‘Chicago’ mama’s got a brand new bag

Latifah, team producing album, tour, special

Queen Latifah, who earned an Oscar nom for her portrayal of Mama Morton in “Chicago,” has partnered with Broadway presenter Creative Battery, concert promoter AEG/Live and Vector Recordings to create a team that will oversee her 2004 musical ventures.

The deal is a new model for the music business, based in part on the deal AEG/Live struck with Celine Dion for her Las Vegas show. Creative Battery, along with Vector, will record, market and oversee distribution of the next Latifah album, which the singer-actress said will consist of songs that have an emotional connection for her. Arif Mardin, who produced the bulk of Norah Jones’ album “Come Away With Me” and won the producer Grammy, will produce.

Latifah, made four rap albums between 1989 and 1998, but wasn’t heard singing until “Chicago,” is expected to explore music that runs from Bessie Smith to Pearl Bailey to early ’70s R&B. She does not have a record deal at this time.

On road

The team will produce a 20-city concert tour and a TV special/DVD in conjunction with the album’s summer release. Conversations with networks are in the very early stages. AEG/Live operates the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, which is equipped to shoot shows, though no decision has been made on where to film the DVD.

Randy Phillips, president-CEO of concert promoter AEG/Live, said, “The Latifah deal, for us, is the first of a number of salvos in cross-ownership of rights. She’s had a film resurgence to the point where she can headline and get films greenlit. And most of the Western world has discovered she can sing.”

Latifah and the other concerns are all partners in the operation, which covers the album and tour and a possible sequel. It opens the door for each to share in revenue streams that would not be available in standard, separate concert and record contracts. The deal is the first of its kind for all the principals. Dion’s deal, for example, does not cover any sound or video recordings.

Record companies do not traditionally share concert revenue with promoters or bands. Likewise, promoters do not earn any money from album sales.

Phillips noted it takes $3 million to put tickets for a national tour on sale and that record companies launch albums with budgets of between $3 million and $6 million, though rarely are the efforts twinned.

“I liken it to a film deal,” Jack Rovner, co-topper at Vector Recordings, told Daily Variety. “We’re all partners on a script.”

‘Anchor artist’

“The idea is to take an anchor artist and create a team around them,” said Creative Battery founder Scott Sanders, a co-founder of Mandalay Television with Peter Guber and exec producer at Radio City Music Hall Prods. “We asked her if she was ready to do an album like this, and after meeting Arif, she said she was ready.”

Monica Lynch, former president of Tommy Boy Records, where Latifah began her career, and Joe McEwen, former senior VP and director of A&R at Warner Bros. Records, will be involved in A&R for the record.

Vector Recordings are distributed by WEA, though other companies may be involved in distributing the Latifah CD.

Before Latifah gets to work on the album, she has a few film projects. She is in principal photography on “Taxi” with Jimmy Fallon. She follows that with MGM’s “Beauty Shop,” a female take on “Barbershop,” and has a pending untitled buddy-cop project with Jada Pinkett Smith at Paramount.

Rap splash

Creative Battery, a New York-based studio, is a producing company that brings all areas of entertainment under a single roof, with an emphasis on developing properties for the stage, TV, music, film and publishing. In its first year, Creative Battery won the 2002 Tony for “Elaine Stritch at Liberty.” Upcoming projects include the premiere of the musical version of “The Color Purple”; a revival of “Dreamgirls” on Broadway; and ABC’s first original animated movie musical, “Noah’s Ark.”

Vector Recordings was founded last year by Rovner and Ken Levitan and has had initial success with singer-songwriter Damien Rice’s “O.”

“There’s no boilerplate for these agreements — it’s a brave new world,” Phillips noted. “But it sure beats overbidding for tours.”

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