Megamillion-dollar label deals are a thing of the past. But with Usher, Timberlake and Swift nearing the end of their contracts, this is how majors will have to fight to keep them.
Taylor Swift, Usher and Justin Timberlake are about to enter an all-too-familiar crossroads for pop superstars: Their next albums will also be the last ones due to their respective major labels (Big Machine/Universal for Swift, RCA for Timberlake and Usher).
But unlike the mega-stars of yore, today's top acts face a different marketplace in which they're required to work much harder for their hefty advances — with lower sales to show for it. In fact, you would have to go all the way back to 2001 to a find a nine-figure commitment, when Whitney Houston re-upped with Arista for a multi-album deal worth $100 million. Britney Spears recently renewed her deal with RCA for an undisclosed sum, sources tell Billboard. But when Timberlake, Swift and Usher head to the table, what can they expect?
"The trend is definitely toward shorter [term] deals on both sides," says Donald Passman, an entertainment lawyer at Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown who negotiated Janet Jackson's $80 million EMI contract in the 1990s and authored the book series All You Need to Know About the Music Business. "The industry is in distress and digital is not picking up the slack, so the big companies are worried about long-term commitments, and the artists tend to take longer between product. Unless you're Taylor Swift, very few can command a top-of-the-market deal." Sony Music chief creative officer Clive Davis concurs: "There will be a fair and hard negotiation to re-sign her," he says.