Aerosmith to Sign Monster Sony Pact : Pop music: The deal would make the band rock’s highest paid group but the band still owes Geffen two albums. Returns on Sony’s investment wouldn’t be realized until 1995.


Sony Music is rolling the dice again.

Just months after the record industry conglomerate signed Michael Jackson to a landmark $65 million-plus contract, Sony is concluding negotiations on a four-album deal with Aerosmith that could make the veteran band the industry’s most highly paid rock group.

According to sources familiar with the signing, which could be announced as early as today, the deal would provide Aerosmith with a lavish $10-million advance and a blue-chip royalty rate similar to Janet Jackson, who signed an unprecedented $40 million contract in March with Virgin Records.

But it’s not just the prospect of another highly-touted superstar signing that has the record industry abuzz. Unlike Michael Jackson, who was already signed to Sony, or Janet Jackson, who was a free agent, Aerosmith is still signed to rival Geffen Records.


In fact, the band owes Geffen two more studio albums--and a greatest hits collection--before it can begin recording for Sony’s Columbia Records label. With the group not scheduled to deliver a new album to Geffen until sometime next year, Sony might not get its first new release until 1995 or later.

“We wish Aerosmith all the best--they’re terrific guys,” says Geffen President Ed Rosenblatt, who announced to his staff last week that the band was leaving the label. “But as much as we care about the band, we couldn’t make this kind of deal. The Sony agreement involved the kind of investment that we felt was just not a good business decision.”

Sony executives refused to discuss the upcoming signing. Aerosmith manager Tim Collins and attorney John Branca also declined to comment, though a band management spokesman confirmed that the band is “in negotiations” with Sony.

Other sources close to the band said they expected the deal to be closed at any moment, noting that the Boston-based band members had flown to New York on Tuesday to be on hand for the upcoming announcement.

Industry executives agreed that the deal, which could earn Aerosmith about $5 million per album on top of its initial advance, is a boon for the band. “That advance is like an insurance policy for the guys,” said one rival label chief. “They’re set for life.”

The big question about the deal: Is Aerosmith really worth waiting for? With its key members already approaching their mid-40s, many industry insiders wonder whether Aerosmith will still be in its prime by the time it starts making albums for Sony.


“I think Sony is living in a fantasy--that deal isn’t reality,” says one rival record label chief. “Aerosmith has had lots of success, but that’s now. What are the odds that a band of guys already in their 40s can duplicate that success five or six years from now? It’s a real corporate mentality deal, because it gives Sony a well-known brand-name rock band. But it doesn’t make sense musically.”

Still, other industry leaders say the deal is worth the risk. “People have counted Aerosmith out before and they were wrong,” says Giant Records President Irving Azoff. “The guys in the band have never been healthier, they’re unbelievably well managed and they’re still full of musical energy. If I’d been a major label that they’d considered talking with, I’d have been in there bidding.”

Insiders say Geffen Records dropped out of the bidding nearly a month ago, despite expressing a strong interest in retaining the band. According to several accounts, relations had been strained between Aerosmith manager Collins and David Geffen.

There have also been published reports of bad blood between Aerosmith attorney Branca and Geffen, who was described as playing a major role in Michael Jackson’s decision to oust Branca as his attorney last year. According to several sources, most of Aerosmith’s negotiations with the label were conducted by business manager Burton Goldstein, not Branca.

But Geffen executives insist it continues to have a good relationship with the band. “Tim Collins and David’s relations had no bearing on our decision about the band,” Rosenblatt says. “It was strictly a business decision.”

However, insiders say that Sony has a key card Geffen can’t play. Sony administers Aerosmith’s back catalogue (the albums that the band recorded for Sony’s Columbia label from 1973 to 1982), which is one of the best-selling catalogues in the business. Sony reportedly has plans to issue a deluxe boxed-set of old Aerosmith recordings, which would further enhance the band’s status as a rock institution.

That very status is exactly what attracted Sony to Aerosmith. Industry insiders say the deal isn’t a luxury for Sony--it’s a necessity. Of the six Columbia Records artists in the Billboard Top 50 this week, only one--a young heavy-metal band called Alice in Chains--qualifies as a rock group. The label’s other top chart artists are either pop crooners, such as Michael Bolton and Mariah Carey, or dance and rap acts, such as C+C Music Factory and 3rd Bass.

Record companies put considerable value on rock groups, because they tend to enjoy far more career longevity than dance sensations or rap acts. Yet Columbia’s only top rock-group seller is Warrant, a relatively undistinguished young band.

“For Sony, which doesn’t have any credible rock bands, this is a legitimate gamble because at least it puts them on the map with rock audiences,” says Peter Mensch, co-manager of such leading rock acts as Metallica and Def Leppard. “Of all the hard-rock bands, Aerosmith has done the best job of crossing over to mainstream America.”

Originally signed to Columbia Records in 1972, the band enjoyed considerable success in the mid-’70s with such hits as “Dream On” and “Walk This Way.” But the band began to fall apart in the late ‘70s as lead singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry were plagued by a series of much-publicized drug problems.

After Tyler and Perry regained their health, the group was signed to Geffen in 1985 by A&R; executive John Kalodner, who’s been a key player in the band’s commercial resurgence.

The loss of Aerosmith, coupled with the temporary demise of Whitesnake (the band’s leader, David Coverdale, is off making an album with Jimmy Page) leaves Guns N’ Roses as Geffen’s only superstar rock band. But Rosenblatt insists that the label is well-stocked with potential hit-makers, which include two newly-signed groups--the Stone Roses and the Waterboys--as well as up-and-coming bands such as Nelson, the Nymphs and the Galactic Cowboys.

So is Geffen’s loss Sony’s gain? Many industry executives question the timing--and expense--of the Aerosmith acquisition, saying fashions change so quickly in rock that it’s risky to make a deal which won’t fully pay off until nearly the year 2000.

But others acknowledge that it sends a message to Sony’s rivals. “With this deal coming on the heels of the Michael Jackson re-signing, Sony is really flexing its muscles,” says a leading industry executive. “They’re saying to other labels, ‘We’re back--big time.’ Watch out. We grabbed Aerosmith. Maybe it’ll be one of your acts next time.”

Aerosmith’s Hit Albums

TOP CHART INITIAL TITLE YEAR POSITION SALES For Columbia Records: Aerosmith 1973 21 Gold Get Your Wings 1974 74 Gold Toys in the Attic 1975 11 Gold Rocks 1976 3 Platinum Draw the Line 1977 11 Platinum Live! Bootleg 1978 13 Platinum Night in the Ruts 1979 14 Gold Greatest Hits 1980 53 Gold Rock in a Hard Place 1982 32 Unavailable For Geffen Records: Done With Mirrors 1985 36 Gold Permanent Vacation 1987 11 Triple Platinum Pump 1989 5 Quadruple Platinum

Note: Many Aerosmith albums went platinum and even quintuple platinum more than a decade later. Source: Joel Whitburn’s “Top Pop Albums” and Billboard Charts.