Janet Jackson is about to start earning that $40 million that Virgin Records agreed to pay her almost a year ago.
She's just signed up producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for a record-setting $3 million to produce and co-write her first Virgin album. Jackson will join the duo in their Minneapolis studio on April 4, and they all hope have the record wrapped by Christmas.
Many industry observers believe that the talented Jam and Lewis team, which shaped the songs and sounds of Jackson's mega-hit albums "Control" and "Rhythm Nation: 1814," is a crucial element if Virgin hopes to get its money's worth from Jackson's three-album contract signed last March.
No one is saying--at least on the record--that Jackson had no choice, but the numbers indicate how valuable Jam and Lewis are to her. She's paying them about three times the previous high paid to a producer.
"I don't think anybody has to have anybody," Jam told Pop Eye by phone from his Minneapolis office, dismissing the notion that he and his partner are responsible for Jackson's success. And he said that while the deal was not always a certainty, there was never any tension between the producers and the artist over financial arrangements.
"We're good friends," he said. "We agreed at the beginning of this whole process that we weren't going to jeopardize the friendship over business, so we let the lawyers and managers work with it."
Still, the deal acknowledges the role the producers played in Jackson's ascendancy.
"Janet received an unprecedented deal, and (Jam and Lewis) in kind will receive an unprecedented deal," said Kevin Fleming, an associate of the pair and the vice president and general manager of their Perspective Records label. "I don't want to say (Jackson) was desperate to get Jimmy and Terry, but it was only logical. We're talking about the continued development of a superstar artist."
According to one source, at a probable producers' royalty rate of 50 cents per album, it will take sales of about 6 million copies for Jackson to recoup the advance. That's not an unreasonable goal--1987's "Control" sold more than 5 million in the United States alone, and 1989's "Rhythm Nation" had U.S. sales of nearly 6 million.
The previous high producer advance was believed to be negotiated by Michael Lippman, who manages a number of top producers, including Mike Klink (Guns N' Roses), Ron Nevison (Damn Yankees) and Chris Kimsey (the Rolling Stones), but not Jam and Lewis.
Lippman--who would not say which client got the former biggest deal--is overjoyed to see a new standard for producer fees.
"Producers now have to be seen as analogous to movie directors and have an incredibly important role in the process of making records," Lippman said. "And it's an incredible marriage between Jimmy and Terry and Janet. Why interfere?"