death), Michael enjoys a popularity that doesn’t respect the finality of the grave.
Writing in The Daily Mail Online (UK) a few days after Michael died, journalist Ian Halperin quoted a source “in Jackson’s camp” who had previously said the singer “has as many as 200 unpublished songs that he is planning to leave behind for his children when he dies.” If that’s true, there may be even more MJ projects than those under the scope of this new deal.
It’s a prospect that’s bittersweet: Michael Jackson may approach his previous sales and popularity when he’s no longer around to enjoy it. But for his legions of fans, and for those people who’ve never heard a note of his music, Michael Jackson may soon regain his status of long ago: the producer of a sound and vision as ubiquitous as the air we breathe.
“Everything old is new again, “ Peter Allen once observed. Yo, Death, where is thy goodbye?
Image credits: Michael Jackson: Associated Press.