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Janet Jackson’s No. 1 Album ‘Unbreakable’ Is Bringing an Ascendant BMG Along With It

Janet Jackson's Unbreakable not only debuted at No. 1, but also put BMG's recorded music division on the map... in a big way.

Janet Jackson‘s Unbreakable not only debuted at No. 1, but also put BMG’s recorded music division on the map… in a big way.

BMG’s label operation has been on the come-up in recent months, thanks to hit releases from Alabama and Iron Maiden. But Jackson’s Billboard 200-topping debut, with 121,000 units moved (including 109,000 in album sales) for the week ending Oct. 8, was indeed sweet for BMG. 

“We always believed that if Janet and Rhythm Nation became a part of the BMG family, it would take BMG to the next level, and be a great success both financially and creatively,” BMG executive vp of recorded music Jon Cohen said in a statement. “We could not be more pleased with the success of Unbreakable, especially with the album becoming Janet’s seventh No. 1 record, and the initial song “No Sleep” spending eight weeks at the No. 1 position on the Adult R&B chart. It is our first No. 1 in the US… [which is] the definition of having the ability to play with the big boys.”

While some reports have questioned whether Jackson’s sales were kosher, Unbreakable‘s No. 1 was accomplished in accordance with rules determined by Billboard‘s charts department, which insure that the consumer makes a deliberate action to purchase an album. It is common nowadays for artists to try and generate more revenue with each purchase, and one of the ways that is accomplished is through bundling merchandise or concert tickets with records/downloads/etc. But in order for those sales to count, the customer must choose to buy the album by opting-in — in this case by choosing to pay $10 over the price of a concert ticket in order to receive a copy of Unbreakable.

That was but one component of the marketing plan put together by Rhythm Nation, which is managed by JDJ and Sterling Winters Company. Jackson management worked  in conjunction with partners Live Nation, Sales Force and My Music VIP to set up the album and tour.

The Jackson team “have created a music owners loyalty experience at each concert,” Cohen said. “This is unique to the industry, and is truly a testament to the out-of-the-box concepts Janet and  her management team are capable of creating and implementing to perfection. The program fosters engagement and loyalty, resulting in the purchase of digital and physical music.”

The success of the Jackson album is the culmination of a strategy launched after BMG parent Bertelsmann ended one chapter of its history in the music business. When BMG was revised by Bertelsmann in Octber 2008 — right after it had sold its original music operations to Sony Corp in a two-stop process that began in 2004 and culminated on Sept. 30, 2008 — the newly re-launched BMG company initially focused on building a music publishing business, even though it held out and retained ownership to some 180 albums from the sale of the original BMG assets. Over the last few years BMG has acquired the assets of Sanctuary and Mute and the labels Vagrant, Infectious Music, and Rise, as well as powering up a recorded music operation, signing artists in the process.

In September, BMG’s label operation began flexing its muscles when Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls hit No. 4 on the Billboard 200 with sales of about 74,000 units. It followed that up with Alabama’s Southern Drawl, which came in No. 2 on the Billboard country album chart with 21,000 scans (No. 14 on the Billboard 200) for the week ending Sept. 24, according to Nielsen Music.

With the success of those albums, sources say that BMG is projecting its recorded music operation will see sales approaching $50 million in the U.S. over the next 12 months, and global sales approaching $100 million. With its publishing operation added in, BMG will have total revenue over half a billion dollars, making it a company well on its way to major label status (again).

Alas, the label of “major” is one that BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch eschews, who considers it to carry negative connotations for many artists. Instead, Masuch insists that BMG will take a friendly approach to artists. That philosophy is visible it how its record labels deal with artists; while BMG owns the catalogs it has acquired, it provides new signings a range of options.

“We have tremendous flexibility, and will construct deals suited for how each artists wants to work,” BMG U.S. president of creative and marketing Laurent Hubert tells Billboard. “We can do joint ventures, or split revenues 75/25 (in favor of the artists); or pay out in the traditional royalty structures. But typically we license the records for a period of time, and again that period depends on what kind of deal” the artist wants to construct.

In the case of Jackson, BMG reached out, knowing it could rely on “the genius of Janet, Jimmy [Jam] and Terry [Lewis]” to deliver a great record and the marketing might of her management team JDJ Entertainment and Sterling Winters, the latter a kathy ireland [sic] Worldwide company.

“We did not shop Janet’s project,” according to a statement issued by Jackson’s management team (Jason Winters, Jaime Mendoza, Jessica Davenport and Stephen Roseberry). “There was only one meeting and it was with BMG.”

Those executives add that a “tremendous amount” of research was conducted — for several years — to find the perfect home for Jackson and Rhythm Nation. “When we met with BMG, we knew this was going to be the right creative environment for Janet’s future endeavors, including Unbreakable and her own company, Rhythm Nation.”

Moreover, they add, “The deal was negotiated with Janet’s management team, legal team and BMG executives only. Reports of Janet’s husband being involved financially are fabrications, meant to distract from the couple’s independent and successful global careers, as well as the beautiful love they share.” 

One of those future endeavors might include some holiday music from Jackson, according to sources. But Jackson isn’t the only thing BMG has on its upcoming release slate. They have a follow-up coming from Leela James, a Danny Gokey holiday music album. Next year, BMG executives say they will have a new album from Bad Suns, a priority developing artists; and they are hoping for a Blink 182 album, and its first big project in the new year will be a duets kind of album from Jakob Dylan.

“Its an event record, with Dylan collaborating with such artists as Eric Clapton, Regina Spektor, Neil Young, and Cat Power, centered around the California sound from 1965-68 and will feature music by the Turtles, Love, the Association, the Beach Boys and others,” says Cohen.

Hubert adds that BMG also includes upcoming albums from Rise Records, which will have a pretty heavy schedule including a new release from Of Mice & Men. In all, BMG label operations will release about 40-60 new albums, while also managing a catalog of over 10,000 albums.

In order to handle its release schedule, the BMG team retains around 55 staffers between its Los Angeles operation and Rise Records. Currently, BMG has dozens of distribution deals around the globe, sources say, because of its philosophy of wanting to accommodate artists and allowing them to choose what distributor they want to work with; and due to deals that were in place when label acquisitions were made.

But sources say that its distribution set-up is proving to be unwieldy so BMG recently has put out a RFB — request for bid — to about four or five distributors, including INgrooves, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, the latter is distributing the Janet Jackson album. Sources further say that the bids should include flexibility that would allow BMG to issue some albums through another distributor in the same market, if it should so choose.

Meanwhile, Rise BMG’s label operation remain separate, but both label components can tap some BMG shared services. Moreover the creative functions, like A&R and synch staffers, are integrated and serving both the BMG label and publishing operations.

“I can’t underline the importance of having a really integrated publishing and recorded music team, just for the volume of business the synch team can generate,” says Cohen. “But its also great to have arguably the biggest rock and pop writers in the business under our roof for those artist who want to collaborate with outside writers. That’s an incredible resource.”