Madonna’s getting headlines today because she told Variety she won’t sell her song catalog.
Um, that’s because she doesn’t own it.
Most of Madonna’s hits were written entirely by other people, or she has a co-writer credit. Only three songs in her catalog carry just her name: “Everybody,” “Lucky Star,” and “Burning Up.”
Big hits like “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl,” had completely different writers.
All the other hits have collaborators who actually composed the songs. They are Stephen Bray, Pat Leonard, William Orbit, Mirwais, and Shep Pettibone. “Ray of Light” was a sample from another record.
Madonna could, I guess, sell her half or third of songs she’s credited with. But the other songwriters would have to be involved. When Madonna was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame she acted as if she’d written all the songs herself. She never mentioned anyone else.
Does she know all this? Oh, yes. Most of her last tour, the Madame X project that went to theaters, concentrated on newer or more recent music and not so much on things like “Borderline” or the really popular songs because she didn’t want to pay royalties or licensing fees.
Madonna, in fact, is in the same boat as a lot of singers who don’t write their own material. She gets nothing from plays of those original hits on the radio just as a singer. That’s why she eventually started adding her name to credits. Performers are not paid for radio play, only writers of songs. Madonna only got wise to that after her first couple of albums — same as Celine, Mariah, Adele. And that’s why Whitney Houston’s estate is so thin. She did not do that.
Where does all that money come from? Madonna has her fortune from touring, plain and simple. Ditto Barbra Streisand. Unlike Joni, Carly, Carole, who wrote all their songs. Even Aretha wrote a lot of her own hits.
As always, take Madonna’s proclamations with a big grain of salt!