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Can you make a living as a one-hit wonder?

Reported by Nick Pearson, ninemsn
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Potential one-hit wonder Rebecca Black.
Potential one-hit wonder Rebecca Black.
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She was the biggest joke on the internet for weeks, her song 'Friday' mocked mercilessly online and in person at her high school - but after millions of song downloads on YouTube and iTunes, 14-year-old Rebecca Black now has enough money for her college education.

PHOTOS: World's biggest one hit wonders

Black's haul prompts a question about the nature of the record industry - can you make a living off just one hit?

There are a lot of variables at play in the recording business, according to UK Musician's Union's David Fenton. Fenton is a lawyer now, but he is well-qualified to talk about the "one-hit wonder": he sang the 1980 hit 'Turning Japanese' while in his band The Vapors. Was he able to retire on its chart success?

"The short answer for 'TJ' ('Turning Japanese') is no. Hence the day job," Fenton told ninemsn.

"Obviously a number one single in some countries will sell substantially more and make more money than a number one in others, so it depends where 'internationally' it was a hit.

"Royalty deals for recording and publishing vary widely from artist to artist, and from decade to decade with older deals paying less than more recent ones."

There's also dispute as to what constitutes a one-hit wonder. Despite a long and commercially successful career, Radiohead's debut single 'Creep' is the band's only single to become a hit in the US. The Flaming Lips and Beck have also had just one chart hit ('She Don't Use Jelly' and 'Loser', respectively), but have gone onto long and successful careers.

Other artists can be considered one-hit wonders in one country but achieve broader success in others. The Divinyls had already been a successful band in Australia for a decade before the release of 'I Touch Myself', their only song to chart in the US and UK.

The staying power of some hits but not others often means that artists are often incorrectly remembered as being one-hit wonders. The Rembrandts had a hit with 'I'll Be There For You', which doubled as the theme for Friends, but their far more forgettable number 'Just The Way It Is, Baby' actually reached a higher spot in the top 20.

The Knack could never match the success of debut single 'My Sharona', but they never needed to.

Thirty-two years after its release, 'My Sharona' is still providing guitarist/songwriter Berton Averre's a generous annuity.

"It is far and away the major part of my income stream, and somehow it just keeps going strong," he told ninemsn.

"Recent years have been the best we've had since our salad days."

Averre has been able to live comfortably from radio and television royalties from the song.

"When you get a song placed in a movie, it can be equally lucrative," he said.

"There is also the side benefit of such exposure keeping the song in the minds of the public.

"In the mid-90s the movie Reality Bites had a scene that featured 'Sharona' front and centre and that scene in a very real way put the tune back on the map."

While many artists scorn the idea of allowing their songs to be used in advertisements, Averre said he has made a substantial amount of money from commercial use.

"We had, as an example, a casino/hotel in Connecticut using Sharona in their radio ads for three years running," he said.

"Those three payments were about 20 percent of our yearly totals."

Unlike many one hit wonders, 'My Sharona' has benefitted from remarkable staying power, keeping royalties relatively constant.

"I'd like to think that the qualities in the song that resonated with kids in '79 were universal, and that's why it still resonates with kids over 30 years later," Averre said.

"I guess you can't overestimate the attraction of one big riff being coupled with teenage sex angst."

But Rebecca Black's chances for a life of idle luxury are slimmer. Rather than making money from radio play and record sales, she has had to settle for the far less lucrative income provided by tens of millions of YouTube streams and an unknown number of iTunes downloads. YouTube pays artists around 68 cents for every thousand views, meaning Black has probably made five figures from 'Friday' — not enough to retire on.

The single sold for 99 US cents on iTunes, but Black donated her share of that to Japanese Tsunami charities.

While it is possible to get by on one hit, prolonged musical success is hardly a guarantee of a sound financial future.

MC Hammer has a series of hit records in the early '90s but was forced to file bankruptcy in 1996 after a series of serious financial blunders.

Funk pioneer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sly Stone is reportedly in much worse shape, currently homeless and living in a van in Los Angeles.

31/10/2014 15:50Sydney, Australia. 31 October,2014
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