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Pop Stars vs. Producers

During a promotional advert regarding tryouts for the upcoming season of American Idol, Candice Glover, the show’s reigning champ, said performing on television made her dreams come true. Had she seen Clickitticket’s latest graphic, “Pop Stars vs. Producers,” she might have dreamt a little differently.

Growing up, kids sing into hair brushes and wail on air guitars as they dream of one day becoming pop stars. We all did it. Even those of us who didn’t have the voice, talent, or ear to become a world famous singer still choreographed moves in front of our bedroom mirrors.

For obvious reasons, few kids ever walked around with a clipboard pretending to be a producer of a major televised singing competition. While it’s not very glamorous, it can be extremely profitable.

On average, a recording artist (which includes American Idol winners like Candice Glover) makes about $23.40 per $1,000 of music sold. That low percentage almost makes a singer want to get a real job. Conversely, a producer-owned record label makes about $630 for every $1,000 of music sold.

For example, Glover is signed to record labels 19 and Interscope. The former was founded by American Idol creator and executive producer Simon Fuller. Interscope Records was founded by Jimmy Iovine who is currently a mentor on American Idol. As you can see, Fuller and Iovine have a vested interest in both the show and the albums made by its contestants.

You can make the case, even in this day and age of lethargic record sales, that reality singing shows, especially American Idol, are designed to sell records just as much as they’re designed to sell advertising.

Carrie Underwood walked away with the Idol crown in 2005. Since her victory she has become the most successful Idol winner of all-time (sorry Kelly Clarkson!). For Underwood’s first 12 million albums sold, she made nearly $3 million dollars.

That’s not a bad a haul. Maybe singing into hairbrushes wasn’t a waste of time.

Before you start warming up your comb consider this: American Idol creator, Simon Fuller, makes $1.5 million per American Idol episode! His total net worth is $560 million. Thanks in large part to the 46 regional Idol brands. And by the way, Fuller is Underwood’s manager so he gets a cut of her business as well. Cha-ching!

Simon Cowell, former American Idol judge, is creator of The X-Factor and co-creator of American’s Got Talent. He’s worth about $320 million. That’s far more than any X-Factor winner or contestant and that includes Leona Lewis, winner of season three.

If you need further proof that it pays to be the brains behind the operations and not the talent in front of the camera, just look at John de Mol. He and his production companies have created a slew of successful shows including The Voice. The digital Dutchman is worth more than $2 billion. The Voice is produced in 50 countries.

De Mol dwarfs not only the earnings of the most successful The Voice competitors but he also dwarfs the bank account of his show’s judges—Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton.

The business of singing competitions does not favor the singers. They favor the producer and his or her record labels. They get a whopping 63% of moola. After that it’s the distributors followed by the songwriters.

The next biggest piece of the pie is served to talent managers. Finally, we have the singers followed by lawyers and music producers.

At first glance it may not seem fair that the singers get such a relatively small amount of the pie but you have to remember this is a business. Judges tell the competitors to take risks when they perform but the entity taking the biggest financial risks are the producers. Since their money and reputations are on the line they deserve the biggest piece of the action.


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