Note: Many people have requested a summary of Mottola's book to learn about what he said about Michael. Tommy Mottola has released his autobiography called Hitmaker. This book is not about Michael Jackson but Mottola mentions his interactions with Michael in it – although they aren't a lot or long in nature.
Here is the summary : (Dates aren't exact, direct quotes are in blue)
Mottola very early in the book mentions Michael calling him racist and denies such claims mentioning his wives & openness to all cultures. He says Michael lashing out had nothing to do with racism but it was about declining sales numbers and Michael wanting to get out of his contract withSony.
Tommy Mottola : “The attack was sad and pathetic. As the head of the company, I remained above the fray and most certainly did not comment on it. Now that Michael has passed there’s little benefit to me in bringing the incident back up. But if you know me, you know that I’m not the kind of guy to avoid it.”
Mottola mentions renewing Michael’s contract in 1991. He says it was one of largest contracts offered. He says they paid Michael an advance of $35 Million. Mottola says although Michael was happy with the contract he refused to sign it unless the press-release announced it as a billion dollar deal.
Tommy Mottola: “Anybody who punctured the balloons that Michael blew up around him was not around Michael Jackson very long. In other words, if you said no to Michael one time because it was the right thing to do, you’d be gone.”
Tommy Mottola: “But there was virtually nobody around Michael who could speak truth to him because he was Michael Jackson, King of Pop, and he was writing the checks. He surrounded himself with people who said yes simply to be around him or because they were cashing his checks. Michael, what would you like? Michael, how would you like that? Michael, we can do this. Michael, of course we can do that. Yes, Michael. Yes, Michael. Yes, Michael, yes. That put me in somewhat of a unique position. I was in charge of Sony Music— and Sony was writing his checks. I didn’t confront him very often. But I might have been the only person in the world who was able to say “I don’t think that’s right” to Michael Jackson. From the beginning, part of him resented that, but mostly he respected that.”
Mottola calls Dangerous album a success with 32 Million units in sales. He mentions however Michael wasn’t happy with the sales numbers, starting from Bad album. Mottola says he started working for CBS/ Sony soon after Bad was released and Michael was not happy with 45 Million unit sales of Bad album and would tell Mottola to turn it around and it could sell more than 100 Million units. Mottola says similarly Michael was not happy with the 32 Million sales of Dangerous album. Mottola says he would tell Michael that they sent a promotional army and no other album was selling even remotely close to these numbers.
Tommy Mottola: “So you can see how differently our views were of the same numbers from the start.”
Tommy Mottola: “But Michael was very right about one thing. As high as those numbers were, and as profitable as they were for the company, they were shrinking.”
Mottola says in 1993 they tried to reignite interest for Michael’s Dangerous album by arranging SuperBowl performance and Oprah interviews. Both have been successful and had high viewership numbers and Dangerous seen an increase in sales. Then the 1993 molestation accusations happened.
Tommy Mottola “There are few charges more serious than molestation, and in the case of Michael Jackson there was little we at Sony could do but step back and wonder how it would play out. It was our job to handle the public relations as it pertained to his music and recording career, but we couldn’t do anything in these legal matters other than support him in any way he asked. Looking back now, it’s obvious that Michael’s career had already peaked by this time, though he refused to acknowledge it. Living in a delusional bubble permitted him to think these allegations and the press reports were not going to affect the way people thought about him. The reality is his career was certainly never the same from the moment that charge hit the airwaves.”
Mottola says at that time they didn’t know the exact impact of the charges will have on Michael’s career and they would only see the scope of it when Michael’s next album came out.
Mottola mentions Michael never worked within a budget and he spent whatever it took on his projects without much thought or care. Mottola mentions an expensive album recording cost would be around $1 Million but Michael’s album recording costs were as high as $40 Million. Mottola says an average music video cost around $200,000 at the time and Dave Glew would give Michael a $1 Million budget (5 times the average)but these budget limits didn’t stop Michael. Michael would take advances and be on the hook for the money himself and he would feel he would earn the money back when the album sells.
Michael was working on History album. He again hoped it to sell 100 Million. Mottola mentions the cost to produce the album was astronomical because Michael would rent out entire studios when he recorded and he would have multiple producers around the world working simultaneously. Mottola says he felt that this album was quite personal and it was Michael’s inner voice speaking. They spent additional $7 Million for the Scream video and $5 Million for the History Teaser.
Tommy Mottola: “There was also a rendition of the Charlie Chaplin masterpiece, “Smile,” included on the new material, which was one of the most beautiful vocal performances I’d ever heard in my career. The song, all about pushing through pain with a smile, is touching and emotional, and I’d go as far as to call what Michael did with it perfection. Amid all the chaos within and around him, you couldn’t help but feel for Michael. Especially knowing that underneath everything he went through he was really a good guy.”
Mottola says they did their best in promoting History album. They spent $30 Million in promotion costs (10 times what is spent on Thriller). The album sold 20 Million units, the top selling double album. Sony felt the sales numbers were good and it was a great business but Michael was unhappy as the numbers were going down at each album.
Mottola mentions History tour was a phenomenal business as well but all the elaborate stages, show element, statues of Michael etc. had cut into Michael’s profits.
At this time Sony also makes a $90 Million offer for half of ATV catalog. Mottola calls this a great business for Michael as he made double of what he paid for half of the catalog but this deal will also connect Sony and Michael at the hip.
Michael was working on Invincible. Mottola says Michael would write and look at 120 songs before he edited and selected the songs that would make the cut.
Michael asked Mottola to come to Hit Factory at Miami and Mottola went there with his wife Thalia. They find the whole studio empty and Michael at a recording truck on the parking lot. (Mottola mentions there were 5-6 recording rooms and each of them cost $5,000 per day to rent)
Michael tells to them he likes the recording truck because it’s quiet, peaceful and private and he can think there. Mottola says he was worried because by that time the recording expenses had exceeded $30 Million and he hasn’t heard a single song.
Michael tells Mottola that this would be biggest album and it would sell over 100 Million units.
Tommy Mottola: “I know that was how he justified all of this in his own mind. To him, it didn’t matter how much he spent— or borrowed— to create his art. He thought he would make it back as soon as the album was released and became a megahit. And all of his handlers— and I mean all of them, every single one, allowed this to happen. No one said no. Ever. You only said yes to Michael Jackson or else you were history.”
Mottola mentions how welcoming Michael was. Thalia tells Michael how she was as a teenager got on the stage with Michael and Michael opens up to them about his childhood.
Tommy Mottola: “For some reason, the image of Thalia as a young girl opened the door to Michael telling her a story about his childhood, and how hard it was for him, and what he had to endure at the hands of his father through the daily rehearsals. I’m not going to go into any of the details that he told us, but they would make any parent or child shiver. My point is, you would never mention details like those to anyone you saw as an enemy or the devil. It was so sad to hear arguably the biggest star in entertainment sitting in the back of a dimly lit recording truck telling these stories. Thalia and I almost had tears in our eyes. You wanted to just put your arms around Michael and hug him. There never was any question in my mind, then or now, that all of Michael’s intentions were loving and good, and that he was a kind soul.”
Mottola says Sony was advancing Michael tens of millions of dollars for the rent of the studio space, the producers, writers for the short films and so on. Mottola says Michael also went to the banks to get loans using Sony/ATV as collateral. Mottola says this put Michael in a very vulnerable position; Invincible had to be highly successful to cover all these millions of dollars of costs / debt. Mottola says everyone at Sony was shocked why Michael was advised not to do such decisions by his own people.
Mottola says after several years and $40 Million in costs Michael handed them Invincible album. Mottola says Sony thought Invincible was good but not Michael’s best work. However given the already high costs and how long it took for it to be finished, they did not ask Michael to go back and make some other tracks.
Mottola says that Sony helped arranged a deal with CBS to do a TV celebration of Michael’s 30th career anniversary at Madison Square Garden. This would propel into a tour and all of which will help Invincible sales.
Mottola says the Madison Square Garden concerts were a success, even the high cost tickets were sold, Michael had made $7 Million from the 2 concerts. It would have been the perfect promotion but the next day 9 /11 attacks happened and obviously no one was talking about Michael Jackson.
Michael’s Invincible album gets released, it immediately goes to Number 1 but within a month it was out of Top 10. Invincible had sold 8 Million units, the sales numbers were disappointing for everyone and not enough to cover the $40 Million expenses. Mottola says according to Michael’s perception this was not acceptable and Sony had failed him. Michael would call Dave Glew and ask him to do anything to get the album back at number one.
Tommy Mottola : “When you are used to hearing “Yes, Michael, yes, Michael, yes, Michael, yes,” from everybody who is around you, it must be unbearable to hear, “No, Michael, we cannot and will not put millions more into the promotion of this album.” Sales had completely stalled, and that was after we had already spent a global marketing budget of more than $ 25 million.”
Mottola says Michael through his lawyers told them he would not sign a new deal with Sony, he would fulfill his remaining obligations and leaveSony and be a free agent.
Mottola says then something snapped and Michael launched an all out attack on Sony and Mottola personally calling him mean, racist and devilish.
Mottola says he called Al Sharpton immediately to ask him what was going on. Sharpton would apologize and tell that he had no idea that Michael would single Mottola out. It was supposed to be about inequality.
Tommy Mottola: “Michael was trying to turn this into an escape hatch. He was singling me out in order to get a release from Sony. But it actually backfired on him. Did he really think he would embarrass Sony enough to walk away from approximately $ 50 million in debts or from our joint venture in the Beatles catalog? Michael even tried to bring Mariah into it, knowing that she had just left Sony. But quickly a spokesperson for Mariah defended me and pointed out that Mariah was very unhappy that Michael had dragged her into it. Meanwhile, Reverend Al and Russell Simmons were quoted in newspapers speaking out on my behalf, as well as Sony’s.”
Tommy Mottola: “I remained quiet at the time and took the high road, which as chairman was the road to take, because it made no sense to respond to such outrageous and ridiculous accusations. But here’s the bottom line on this: we were in the business of selling music. Sony had spent more than $ 30 million in recording costs and another $ 25 million in marketing costs, and put the full force of the company in motion to promote that album. But despite all of that, people just didn’t want to buy it.”
Note: Mottola in detail mentions the changes in the music industry and how Napster and illegal music sharing / downloading affected the sales and revenues of everyone. It could be helpful to understand the context and know that Mottola did mention other factors for declining sales numbers – for Michael and for anyone else – in the book.
Random mentioning of Michael:
- Mottola quite often calls Michael as the most talented artist and/or says similar meaning stuff.
- Mottola mentions Walter Yetnikoff and how he got clean from alcohol and drugs. He says that sober Yetnikoff was paranoid and enraged and would ask Mottola to hire private detectives to investigate David Geffen and Michael Jackson.
- Mottola talks about George Michael and how he left Sony. He refers to Michael in that situation.
Tommy Mottola: “Years later, there was a similar situation when Michael Jackson would try to get out of his contract with Sony after his album sales declined dramatically, dropping the blame on us for the way we’d promoted it. He even took it a step further, calling me the devil, and in one public protest he held up a poster that included facial pictures of himself and George Michael with Xs over their mouths as if Sony had tried to silence both of them. That’s all total crap. We at Sony were the ones who had to— and did— remain silent in front of the public. Let there be no misunderstanding about that whatsoever. We never did and never would attack an artist in public. Anyone in the music business knows that would be total suicide.”
- Thalia mentions Michael coming to a Christmas party Tommy Mottola had (first Christmas Tommy and Thalia was together). They were surprised to see Michael as he rarely attended to other people’s parties. Thalia mentions how nice Michael was and how he posed for pictures with Thalia’s family.
- A write up from REVEREND AL SHARPTON
I’ll never forget when Michael came to the National Action Network, and without warning attacked Tommy. Tommy called me right after the rally and said, “What was that all about?” And I could understand where he was coming from, because Tommy had done more than most record company executives and company presidents in his time to push theboundaries for artists, including Michael, who were black. Tommy had been extremely progressive on these issues. And on top of that, you always knew exactly where you were with Tommy. His yes was a yes. His no was a no. He never promised me something that he didn’t deliver. I told him, “Michael feels that Sony is not being fair to him, and he feels that everyone is trying to take the catalog from him.” Tommy said, “I will answer any question you want. But I cannot make numbers and sales that are not there. His own people are not giving him the right information.” Tommy laid out the whole picture and showed me a lot of things that Michael didn’t know: people on his side who were double-dipping, and people telling him things that weren’t there. I told Michael, and I told Johnnie Cochran, who was representing Michael. Tommy was genuinely hurt that Michael didn’t understand that Tommy was doing everything he could do for that album based on the business and the circumstances. He genuinely wanted Michael to understand where he was with it all. It was beyond an executive being attacked in the press. He wanted Michael to know that he really cared about him.