Chart phenomenon Adele is reportedly set to sign the biggest recording contract ever by a UK artist. Worth £90m to her, the deal would see the ’25’ singer leave XL, her record label of 10 years, for Sony. However, the amount of cash changing hands is a drop in the ocean compared to some of these transactions. Check out the 20 biggest recording contracts of all time below.
Not actually being alive is no barrier to bagging these kinds of deals, as Michael Jackson proved in 2010 when “he” signed a £164m contract with Sony Music. Obviously it was his estate that inked the deal that gives Sony access to a presumably still lucrative back catalogue and any future releases, whatever they may be.
Jackson eclipsed U2‘s 1993 deal with Polydor, pegged at £130m, which was rewarded with the ‘Zooropa’ album. You win some, you lose some.
In 2012, Cash Money forked out £95m just to make sure they kept Lil Wayne on the roster, committing him to a four-album deal.
Famously canny businessman Jay Z chiselled £95m out of Live Nation in 2008, founding his label Roc Nation in a 360 deal.
Bruce Springsteen pocketed £95m in 2005 when Columbia saw there was life in the old dog yet. Still looks like a fair investment, with ‘Wrecking Ball’ continuing the good business in 2012
Adele‘s new £90 million deal with Sony puts her at six on this list. Not only is she making the biggest packet of her career, but she also snags the largest contract ever given to a female recording artist. Take that Whitney Houston.
“I am rich beyond my wildest dreams,” claimed Robbie Williams when he announced his £80m contract with EMI in 2002. It was a deal for four albums and Williams came up with the goods, eventually. The final album, 2009’s ‘Reality Killed The Video Star’, was withheld in protest at Guy Hands’ handling of EMI’s assets.
Another mammoth deal was slapped on Whitney Houston‘s desk in 2001, with Arista breaking their own bank to dole out £70m in exchange for a slew of new albums and a greatest hits.
You can imagine how delighted Warner Bros were with their £65m 1992 outlay when, three years later, Prince started swanning about in public with the word ‘Slave’ scrawled on his cheek in protest at the label’s treatment of his output, and refused to play any ‘Prince’ songs live.
Another all-round deal saw Live Nation stump up a reported £64m in 2007 for the rights to the next three Madonna albums and the privilege of promoting her gigs and licensing her name.
Hard to imagine now, but back in the mid-90s Janet Jackson was hot property. Virgin Records repeatedly sweetened her deal, with the £50m they paid in 1996 the biggest sum.
It gets sort of confusing, but apparently REM held the record for most lucrative contract for a while when they fleeced Warner Bros for £50m in 1996. All that cash on post-96 REM.
Weird one, this. In 2001, Virgin gave Mariah Carey £50m for five albums; within 12 months they were paying her £17m to get rid after the relative lack of success of her album ‘Glitter’.
In 1996, £42m bought Polygram the rights to the next six Elton John albums and his stellar back catalogue.
Metallica got their hands on a reported £40m when they settled on a new deal with Elektra Records in 1995, having previously attempted to free themselves from their contract.
Never one to shy away from earning pots of cash, in 1992 Barbra Streisand secured herself a £40m contract with Columbia Records, the label she’d been with throughout her career. Last year she signed again.
Dr Dre made hay with the success of his label Aftermath, cutting Interscope in to the tune of 30% in 2001 for a reported £25m.
Aerosmith signed a £20m deal with Columbia in 1991, but the label had to wait five years to even get hold of their charges, as the US rockers laboured over the final albums in their Geffen contract.
In 1982 CBS shelled out £17m to sign ‘the greatest rock and roll band in the world’ The Rolling Stones. Unfortunately for them, the Glimmer Twins then nosedived into their least-loved recording period, the ’80s. Whoops.
Before the Stones were sweeping up all the cash in the industry, there was crooner Neil Diamond signing a £15m deal with spendthrift Columbia in 1981.