Almost eight years ago, in her hit "Material Girl," Madonna declared that "the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right."
Yesterday, the suitor was media conglomerate Time Warner Inc., which announced it signed the pop star to a multimedia contract that, according to her manager Freddy DeMann, has worth "dramatically greater" than $60 million.
The pact, at its maximum payoff, is the most lucrative ever negotiated by an entertainer, superceding Michael Jackson's reported $50 million signing last year with Sony.
Madonna's agreement, which she began negotiating a year ago, is also the latest in a year-long string of blockbuster deals that has seen Michael and Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones and the hard rock bands Aerosmith and Motley Crue sign $30 million to $50 million pacts. The figures are formidable -- and somewhat deceptive. The quoted figure is based largely on the acts maintaining the massive sales performances that brought about the contracts in the first place.
"Essentially, this is the way the record business has evolved," says Detroit entertainment attorney Mike Novak. "This is a typical blockbuster deal that secures the label a profit center and allows them to make riskier endeavors with new artists."
Madonna's deal provides for a joint venture between the performer and Time Warner in forming a firm called Maverick, a multimedia conglomerate that will house a record label, a music publishing company and film, television, book-publishing and merchandising divisions. Time Warner will contribute $2 million per year to help cover Maverick's operating expenses.
The deal, which will run up to 11 years, also provides for Madonna, 33, a $5-million advance for each of her next seven albums and a 20-percent royalty rate, one of pop music's highest. During the past decade, Madonna has parlayed hit singles, shrewd business sense, a taste for cutting-edge culture and a knack for controversy into sales of more than 70 million records and more than three million videocassettes worldwide, amassing an estimated $1.2 billion for Time Warner.
With that track record -- which also includes the hit films "Desperately Seeking Susan" and "Truth or Dare" -- Mr. DeMann says he and Madonna felt that "No. 1, she should be paid even better as an artist . . . and over and above that, we wanted to form this company which will basically be in every business" that Time Warner is in.
Speaking to the New York Times, Madonna described Maverick as "an artistic think tank" and likened it to Germany's Bauhaus of the early 1900s and Andy Warhol's Factory collective of the '60s.
Maverick, she says, "started as a desire to have more control. There's a group of writers, photographers, directors and editors that I've met along the way in my career who I want to take with me everywhere I go. I want to incorporate them into my little factory of ideas. I also come in contact with a lot of young talent that I feel entrepreneurial about."
Mr. DeMann said yesterday it was premature to discuss the new company's specific projects, particularly artist signings and a pair of song catalogs -- publishing rights to songs -- he says Maverick is negotiating to purchase. Madonna has slated a new album of her own for the fall, as well as a coffee table-style book of erotic photographs.
Her latest film endeavors -- "A League of Their Own," which opens in July, and "Body of Evidence," which she is filming in Portland, Ore. -- are for other studios, but Mr. DeMann says there have been "meaningful conversations" with Time Warner subsidiary HBO about future film and TV projects, including an adaptation of James Baldwin's novel "Giovanni's Room," directed by "Truth or Dare" cohort Alek Keshishian, and a film biography of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the wife of muralist Diego Rivera.
"We believe they will see the light of day very soon," Mr. DeMann said. "This is a process."