Adam Lambert vs Labels – History and Speculation

We are at the beginning of Era 3. At this writing, a new single is a week away, and a new album will be released this summer. In the past six years, Adam has changed publicity agents, management and, most critically, label. This release will test him and his team. I want to revisit his past to guess about the future.
A lot of this post will be guesswork. I’m going to indicate that. A lot of this post may well also be inaccurate. I’m working from memory, for example. Take it as something fun but not serious.

Let’s start in 2009. Idol Season 8 had just finished, and we were still feeling the aftershocks. Kris Allen is a good guy and a fine singer. Any other year, I might have voted for him to win. But that year had Adam Lambert. And I’d never vote again.

We expected Adam to be signed, of course. RCA signed all the runners-up, plus a fair number of lower finishers. In fact, they’d also signed Allison Iraheta, #4, and later that summer, Danny Gokey, #3. Deep talent, that season. Not S5 or 7 level, but still deep.

In fact, Adam’s option had been taken weeks before, according to the former moderator of his official forum. This makes me wonder if he negotiated a better contact than the standard one that year. There’s no way of knowing.

Show ended in a shower of confetti on an empty stage. Adam spent two weeks dealing with paparazzi and getting and award. Celebrity can hit fast and hard.

Then came tour rehearsal, and photo shoots and the beginning of his first album. I think it’s when he first met Sam Sparro, who became a close friend and collaborator.

On the tour, he was treated almost as if he had won. He and Kris closed the show as equals. They alternated days talking to reporters. Plus – people came late just to see him; they bought his merch; they threw bras on stage; they screamed for him at the barricades. The other Idols got very used to signing the vodka ad on the back cover of his Rolling Stone. It was all very exciting. And RCA was aware of all of it. RCA and 19.

See, Idols aren’t signed directly by the label, even now. They’re signed to them through 19R, the recording wing of 19. They also have publicity and management divisions. They get first cut of everything.

Both 19 and RCA are there for the money, not the person. And, generally speaking, Idols make the most right after the show. Those first albums sail high on the wave of post-Idol recognition. And Adam was very recognized. He was everywhere.

This means there’s a deadline for the first album, which means it has be done, or almost done, during the tour. There’s no time to have quality songs written for the album. So, they use leftovers, or older songs by the artist.

Still, there’s a difference in quality even in leftovers, and they got Adam good songs – Max Martin, Muse, Lady Gaga. He can sing anything and they used it. And they let him pick the cover and title.

And they got him an award show for his debut. Yeah, well

And he did very well for them, despite everything. Album went gold just as albums were starting to drop in sales. He stayed in the top 200 for almost a year.

But he made it easy to sell albums. He was controversial enough to generate his own publicity. It helped to counter the reluctance to play his music. And he worked hard – he did all the interviews, did a world publicity tour before his own world concert tour. And he publicized “If I Had You” during the American leg of that tour.

His singles were a different story. His first, a soundtrack from 2012, disappeared without a trace. His second made so little impact that it was pulled even before he shocked the nation. His third made it. It helped that it felt like an apology, and that it had a memorable hook. But it also got no hype or publicity. None of those singles had a word before release, other than as part of the album as a whole.

“Whaddaya Want From Me” made it to top 5 on the top 40, and got a Grammy nomination. IIHY got to 15.

Adam was the first openly gay artist to break the top 20 in the US.

He spent over a year working on era 2.

RCA didn’t really care about era 2. They’d made their money, and albums weren’t selling anymore. New artists were signing 360 contracts, but the 2009 Idol contract wasn’t one. They were willing to support proven successes like Kelly Clarkson and Chris Daughtry, who had more than one album sell, not so much people with one album.

And I think they wanted out of the Idol business. Season 9 was their last year, and it was very disappointing. Neither David of season 7 had a good selling second album, and were dropped. Allison and Danny were dropped after a year.

Both Adam and Kris had sold well enough that the second album clause of their contracts kicked in. But RCA wasn’t going to spend wildly. Kris was treated really badly – he had to source it all himself. He even slept on a couch, and named it after that address. He got no publicity at all, and was quietly dropped soon after

Adam had more money to play with, a collection of famous and talented friends, and a voice that attracted the best. They were also willing to get him big name producers, and let him change directions midalbum.

But there were still leftovers. And there was an extra monkey wrench – a bootleg album that would steal attention and possibly radio time. And a lawsuit. We forget the lawsuit

Plus Adam changed management, although he was still with 19R. And RCA was in turmoil, contracting and dropping sublabels like Jive.

They chose to deal with the bootleg by Adam going on the AMAs to announce an album way in advance, and release a single in December, at the worst time. Also, it was a love song, a harder sell for a gay man at that point.

At the time, I thought it was all they could do. It was the only finished song and that was that.

Now, I wonder. RCA is still part of Sony, still big 3. Why didn’t they just sit on the bootleg? Make sure Amazon and the radio stations knew it wasn’t legit?  They managed that, to a degree, with Take One. Answer – they didn’t care. They’d do the minimum.

If they had, though…even if they’d used the same singles, things might have been better. BTIKM would have dropped in March, without competing with Kelly. And Trespassing would still have dropped in May, and still would have made history with number one.

And that was the other thing. RCA clearly didn’t expect that at all. They probably thought that it would sink immediately, like the two Davids’ did.

Because if they thought it would even sell top ten, they would have put more effort in. They would have pushed the singles, even the ones they chose. But they didn’t. It was too late afterward, and they lost the chance to cash in.

And Adam went to Europe and played with Queen. Because why not? He did what he could, and it wasn’t enough.

Then Adam left 19R, and contracted directly with RCA. And worked hard on his third album. He also toured South Africa, Asia and Europe, and spent a fair amount of time in China . He came back to Pride celebrations. He did private parties. He got a recurring character on Glee.

And he walked away from RCA and into the arms of Warner Brothers. RCA wanted him to do an album of 80s covers. As someone said, he didn’t have enough for a greatest hits, and he won’t do Christmas. But he wouldn’t do that, either.

That must have been scary, but he was apparently courted, which helps.

WBR doesn’t,  CAN’T regard him as cash cow from Idol. Those days are gone. They can see him as the immensely talented singer/songwriter that he is. There are no leftovers on this album. They sent him to the biggest hit maker. They are protecting him from any potential spoilers, and they are working his single. Hard.

If he doesn’t get the radio play and recognition he deserves, it won’t be their fault.

Or so I guess.


About mamadeb

I'm a devoted fan of Adam Lambert, but also of cooking, knitting, science fiction and pretty anything pop culture. I'm @_mamadeb on Twitter.
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9 Responses to Adam Lambert vs Labels – History and Speculation

  1. Kerry Kolsch says:

    In order to understand what went wrong with Adam and RCA you have to look at the voting that year. You are generous with your praise of the “winner”, but he is a dime a dozen singer and not a very talented musician. He won because his friends, family and an alumni from his school, UCA, who was a AT&T executive, with free phones, cheated for the win. Three thousand AT&T assisted people were able to vote about 10,000 times each creating about 30 million votes. Actually about 38 million votes came from Arkansas. Adam lost because of votes garnered with the help a rogue AT&T executive. (Matt Jordan lost his job by the time the smoke cleared.) What American Idol did was to deny the cheating happened. I wrote a well documented book about it filed with pictures of all of the events. What the powers that be did was attempt to destroy Adam’s career to prove that the right guy won. After all, America’s #1 show was more important than any contestant. Did you know that during the Idol tour if writers wanted pictures they had to leave the building during Adam’s performance and come back into the photographer’s area when the cheating winner took the stage? The sabotage started even then. Many writers, not wanting to miss Adam, went without pictures.

    The AMA reaction was another attempt to sabotoge Adam’s career. American Idol had strong ties to Disney and ABC. “For Your Entertainment” was a great song that got put on a shelf because Adam kissed a guy. The Trespassing album was a great album that never got promoted. RCA picked the two worst songs, that Adam had no hand in writing, as the lead singles. No one is that stupid. It was intentional sabotage. American Idol had a dilemma. Adam’s loss destroyed the popularity of the show. My proof that cheating was involved eventually made Idol stop unlimited voting so that it would not happen again. Now American Idol pretends that Adam was the winner that season and ignores the cheater because he caused them to lose their credibility. Adam survived what would have killed the careers of most artist because he is a one in a hundred million talent and he is so damn handsome and sexy.

    Era 3 is going to be a walk in the park for Adam. Adam proved his merit and got some financial stability with Queen. Now Adm has a label behind him that wants him t be successful. He is on his way to becoming the iconic star that I always predicted he would be. There was a time when I said that and people called me “crazy”. Not any more! Thanks Adam!

  2. templajanne says:

    I hate when people write about Adam as if the only thing that counts is where his music landed in the American charts etc. He’s had several worldwide hits & is extremely popular and loved in many countries throughout the world, even if his home country is too stupid to recognize talent that’s right in front of their noses. This article is interesting and has some great info but it makes it sound like until recently no-one in the world cared about Adam and he was just another flop busking in malls or whatever. This is not accurate, he is well known & loved in Asia, Australia, NZ, Europe etc..and has won numerous international awards – and still does. The dude has performed in front of millions in the past 5 years, is in demand to collaborate with other artists & has been on several television shows, magazine covers & his music is used in commercials. Meanwhile no-one outside of America or serious Idol stans elsewhere has a clue who Allen is, most of them think Adam won.

    • mamadeb says:

      I do admit to being focused on the American charts, and I am sorry.

      But the sad fact is that as well as he does do around the world, and he does do well, it is important that he do well here.

      More to the point, this article was about Adam’s relationship with his label, and US sales are an important part of that. The US is still the largest single market.

    • teralex says:

      Every time I see the word ‘comeback’ for his forthcoming single I cringe for this very reason. But then, Adam is an American and it’s relevant to his success that he do well in the US. He will be embraced for the talented and special man he is, if only they knew who he was. Many vaguely heard of him on AI then think he disappeared for five years. We all know better!

      • mamadeb says:

        It IS a comeback. He hasn’t had new music in three years. It doesn’t matter how visible he was in the interim – they used that term for Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, too. It just means “first new music in a few years.”

        However, so far as most casual fans are concerned, they haven’t really seen him since Glee. Unless there’s a huge publicity stunt, like Rihanna’s plane, or something goes very wrong, entertainment press doesn’t cover on-going tours. ANYONE’S on-going tours. They’re just not news at that point, beyond local.

  3. templajanne says:

    Perhaps, but many fine artists have done perfectly well without US approval and often the US has been forced to catch up with the rest of the world after a few years. Especially happens if the artist is unusual or controversial….. like Adam or Freddie Mercury.

  4. Carol says:

    This is spot on and I agree with all of your speculation about the past inner workings between Adam and his previous management, label & publicity. I have often had many of the same thoughts & theories but you laid it out brilliantly.

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