Rodgers and Hammerstein to get windfall from 7 Rings

7 Rings riffs My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music (1965), starring Julie Andrews (above).
7 Rings riffs My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music (1965), starring Julie Andrews (above).PHOTO: ROBERT WISE PRODUCTIONS
7 Rings riffs My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music (1965), starring Julie Andrews (above).
Ariana Grande

NEW YORK • It is the sound of the cash registers ringing for the company which owns the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue. It is making millions as 7 Rings by Ariana Grande, which riffs My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music (1965), hits No. 1 on the Billboard chart for the sixth time.

Released in January, 7 Rings has been streamed more than a billion times around the world.

But when it comes to royalties for the song, the biggest winner may be two songwriters who died decades ago: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Grande's song is an extended reinterpretation of My Favourite Things, with Grande changing the original lyrics about innocent joys - "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" - to an anthem of empowerment through conspicuous consumption.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's and bottles of bubbles," she sings, over a bass-heavy beat. "Buy myself all of my favourite things."

The song is credited to 10 writers. But two of them - Rodgers and Hammerstein - control 90 per cent of the songwriting royalties, a remarkable split that reflects the value of evergreen song catalogues and negotiating leverage their owners have when pop stars come seeking permission.

In an especially speedy turnaround, the deal for 7 Rings was decided a few weeks before the song's release in January, when representatives for Grande and her label, Republic, brought the completed song to Concord, the music company that has owned the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue since 2017.

Concord requested 90 per cent of Grande's song and her representatives accepted.

Her song "wouldn't exist in its current form were it not for My Favourite Things", Mr Jake Wisely, Concord's chief publishing executive, said.

The deal means that Concord stands to make millions from the song, while Grande and her seven co-writers will each get a fraction of what it makes.

The songwriting royalties are separate from the earnings that she would make as the recording artist.

Mr Theodore Chapin, an executive who has managed Rodgers and Hammerstein's copyrights for decades, was initially taken aback by Grande's song.

But he quickly saw its value as a reinterpretation and a way to keep the original's legacy alive among her young fans.

Although it has long had a conservative reputation for protecting its copyrights, the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organisation has a distinct history of making commercial deals.

"The fact that Rodgers had agreed to that in his lifetime," Mr Chapin said, "gave all of us a little licence to feel that we should keep an open mind on these kinds of things."

Yet, the licence for 7 Rings is especially favourable to Rodgers and Hammerstein.

When Gwen Stefani used some of the yodelling Lonely Goatherd (also from The Sound Of Music) for the 2006 song, Wind It Up, Rodgers and Hammerstein received only 50 per cent of the royalties.

The difference between the two deals could reflect Concord's greater negotiating power.

Or, according to Ms Lisa Alter, a lawyer who specialises in music copyright, it could just be that My Favourite Things is a more precious property.

What might the duo have thought of Grande's song?

Todd S. Purdum, author of Something Wonderful: Rodgers And Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution, said the masters of musical theatre enjoyed being in the thick of popular culture. But most important, he noted, they were never ashamed of commercial success.

"They would love the ka-ching of it," Purdum said.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Rodgers and Hammerstein to get windfall from 7 Rings'. Print Edition | Subscribe