Column : Man who changed the music business

Written by Dhiraj Nayyar | Updated: Jun 28 2009, 03:55am hrs
There was perhaps just one constant in Michael Jacksons roller-coaster life and career-his seemingly unlimited ability to be a money spinner. Had he lived another two weeks, he would have been performing the first in a long series of comeback concerts in London . For a man who had produced no album of significant note in the last decade, and who had made the news pages only in the context of (unproven) scandals, the response of London was quite amazingan initial schedule of 10 concerts in 10 days had to be extended to 50 over six months. After his initial press conference in January announcing the This is it tour, tickets were sold out in a jiffy and were being auctioned on eBay for sums ranging from 300 pounds to 16,000 pounds. How many and more contemporary stars from the world of music can summon such a frenzy Dont think too hard because few in the recent history have ever matched Michael Jacksons unique saleability.

Jacksons 1982 album Thriller is still the best selling album of all time, with some estimates suggesting that it has sold more than 100 million copies. In fact, Thriller was hailed as the album which resurrected a struggling American music industry in the early 1980s. Jackson got a sweet deal out of the album himself courtesy his manager and lawyer John Branca who negotiated a then unprecedented royalty of $2 per album sold for the singer. It was the deal which perhaps shifted the balance of economic power in music towards artists. Jackson and his manager displayed much business acumen in 1985 when they outbid Paul McCartney for the publishing rights of all Beatles songsthis brought in half the royalty for any performance of a Beatles song to Jacksons account.

Unfortunately for Jackson his ability to spin money was only matched by his ability squander it awayon extravagant living, and expensive lawsuits. At the time of his death, he is estimated to have had a debt burden of anything between $200 million and $500 million. That contradiction probably sums up his life: a magnificently talented artist who redefined the music business but a deeply troubled man.