Heavyweight hard-rock group Aerosmith will walk this way toward Sony Music for more than $25 million, but exactly how much the group will walk away with is open to debate and so is the question of whether their legs will last until the new contract takes effect. ''This is the biggest deal for a rock band in the history of the record business,'' boasts an Aerosmith insider privy to details of the new agreement. ''The band has been negotiating with Sony for over a year, because they really wanted to be reunited with their older catalog on (Sony-owned) Columbia Records.'' The label controls all of Aerosmith's early albums, including Toys in the Attic.
Some newspapers have speculated that the overall deal could total $50 million. A story in the Los Angeles Times estimated the band took home a whopping $10 million plus substantially increased royalties. Variety cited a $10 million bonus for signing plus $7 million for catalog rights, while The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the group would get a $15 million bonus and $40 million in future advances for four new albums. Both trades, however, agreed that the band's royalties would be a staggering 25 percent of retail sales, which would put Aerosmith on roughly the same royalty scale as Michael Jackson. Because of these wildly varying reports, Columbia took the highly unusual step of publicly revealing terms, which it said amounts to ''in the $25 million range,'' with other deals bringing additional cash.
Aerosmith's contract is especially startling because the band still owes two more albums and a greatest-hits package to Geffen Records. That means that by the time they reappear on Columbia, singer Steven Tyler will be in his late 40s and the band's dominant role on the rock scene could be lost. The last time a superstar act shifted allegiances like this was in the early '80s, when Hall and Oates signed to Arista Records while still recording for RCA. By the time they made the switchover, they were on the wane.
Although both Aerosmith and Geffen execs describe the future parting as amicable, the split comes at a time when other major Geffen rockers are | unhappy with the label. Last June, Guns N' Roses singer Axl Rose told a Long Island audience to ''write a letter to Geffen Records and tell them to get the f--- out of my a--!'' In this month's issue of GQ, Don Henley declares, ''I'll be on the market after the next two albums. I want out.''
Geffen isn't the only label losing a major act. Some believe Sony paid dearly for Aerosmith to compensate for the imminent departure of the Rolling Stones, who seem likely to sign with PolyGram or another company. The last time the Stones made the rounds as free agents, in the early '80s, they nabbed more than $28 million from Columbia, and their upcoming deal may raise eyebrows too. And don't close the books yet. Madonna is talking with Time Warner about a landmark artist pact that would effectively give her control over her own multimedia subsidiary.