Cee Lo Green: Making Millions Even If His Albums Don't Sell

from the how-it's-done dept

A whole bunch of you have been sending in the recent NY Times article that details how singer Cee Lo Green is making $20 million this year, even as the sales of his album have been considered just so-so, based on traditional industry metrics. The article is really much more about Primary Wave Music, a music publisher/management firm that seems to totally get the economics of the music business today -- that by selling the scarce they can make a hell of a lot more money than just by selling music.

We've actually talked about Primary Wave's work in the past, in some of the things they've done to help Mariah Carey make money. And the story with Cee Lo is pretty similar: focus on selling the things you can't pirate, the real scarcities. And we're not talking (as our critics always insist) about tangible goods like t-shirts, but selling the person. Primary Wave may be positioned as publishing and management, but it's real business is marketing.
When Primary Wave took over Cee Lo’s management, shortly before the release of “The Lady Killer,” he still had a relatively low profile as a solo artist. But the company seized on the early viral success of “Forget You” to make Cee Lo a ubiquitous face.

His over-the-top performances at half a dozen award shows -- performing with the Jim Henson Company puppets at the Grammys, playing a piano that spun 360 degrees above the crowd at the Billboard awards -- proved highly successful. His television campaign for the year has also included “Saturday Night Live,” an appearance on the NBC comedy-drama “Parenthood” and his own talk show on the cable channel Fuse (“Talking to Strangers”).

Primary Wave also booked numerous commercial endorsements for Cee Lo, in traditional TV spots like a 7Up commercial that has been running since October, as well as a Web video series for Absolut Vodka and personal appearances for Duracell and Pretzel M&M’s.
And, no, this doesn't just mean complete selling out (I can already hear the critics...), but finding campaigns that match Cee Lo's personality. They note they've turned down a ton of deals that didn't fit.

Either way, it looks like Cee Lo is earning a ton of money from all of this: commercials, sponsorships, TV appearances and (of course) tons of live performances. The article notes that actual direct music sales are the smallest slice of the pie.

But the key point here is that these and many other opportunities are much more wide open to artists today, and it helps if their music is more widely known. That is, artists like Cee Lo, with the help of companies like Primal Wave, are recognizing that if you use the infinite goods -- such as the music -- to make the scarce goods (like Cee Lo himself or his endorsement) much more valuable, you can make a lot more money than ever before. And when you look at the overall market that way, you realize that there's lots more money to be made in the music industry today than ever before. The only part of the industry that's hurting is the part that was based on selling plastic discs, which has become obsolete. Everything else is booming.

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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 29 Dec 2011 @ 2:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Oh, and you're wrong.

    No, actually, I'm not.

    I have sales figures that prove it.

    Uh, no you don't. What you have is some figures that suggest that record labels got a small boost after Limewire shut down. That has little to do with artists.

    What I have is the actual data on how much *artists* themselves have been earning over the last decade. You know what it shows? As piracy has increased, their earnings have gone up in *every* area except royalties -- which was always a small part of overall musician earnings anyway. From 2002 to 2010, revenue to musicians went UP by 16%. Live revenue: way up. Licensing revenue: way up. Publishing revenue: significantly up.

    So when we talk about how these laws don't help artists, we have the facts on your side.

    Pointing to numbers about how the LABELS get more money doesn't show anything about the *artists*. It's a neat trick but anyone with two brain cells can understand the difference.

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