Singer George Michael lashed out at his record company yesterday, saying Sony’s takeover of CBS Records turned him into “part of the production line for a giant electronics corporation.”
Michael’s shot was his first public statement on a suit filed Oct. 30 in the United Kingdom to break his contract with Sony U.K., the company that signed him worldwide. That suit called his pact heavily weighted in favor of Sony, effectively amounting to restraint of trade.
The tactic has been used successfully by other acts to break their label deals.
Michael still owes six albums to Sony under terms of his current deal, signed in January 1988 and lasting until 2003.
Sony responded yesterday to Michael by stating that the contract is “valid and legally binding.”
The company also said it was “saddened and surprised by the action George has taken against Sony Music U.K. There is a serious moral as well as legal commitment attached to any contract and we will not only honor it, but vigorously defend it.”
Michael claimed yesterday that his motivation for filing suit is not money, citing his dissatisfaction with the company’s corporate policies since Sony bought out the former CBS Records.
“I have seen the great American music company that I proudly signed to as a teenager become a small part of the production line for a giant electronics corporation who, quite frankly, have no understanding of the creative process,” Michael said. “With CBS, I felt that I was believed in as a long-term artist, whereas Sony appears to see artists as little more than software.
“It would be arrogant and stupid of me to believe I could change the way that such a powerful corporation thinks,” Michael concluded. “I have reached the conclusion that divorce is the only solution. In my opinion, my relationship with CBS Records was a successful affair, whereas this arranged marriage to Sony simply does not work. We do not speak the same language.”
Sources close to Michael say the singer’s falling out with Sony began with “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. I,” issued in 1990 without promotional videos at Michael’s request. The album failed to top the U.S. sales total of predecessor “Faith,” although the record did well outside North America.
Michael was disturbed at the marketing push behind “Listen Without Prejudice, ” and claimed that the label’s upper tier was not as supportive as it had been under former CEO Walter Yetnikoff, although neither specific individuals nor the new Japanese management were blamed.
The U.K. litigation is expected to proceed within six to nine months, but some observers feel the case could take as long as five years. Michael is prepared to wait, according to sources, and has vowed never to record again for Sony.
Meanwhile, he is writing and producing an album called “The Trojan Horses,” a collection of Michael songs sung by Elton John, Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin, among others. A Michael source said the artists had solicited Michael’s songwriting skills in the past, but Sony had passed on the project. Michael will be involved in the album’s promotion.