He’s One Artist With a Sure-Fire Song of the Year

Coming very soon is the biggest opportunity a songwriter will ever have to cash in on a tune tied to the turning of the calendar--at least until the year 2525 rolls around for Zager & Evans.

So, will the Artist (formerly known as Prince) be partying like it’s 1999--all the way to the bank?

You bet. The hit title single from his first Top 10 album, 1982’s “1999,” is about to come back in a big way.

His music publisher is listening to offers from ad agencies seeking to tie the song to products. The musician has been talking about re-forming the Revolution--the band that worked with him in his breakthrough years following “1999"--for a special performance, if not a whole tour. And Warner Bros. Records is launching a campaign to maximize the consumer and broadcast demand that will certainly build through the New Year’s countdown and continue right up to “two thousand zero zero.”


And that all adds up.

“All I can say is I’d love to be Prince right now,” says Mark Helbock, a music licensing executive who recently left the powerful J. Walter Thompson advertising agency to start his own firm, MGH Music Services. “I doubt [his publisher] is listening to any offer for less than $1 million. And I’d say that $1 million would be cheap for that.”

That’s about four times the amount usually commanded for exclusive advertising rights of hit songs, licensing experts say. So who might be interested in paying that much?

“Really, when you think about it, any product could use it,” says Helbock. “A car company touting their big new car. . . . A soda or beer, sports--anything that’s going to debut in 1999 or any aspect of a party or celebration.”

Les Bider, chairman of Warner Chappell Music, the publishing firm that controls the song, won’t discuss numbers but says there has been no lack of proposals and offers.

“Obviously, it’s a very special composition with a very special spin for the whole next year,” he says. “A lot of things have been tossed about, but nothing definitive has been closed yet. The thing is, any advertiser who wants to link this to a project would have to demand exclusivity, and that comes with a huge premium.”

And that’s just the start. Sales of both the “1999" album and a more recent greatest-hits collection that includes the song are expected to jump considerably, and the former Prince will also reap tremendous royalties from the use on radio and TV.

Warner Bros. has, in fact, just started its campaign to increase the song’s exposure by sending radio stations a CD single featuring both the original six-minute album version and a convenient 3:35 edit.


WANT A REVOLUTION? Hints at a reunion of the Revolution, Prince’s best-known ensemble, have been all over the Artist’s Web site and have been dropped in his rare interviews. But the plans, typically, are shrouded in mystery. Prince representatives could not be reached for comment, and even members of the band are largely up in the air about it.

“There was talk about putting back the band,” says guitarist Wendy Melvoin, who just released a new album with fellow Revolution alum Lisa Coleman under the name “Girl Bros.”

“There was stuff on the Web page indicating we had spoken about it [with Prince], which we hadn’t. So I called and asked him what was going on. He said there’s old [recordings] with us in the vault that he’s been pulling out and wants us to listen to and then we’ll talk. So we’ll see what happens.”