Frank Sinatra And The Art Of The "360 Deal"

A 360 deal is the labels' way of admitting that they can't pay the rent on record sales alone, and the artists' admitting that viral marketing and all that post-Napster stuff can still only take you so far.
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Frank Sinatra was a musical pioneer when he was alive, and he's done it again. This week, almost ten years after his last "Dooby dooby doo," Ol' Blue Eyes has become the first recording artist who is, shall we say, not currently alive to make a "360 deal" with his record company, Warner Reprise.

360 deals are the latest attempts by record labels to not lose their shirts in the face of swiftly eroding music sales. The label takes care of everything - not just getting the records into the stores but touring expenses, merchandising, you name it - in exchange for a cut of those revenues, which used to be purely the artist's moola. It's the labels' way of admitting that they can't pay the rent on record sales alone, and the artists' admitting that D.I.Y., viral marketing and all that good post-Napster stuff can still only take you so far.

The good news about Sinatra's 360 deal is that his Reprise catalog, encompassing everything he recorded from 1960-88, will most likely get a much-needed overhaul; many of his Reprise albums are out of print, and others haven't been remastered in over 15 years. Unreleased material still in the Sinatra vaults has been promised as well.

The downside, for serious Sinatra fans, at least, is that over the last few years, CDs have become loss leaders used to promote other, more profitable ventures. Since Warner Reprise, in conjunction with the Sinatra estate, now controls his likeness, name and image as well as his music, we should expect an Elvis-like stream of cheesy doodads with the Sinatra name emblazoned thereon. This for a man who begged his daughter Tina, when she took over his licensing rights in the early '90s, "Please don't put my face on a coffee mug." Frank, you have no idea.

But in the end, this die-hard, box set-having, dozens of bootlegs-owning, DVDs of even his crappiest movies-watching fan doesn't really care. If we get official releases of the Sydney, Australia show from '61 that's the best he ever did, or all those still-unreleased studio outtakes from the '70s and '80s, or his legendary United Nations performance from '63, I'll gladly buy a box of Hostess Ring-A-Ding Dongs or "All The Way" brand condoms to subsidize them. I just hope that the man they called "The Voice" won't be doing 360s in his grave.