Madonna Tour: Does She Need the Cash?

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Published May 27, 2004

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Madonna | Free Speech, Etc.

Madonna Tour: Does She Need the Cash?

What would force a 45-year-old multi-millionaire pop icon to go on the road once again, especially if it meant risking health and taking time from her family? One would think Madonna is past all that. I'm sure as she cancelled her Los Angeles show last night for the flu and read the negative reviews of opening night, she was thinking the same thing. But the pop queen must go on. In fact, Madonna needs to tour, and here's the simple answer to why she'd put herself through all this: cold cash. Even with her vast wealth, investments, etc, the singer probably needs it by now.

You see, Madge — for whom no one will be having a telethon anytime soon — is not the money machine she was in the late 1980s. According to Forbes, Madonna has only made their Celebrity 100 list three times in the last 11 years and once in the last five years. True, in 2002 she grossed $43 million from her Drowned World Tour, but she finished overall at number 17 for money earned among entertainers. On the other hand, she landed at number 4 for the amount of power she wielded that year. One thing's for sure, Madonna gets a lot of press even when she's not raking in the bucks.

If Forbes is right, in 2003 Madonna made less than Bill Clinton, who picked up $9 million for writing his book and doing speaking engagements.

Madonna's problems earning fresh income from songwriting royalties or publishing began once she stopped using professional songwriters for her hits and started writing songs that weren't hits on her own. For example: although they are closely identified with her, Madonna did not write her most popular hits "Holiday," "Borderline," "Papa Don't Preach," "Like a Virgin" or "Material Girl." (For "Borderline," one of Madonna's first hits, Reggie Lucas actually just cannibalized another of his hits, Stephanie Mills' "Never Knew Love Like This Before." They are almost interchangeable.) On most others, like "Into the Groove" and "Like a Prayer," she shared credit with at least one songwriter. Still radio staples in 2004, those songs make money for their writers and not for Madonna.

Before 1990, Madonna rarely even put her name on a song for a co-writing credit. If she did, it was for filler, not a hit. She only started that practice around that year, with the "Like a Prayer" album, adding her name to songs by Patrick Leonard and by Stephen Bray, each of whom had previously written for her. Not a great songwriter, she "contributed" to the songs' composition and wisely took a cut of the publishing royalties.

Only one track of the 17 on Madonna's greatest hits album, "The Immaculate Collection," issued in 1990, is credited solely to her: "Lucky Star." Of the other 16, five lack her name completely. The other 11 are collaborations, with two of them getting only "additional lyrics" by Madonna, thus diminishing her cut of the profits.

But after 1990, Madonna — believing she'd become a great writer — changed collaborators. Bray and Leonard were succeeded by Shep Pettibone, William Orbit and Mirwais. The sound went from pop to electronic, and, in the process, traded sensuality for mechanics. It's almost impossible to name a Madonna song or even hum one that's come out since 1990 even though many of them were video or radio hits. How about "Mer Girl"? Don't know that one? What about "Deeper and Deeper," "Bad Girl," "Bedtime Story," or "Frozen"? The theme from "Die Another Day"? Nothing, huh? "Ray of Light," a hit, was more admired than it was beloved.

Essentially, she has her name on a lot of forgettable records.

Madonna's new publishing philosophy of adding her name to songs was almost done too late. By that time, the damage was done and the big hits were credited to others. Madonna's plight, you could say, was similar to those of other great singers and performers from the pre-singer/songwriter era who only recorded but didn't write their hits.

That's because there is no performance royalty for airplay. When you hear a song on the radio, only its writer is paid a royalty. If the singer is just singing it, even if it's a hit, they are not getting any benefit from it other than fame. Oldies radio staples from Motown, Stax, the Brill Building era and even Elvis Presley are included in this. 

The decline in album sales overall for artists of her generation hasn't helped the bottom line either. Madonna's last album, "American Life," never even went platinum, selling a meager 637,000 copies, according to SoundScan. Those numbers are frightening when you have to support a husband, children, staff, a manager and a personal lifestyle that's platinum card, five-star and over the top.

For example, Madonna reportedly gave the Kabbalah organization a $5 million gift to build a London headquarters. She also turned over royalties from her two children's books, which sold well enough and probably generated some income. At the rate things are going, she may be asking for all of it back any day now.

Royalties, Wiseguys and Fired Matriarchs

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