Thursday, April 20, 2006

It's Abba on the phone making a lot more money, money, money

The Times April 19, 2006
By Adam Sherwin, Media Correspondent

THEY have already generated £300 million from hit songs and musicals. Now Abba’s fortunes will receive a new boost after the group agreed to release their music as ringtones.

Money, Money, Money, Dancing Queen, Ring Ring and Thank You for the Music are among the hits that will be made available as full-track “truetones” under the deal with Universal Music.

Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Abba’s songwriters, are two of the most astute businessmen in pop, each having amassed a fortune from the band’s catalogue of hits. It took years of negotiations for the pair to agree a deal with global mobile operators, including Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Orange and the Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo.

The songwriters wanted to ensure that the ringtones would be digitised versions from the band’s master recording, rather than synthesised.

Arctic Monkeys are among a minority of top-selling artists who refuse to allow their music to be sold as ringtones, an industry worth £3.2 billion last year. Representatives of the Beatles can do little to prevent “monophonic” synthesised re-creations of their hits being sold as £3 ringtones from unlicensed websites. However, it emerged during the band’s copyright case against Apple Computer that their entire back catalogue is being digitally remastered for release on the internet, with ringtone sales likely to follow.

Abba sold 370 million records, earning Andersson and Ulvaeus £100 million each. The singers Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog earned £12 million and £6 million. The Abba hits catalogue is exceeded in value only by the Beatles’.

The group agreed to let Madonna use Gimme! as the basis for her comeback single Hung Up, only the second time they had allowed their music to be “sampled” by other artists. Revenues at Sweden’s performing rights organisation were significantly boosted by the worldwide hit.

Mårten Aglander, managing director of Universal Music Sweden, said: “Abba have always been very thorough in every new area they have entered, and as a result they always come out on top — from recordings to concerts, from DVDs to musicals. Now it’s great to have their involvement in, and devotion to, this latest enterprise — distribution of their music through mobile phones.”

The Mamma Mia! musical, featuring many of their hits, has played in 16 countries, earning the songwriters a further £112 million and a place in Britain’s rich list for Judy Craymer, its London producer.

At their peak in the 1970s, Abba avoided paying Sweden’s 85 per cent top tax rate by investing in a bicycle-making business. They took earnings from tours behind the Iron Curtain in potatoes, fruit and fuel, although they lost £26 million when oil prices crashed.


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