“It’s a new chapter in the Britney Spears saga,” says her manager Larry Rudolph, who’s standing outside of a rehearsal studio at CenterStaging in Burbank, Calif.
It’s a typically sunny Los Angeles morning and dozens of scantily clad dancers have flocked to Studio 10 to audition for Spears’ upcoming residency show at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
“It started off at 600 and now we’re down to 28,” Rudolph tells Billboard, adding that 14 dancers total will be chosen for the two-year show, titled “Britney Spears: Piece of Me.” “Britney is coming today and she’ll be making the final selection.”
Indeed, Spears’ camp is in full residency mode as the Dec. 27 opening date quickly approaches. The singer’s approximately 90-minute performances will take place inside a 4,600-capacity planetarium-like theater with traditional seating, a dance floor, private tables and bottle service. The Baz Halpin-directed show will feature 21 of Spears’ greatest hits and new music from her as-yet-untitled eighth studio album, due Dec. 3. In addition to 14 dancers, the concerts will also feature a four-piece band and state-of-the-art visuals. She’s slated to perform 50 shows per year in 2014 and 2015.
“I’m almost having to hold back the floodgates, because she wants to start rehearsing right now,” says Halpin, who’s also on-site selecting dancers with his team at Silent House Productions, which has designed tours by such pop acts as Katy Perry, P!nk and Taylor Swift. “I’ve never seen an artist so pumped and excited. She’s been doing religious vocal and choreography for months and months. So I’m waiting for this unleashed furry of rehearsal energy when we get started.”
(Stay tuned to Billboard in the coming days for more exclusive details from Halpin on the production and visuals of “Britney Spears: Piece of Me.”)
After Billboard broke intimate details about Spears’ nightclub-like residency in an exclusive interview with Caesars Entertainment VP of entertainment Kurt Melien, rumors have been swirling around the web about lackluster ticket sales (the first 16 concerts went on sale Sept. 20) and whether the pop singer will lip-synch her way through performances. We caught up with Rudolph (who was momentarily sidetracked during this interview by a call from his other red-hot client Miley Cyrus: “She just put out a new version of ‘Wrecking Ball,’ which I think will get an equal amount of (web) hits,” he says) at CenterStaging.
Below, Rudolph sets the record straight to Billboard about the latest set of rumors surrounding Spears’ Las Vegas residency, and divulges exclusive details about the pop superstar’s eighth album and potential next single.
Billboard: First off, let’s clear the air about whether Britney Spears will be lip-syncing during her Las Vegas residency shows. Can you set the record straight on this subject?
Larry Rudolph: She’s going to be singing live. She does choreography and vocal coaching every day. The vocal coaching is really just to strengthen her voice and get her to a point where she can go out there every night and do a full show.
It’s hard for the public to fully understand what goes on when you get on stage and you’re dancing full out during a song. No matter what anyone says, there’s not a single artist who goes out there and does full choreography and is singing without a vocal track underneath them at the same time. It’s physically impossible. We’re just trying to build up her stamina and get her to a point where she can do as much as humanly possible. The idea is to try to get her pretty close to 100%. There might be some numbers where she’s full out dancing with a (vocal) track underneath her, but there won’t be any lip-syncing across the board on anything.
There have also been reports that ticket sales to her residency shows haven’t been selling well. So how are ticket sales so far?
Yesterday, I got a phone call from Britney’s mom, Lynne Spears. She said, “Larry, I just read on BreatheHeavy.com that Britney’s show is failing. What’s going on?” She was deeply concerned. I said, “Lynne, don’t worry about it, we’re dealing with it right now. Nothing could be further from the truth. ”
You have these idiot tabloid reporters who are completely irresponsible and love taking pot shots at Britney. One guy did it and everybody else picked it up. It’s based on nothing, other than an “industry insider,” who they’ll never disclose. But it’s damaging to Britney. So we had to go on the offensive and put out correct information to counteract it.
When we went on sale with our pre-sale, we sold out every single VIP package for all 16 shows. We had to create new ones just to fill some of the demand, because people were starting to get pissed off that there weren’t enough out there. Caesars told us that a highly successful launch would be selling 10% of the ticket stock on the on sale. I think we either tripled or quadrupled that. They told us it was literally the best on-sale they’d ever had. Now they’ve come back to me and asked if it’s OK to put the next round of dates on sale sooner than we had originally discussed. They haven’t given me an exact date for it yet, but I said of course.
Can you give any details about Spears’ new album — what the title is or what fans should expect it to sound like?
We don’t have a title yet. But it sounds great. It’s so different from anything she’s done before. Will.i.am is executive producing it. After the “Scream & Shout” exercise, which went so well, the public seems to really like Britney and Will together. There’s something about them that works. He understands who she is and what her audience wants.
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“Work Bitch” is a great example of a song that’s from this album, but I don’t know that it necessarily defines the album. There’s a lot of other material on here that is really rich. There’s a ballad called “Perfume” that she recorded recently. Britney wrote it with Sia. It’s a breakup song that’s about wanting the next girl to smell your perfume on the guy afterwards. The lyric is really unique and she sings the shit out of it. I think everyone will be really impressed by the song. I don’t know if it will be the second or third single, but it will definitely be a single.
There are a couple other songs that have a really modern EDM vibe and other stuff that has more of a “Ray of Light” (Madonna) vibe. I really think of this as Britney’s “Ray of Light” album — it’s kind of like that in a lot of ways. She wrote everything on the album with collaborators. There’s one or two she wrote herself. That’s something she wanted to do coming in. She wanted to make it very personal. They’re all custom made for her, based on what’s going on with her life and in her head.
Is she still working on the album?
Yeah, there are still about five songs to go.
Have there been any discussions about how the album will be marketed and released?
I think it will be more of a traditional release. This is going to be more about the Vegas thing happening and her putting out an album around the same time. I don’t want to overcomplicate this or make it gimmicky, because the music is so important. I don’t want to cloud it with some marketing scheme.
Getting back to the residency, I recently did an interview with Caesars Entertainment VP of entertainment Kurt Melien, who said that an artist residency is more lucrative than traditional touring. Is that true in Spears’ case?
I honestly don’t think it is. You have to remember, you’re selling 4,400 seats a night instead of 15,000 seats a night. So your revenues are less than a third of what they would be if you were out on tour. Your costs are lower, because you’re not trucking everything around. But at the end of the day, I don’t know if it’s more lucrative than a tour, in terms of what she puts in her pocket. It really wasn’t a factor in our consideration. We didn’t sit down and say, “How can we make more money?” We said, “How can we do something more interesting for the fans?” And we came up with this idea.
Can you shed any light on how much money Spears is being paid for the residency?
I can’t comment on actual figures. She’s getting paid well to do it, but it wasn’t a big factor for us. We don’t look at the business opportunity first and then back into it with the creative concept. We do it the other way around. We wanted to do a Vegas show, because it was the right thing for her now, and the right thing for her fanbase.
What other type of revenue opportunities come along with a residency like this?
We’re talking to a couple of big tech companies about coming in and maybe helping us with sound and video. There’s a lot of video on the show, so there are a lot of opportunities for that kind of thing. The sponsorship is definitely a part of it. Nothing has been locked in yet, but there are a lot of major tech companies that are very interested and have approached us about it. That’s a big potential revenue stream.
Another one, of course, is general merchandise sales. You have general tour merchandise sales, like you would normally have at a tour. But what you have here also is merchandise being sold in and around the venue, even when she’s not there. It’s not a tremendous amount of money — nothing that would influence us to do or not do the show in Las Vegas — but it’s an added revenue stream we wouldn’t normally have.