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Face The Music

Follow the money from the 9/11 tribute discs.

Six months have passed since Bruce Springsteen, U2, Dave Matthews, the Dixie Chicks, et al. performed amid hundreds of candles in a telethon for the families of Sept. 11 victims. But how much has United Way’s September 11th Fund received from sales of the tie-in CD, America: A Tribute to Heroes? At press time, not a cent. While no one faults the musicians’ intentions, there’s clearly a mixed record when it comes to donations from 9/11 charity albums.

It’s not that the cash hasn’t been pouring in. Since its December release, Tribute has grossed between $7.5 million and $10 million domestically (plus $1.1 million overseas). But like many of the benefit discs, Tribute is donating net proceeds – money left over after manufacturing, marketing, and distribution costs (in this case, marketing alone ran about $1 million). Producer Jimmy Iovine, chair of Interscope Geffen A&M, promises the eventual bequest will be substantial, but won’t speculate on how much United Way will receive – or when. ”My wife said, ‘Remember one thing, it’s a lot easier to raise money than it is to give it out,”’ says Iovine. ”They’ll get the money quickly. We don’t make a penny.”

Similarly, the single ”We Are Family” has sold 14,900 copies, but a rep for Tommy Boy says the American Red Cross won’t see green until the label recoups expenses, probably later this year. Even then, donations will be difficult to confirm because the disc – like several others – has no formal relationship with its named charity. ”We were deluged with album partnership requests,” says the Red Cross’ Abbie Gibbs. ”We are very protective of our name and logo – but we don’t turn down money.”

And what about Alan Jackson’s ”Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” – which was never sold as a benefit effort? According to the singer’s camp, Jackson’s album has no official ties to any nonprofit group and he prefers to make his donations privately.

Sometimes it’s the charity that slows down the process. The Twin Towers Fund, set up by former NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani, has $8.5 million coming from the net proceeds of Sony’s God Bless America compilation. But so far a check hasn’t been sent because of red tape involved in shifting the fund’s operations from city administration to the private sector.

Fortunately, several tributes have provided instant gratification. Whitney Houston’s chart-topping rendition of ”The Star-Spangled Banner” produced two fat $500,000 checks to its two designated charities. And Sony’s Concert for New York City live album from an Oct. 20 benefit has contributed $4.5 million so far to the Robin Hood Relief Fund. ”It was a very generous deal paying us about $8 per album,” says a Robin Hood rep. ”They have done right by us big time.”

According to Daniel Borochoff of the American Institute of Philanthropy, that kind of per-album agreement is preferable to ones that don’t commit a specific amount of money up front. ”There’s a real risk that there’s nothing going to charity,” he says. ”You can say they get a percentage of the profits, but then there are no profits and the groups don’t benefit.”