Money, The Music Biz, and a Little Bette for Measure

Mister D: This is an interview from 1995 in A&R Insider with then Vice President of A&R John Carter, Island Records. It has to do with the misconceptions of wealth surrounding the bands and artists in the music industry. Also of note is what he says of Bette Midler, the songs he wanted to produce for her, but who they ended up going to….:

<<Okay. (laughter) What would you name as the single, biggest misconception about the music industry?

Probably the money. I don’t think there’s nearly as much money in this business as people think there is.Seventy percent of the artists that have a hit record on the Billboard charts, never have a second record. Ninety percent that have a second record, never have a third. Some people are making money, somewhere in the system. But as far as that artist goes, you get a little taste on the record deal, maybe on the publishing deal. Probably spend it before the first record ever came out. There are usually just a handful of artists who actually have a record deal that they can make into a career.

Explain how that money is dissipated so quickly.

First step, a group signs with a record company and gets an advance for…uh, let’s give them a $50,000.00 advance. That sounds like a nice advance.

Okay, and, what about recording?

Yes. So they got a $150,000.00 budget. They got a $50,000.00 advance.

So the advance goes in their pocket, everybody…

Ah, ah, ah! Not so fast with that fifty grand. Let’s pay the manager his 15%. So there went 75 hundred bucks. So now we’re down to 42 thousand. Then we had to pay for the attorney. He’s going to be at least another 75 hundred bucks. Maybe more, but let’s give him 75 hundred bucks. So now we’re down to 35. Now let’s split that between five guys and we all got seven grand.


You want to pay taxes on it? Well, now it’s five grand. I guarantee you most people who just signed a record deal didn’t see it as $5,000.00. In their minds they split up the gross, not the net. But they paid off a couple of things they owed. They went and bought a new something and some strings for it, and it was Christmas. By the time the record was over, they’ve spent that other three-thousand bucks. Easy.

Now, the record company has spent fifty grand on the advance, a hundred and fifty thousand on the record. What’s the…

…and another fifty on the video.

So now we’re up to $250,000.00.


How much are you going to spend on promotion for the first single?

Let’s say the record starts to stick. That means that we’re number twenty on some airplay chart. That’s enough to generate the tour support and get them out there to follow that up now. So that tour support’s going to run about 25 grand a month. Let’s put them out there for six weeks. So there’s 35 G’s we’re going to spend on tour support. And that’s, that’s kind of working. Everybody loves them. So now we’re up to 15,000 records. It’s exciting. (laughter) But we’re already starting to stage it and maybe we better get ready for that second track. ‘Cause we’re starting to burn out.

So we’ve got to start thinking about the next one. Well, I mean the next video of course. But now that we’re so successful, we don’t want no stinkin’ $50,000.00 video, ’cause we got a great idea. And that idea is only going to cost us a hundred grand. So now we just jumped into the $300-$400,000 level. We’ve sold 15,000 records. And by the time that video’s done, of course, that second track’s not added at any stations. It all starts to go away. We’ve spent $400,000 and we’ve only sold 15,000 records.

Does the group have to write a check to the label (laughter)?

No. It’s on their debit balance. The band’s.

So the group would have to realize $500,000.00 worth of royalties in order to walk away with $100,000.00 in cash?

Uh, you can look at it like that, but, of course, now we’re going to have to make another record. And we’re not going to get away with that same $150,000.00 on the next record. And another seventy-five on a video. And so, needless to say, we’re six-or seven-hundred thousand dollars into it by the day of release of the second record. And of course, we can, we can paint ourselves into the spending corner one more time with the illusion of success, because airplay is not record sales.

Isn’t it common for labels to dump close to a million bucks in to a new band…

Happens all the time. Record companies, with apparent success, are spending three quarters of a million bucks, and essentially not getting to first base.

Tell us the Tina Turner story. How did you revive her career?

I want to believe that I was just an element of that story. In my career I have worked with very few people as talented as Roger Davies, her manager. He had been working with her a long time before I got involved. I hesitate to take too much credit for her success. I did sign her at Capitol, but it was a great irony for me to find out six months after I had gone to Roger, I found out that he had taken a demo tape to every record company in town–including Capitol. Not to me, but someone else at Capitol–and everyone had passed. So when I came in the door saying I had an idea and I wanted to sign her, he kept his mouth shut and let me go ahead and feel like it was all my idea (laughter).

It took two years for us to make that record. The illusion is that it took two weeks, but it took a long time and I had a lot of friends coming to me, telling me how embarrassing it was, how everyone was talking about how I had finally really gone off the deep end this time. And “please change your mind and get away from this.” I’m sure that was absolutely true. It could have gone the other way very easily.

But… for me? Tina Turner. One, I had always been a fan. In an interview I was asked to name three artists I would like to work with. I said John Fogerty, Van Morrison, Tina Turner. Couple of months later I’m in Tower Records. I’m waiting in line. And I think any of us in the business, when we’re in Tower, we’re eavesdropping and watching, and have our marketing hat on. I’m checking out and the guy in front of me says, “I can’t find any Ike and Tina Turner records.” And the clerk says, “Wow! We’re out of those again!? Amazing!” So of course, that registered for me. I thought that was very interesting that the guy at the store would even know that there was a constant flow of Ike and Tina Turner records. So I go back to the office and sit down and phone a different record store. And said, “Got any Ike and Tina Turner records?” The guy on the phone says, “Would you stop fu#*!’ driving me crazy with this Ike and Tina Turner bull&%*#?” And hangs up on me. Well now I’m really interested. (laughter) I go home that night. There’s Tina Turner on this brand new show, “20-20”, a story about her being an abused wife. Well, now I’m thinking I’m getting messages from the stars. I was supposed to see this. This is all happening to me. Get to the office the next day. There’s a memo. Be sure and watch the Rod Stewart special featuring Kim Carnes–Bette Davis Eyes was a huge hit–also featuring Tina Turner!

Okay. It’s within 24 hours, I’ve had four shots at it now. So I start to check. Find out that this guy Roger Davies, who manages Olivia Newton-John, is working with her. Then I find out she’s selling out all these little clubs everywhere. There’s something going on here. Now I’m really interested and start doing my homework. Well the TV show comes up. Of course Tina Turner blows the doors off Kim Carnes, maybe Rod Stewart. She’s just fantastic. Looks great. Better than I’ve ever seen her with Ike and I’ve seen her plenty of times with Ike. And I’m in love. As a producer, I had been pursuing Bette Midler. Had fifteen songs that I thought were great that, with a little imagination, could be even better for Tina. So I basically took that body of work, go to San Francisco. She sold out a room there. Set the house record for the place. Feels great. I notice that it’s Dad and the kids. It’s two generations enjoying this artist. I like that demographic. I meet her. She’s one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. She loves every song I play for her. That’s always endearing as hell. And, uh, the rest was… pain. For the next two years it was really hard. Nobody wanted to give us a song.


“Tina Turner?!” “Who cares?” “Has-been.” “I’m holding this song for Heart.” “We’re waiting for a Pat Benatar cut”…this is what we heard all the time. We couldn’t get any producers interested. Which is why we eventually went to England and cut “What’s Love Got To Do With It” But even that was a deal. It was, you know, “We’ll cut your song, But you’ve also got to produce this other track. It’s part of the deal.” And here we want to do your song, Rupert Hine, but you’ve also got to do this other song for us.” The only way we got the album cut was to manipulate a few songwriters.

The politics of the business once again.

Well, but, but no one was cutting “What’s Love Got to do With it.” That song had been sitting around for a couple of years gathering dust. We finally just began cutting songs that we thought should have been hits when they were first released by other artists. Lord knows there are plenty of those and you don’t need the publishers permission to record them. That’s how we got “Better Be Good To Me.”

And the record sold how many copies?

I think that it’s at eight or ten million or something like that. >>

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