Just how significant and influential was Michael Jackson?
By the year 1984, Thriller had sold an unbelievable 13 million copies in the United States and 22 million worldwide. Up to that point, the soundtrack to the motion picture Saturday Night Fever sold 25 million copies since its release in 1977. Up until now, no other solo album had ever sold more than 12 million copies.
Michael Jackson had actually revived a dismally performing recording industry. When people went to the store to buy Thriller, they bought other records too, resulting in the best business the industry have had since 1978. Gil Friesen, then-president of A&M Records said, "The whole industry has a stake in Thriller's success." It also created interest in Black music in general.
MTV, the twenty-four hour cable music station rarely played the videos of Black artists. The station's format was "strictly rock and roll." In fact, of the over 750 videos shown on MTV during the channel's first eighteen months, fewer than two dozen featured Black artists.
When CBS submitted Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" to MTV, the station rejected it. Then CBS threatened to pull all of its other videos from MTV unless they ran it. Finally, in early March 1983, the video "Billie Jean" was played on MTV, and on heavy rotation. "Beat It, " soon followed, along with a few more videos by Black artists.
Thriller would ultimately sell between 65-100 million copies worldwide, making it THE biggest selling album of all time. An anomaly that will never be surpassed in our lifetime.
Think about how much money Michael Jackson made off of that album alone. Michael Jackson, at that time, had the highest royalty rate in the record business. That rate increased with the sales, but averaged 42 percent of the wholesale price of each record sold, or about $2.10 for every album sold in the United States- $32 million on Thriller's sales domestically.About $15 million was made in the foreign markets, and all those figures do not include the royalties for the four songs that Michael wrote for the album.
Michael Jackson, at twenty-five, had become a very rich young man. The 0.2 percent royalty rate Motown offered him was far in the distant past.
Today, things are a little different as far as royalties, but Michael was still making bank. The compulsory mechanical rate, which pays royalties on released songs to copyright owners, is 8.5 cents per track, up to 5 minutes per disk or tape made. Or $1.65 per minute of playing time, whichever amount is higher. Recording artists still are not making their fair share and are fighting with record companies with production costs, and other fees. Which is why Michael, with the help of John Branca, were so successful in negotiating his contracts.