Is Jive Records Jive Talkin'? Songwriter Says He's Never Been Paid
Something's rotten in Denmark, more or less.
Herbie Crichlow, the British-born songwriter of such Backstreet Boys hits as last year's "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely" and 1997's "Quit Playing Games With My Heart," told me he has yet to be paid for his work. And he's owed something in the ballpark of $3 million for albums and singles sold by the group through Jive/Zomba Records.
Crichlow has been living in Sweden for the last several years, writing songs at the "factory" called Cheiron Productions, owned by Max Martin (real name: Karl Martin Sandberg). Martin has become infamous for mass producing pop goop for acts like Backstreet, 'N Sync and Britney Spears. His company does all its business through Zomba Music, the parent of Jive Records, for which all those acts record.
Interestingly, Martin is rarely credited as a solo writer, but instead with established pairs of writers whose songs he supposedly "tweaks," then owns the rights to. Crichlow is one of the writers whose work Martin co-owns and claims co-authorship.
But Crichlow said that last year, when he started asking Martin to show him the money, Martin turned on him and the relationship soured. Crichlow and his manager Johnny Onyems figure Herbie, father of two, is owed about $3 million for five Backstreet hits including the radio smashes "Show Me" and "Quit Playing Games." Herbie has also written European hits for acts like 3T and Robin.
Crichlow said that Zomba, which administers the rights and writes the checks, is claiming that he was signed to Mega Records in Denmark, which was in turn sold to Edel America Records, and so they have had trouble getting the accounting done.
"That's ridiculous," both Herbie and Johnny O told me recently. "They know how many records have been sold. It's millions."
Zomba/Jive's Richard Blackstone did not respond to calls about Crichlow's claim — just as Herbie predicted. "I've tried to get an answer from Blackstone and from Barry Weiss, but they won't return calls," he said. So Crichlow has hired Atlanta-based powerhouse music attorney Joel Katz to sort out and resolve these problems.
Crichlow has received his performance royalty payments (meaning radio play) from ASCAP for his songs — but the money that's owed is from sales. And worldwide sales for albums and singles with his songs have been staggering.
Crichlow said that because of the fallout between him and Martin, he was banned from having songs on the Backstreet Boys' recent Black and Blue album. That record has turned out to be a sales disappointment, with only 4.8 million copies sold in the U.S. to date, according to SoundScan.
"I submitted a track called 'Over You,' and they said the album was closed. But then, after they listened to my song, they said the whole album was being reconsidered. You see, 'Over You' was the strongest thing they'd heard. But they couldn't use it because I was in this fight with them. I had to get the track back."
Backstreet's previous album, Millenium, on which Crichlow's "Show Me" was a hit single, sold 11.7 million copies in this country.
Last year, Martin shut down the incredibly successful Cheiron Productions with little notice. He put out a press release that strained the boundaries of credulity: "After eight years of incredible joy but also enormous pain (the death of our beloved partner Denniz Pop) it's time to move on. Cheiron was created with the intention of having fun, making a few hits and not getting too serious about it. At the end of this year we have fulfilled our commitments and are able to do as we please. We feel that the 'hype' of Cheiron has become bigger than itself and it's time to quit while we're ahead."
But Martin immediately restarted Cheiron as Merlin Productions. The reason, according to sources, was that the widow of deceased Cheiron partner Dag "Denniz PoP" Volle owned 50 percent of the former company. "And Martin didn't want to split the money with her anymore."
The business of corporate songwriting has been very lucrative for Martin. Another partner, Tom Talomaa, now owns homes around the world including one in Key West, Fla.
Merlin, according to Onyems and Crichlow, employs a staggering 27 producers. And to think, the first big group out of Sweden, the Shocking Blue, sang their hit "I'm Your Venus" phonetically in 1970 because they didn't know any English.
Crichlow, meantime, loaded with hot demo tapes and more hit songs, is busy shopping among the labels for a publishing/producing deal of his own. My guess is he'll be snapped up very shortly.
Maybe the best movie I've seen in two years, Christopher Nolan's Memento, opens today in New York and Los Angeles. Over the next few weeks it will come to your local Cineplex.
Memento is a very deftly assembled mystery about a man without short-term memory who is searching for his wife's killer. Guy Pearce, of L.A. Confidential, is the main character. Joe Pantoliano — the great character actor currently in The Sopranos but famous from Risky Business and Bound — is possibly his friend, or a potential enemy. Same for Chocolat's Carri-Ann Moss.
Released by a small independent distributor, Memento runs the risk of being ignored or not even found by audiences at all. What a shame this would be. Here's a chance for a great film made outside the studio system to register and resonate. This is a movie made with the indie spirit, as well as intelligence and flair. I'm hopeful that a grassroots movement will sprout up, and turn Memento into an event.
Jennifer Lopez's J-Lo album continues its downward spiral. SoundScan reported that the highly expensive sophomore effort by Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs' "gun moll" has yet to sell 1 million copies. As of Tuesday, J-Lo had found only 925,000 customers after seven weeks of release.
Interestingly, the single — "Love Don't Cost a Thing" — has done pretty well. But its title may say it all, since love seems to have cost Lopez a crucial million albums more that should have been sold already. Lopez is an expensive act for Sony Music, requiring a hefty seven-figure advance plus lots of extras.
On the other hand, Sony scores a slight victory this week with Aerosmith's Just Push Play debuting at No. 2 on the album charts. JPP sold around 225,000 copies. That's not huge, but not bad either, considering the group has been together since before the Bicentennial. Their terrific Super Bowl appearance probably helped — that, and the fact that the record sounds like unembarrassed, unabashed Aerosmith. No apologies, no regrets. How unusual.
It's almost over — 7 long months of buzz, hype and B.S. On Monday, Oscar ballots are due back at the Academy. And on Sunday, March 25, we'll finally see those envelopes get ripped open.
Has there been fallout? I hear Sean Connery fired his publicist, Nancy Seltzer, after striking out at every awards show for his work in Finding Forrester. I love Sean Connery, but frankly there was nowhere to go with that one. Finding Forrester was a mushy mess. Better luck next time, Sean.
Who really got gypped? Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp, who played John and Robert Kennedy, from Thirteen Days. They each deserved some recognition and got none. I have to laugh, too. Culp appears in some kind of weird learning video on public access here in New York. It's like English as a second language or something. Just shows you what our talented actors have to do while waiting for a break.
If there are some non-hanging chads out there, here are my weekend suggestions: Javier Bardem, from Before Night Falls, is the new dark horse favorite for Best Actor. And the Chocolat screenplay, adapted by Robert Nelson Jacobs from Joanne Harris's novel, is my choice for screenplay that didn't go through 100 rewrites. Ang Lee must be Best Director. And Ennio Morricone's score for Malena is a cinch, since the venerable Italian composer has never won an Oscar. Of course, my original choice for Best Supporting Actress — Frances McDormand in Almost Famous — seems not to have a shot. So I'll go with Judi Dench in Chocolat.
And then wait for next year, and Memento. Academy voters are a lot like that movie's hero — they have no short-term memory. So I'll be reminding you all year long about this wonderful film.