Hayley's success not about dollars yet

09 January 2004 (NZ Time)
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OVERWHELMED: Hayley Westenra relaxes at home. (yesterday's picture)



Christchurch pop princess Hayley Westenra says she may have sold a million records worldwide, but that doesn't mean she has a million dollars in the bank.

Sales of Westenra's international debut album, Pure, broke the one million mark this week, a feat all the more remarkable in that it has yet to be released in the world's largest market, the United States.

But the 16-year-old singing sensation said public perceptions of her wealth were wide of the mark.

"There was a 'for sale' at the end of our drive so everybody thought we must be selling up and moving into a mansion somewhere. It was actually the neighbour's house up for sale," she said.

"Because I am not actually writing my music at the moment, it's hard to earn money. People sort of assume I must be incredibly wealthy. They probably don't realise all the costs involved in releasing an album."

Westenra's father, Gerald, said production costs, including airfares, accommodation, and three months recording time in George Martin's studio, amounted to about $750,000. These costs had to be recouped by the record company before Westenra made a profit.

"Hayley doesn't pay up front, but she doesn't get any royalties until it's all paid back."

Television advertising used to promote the singer was also costly, with her royalty rate halved for the duration of the promotion.

While Pure had sold enough to pay off those costs, the family were some way off from seeing the pay-off. "There should be some (royalty money) coming through but it won't be until another eight or nine months.

"It's like setting up a business. You've got huge overheads, and you don't see the rewards for some time. Down the track, if you're Celine Dion, you don't have to do a heck of a lot of promotion."

He said reports from Westenra's British label, Decca, that her five- album deal had bagged her a stg3 million ($NZ8 million) advance, were ludicrous.

"We're talking an absolute fraction of that. We're talking about a wage for someone for a year. It's designed to keep her going while she's recording."

Universal Music's marketing manager Alister Cain, who promotes Westenra in New Zealand, said he believed only Crowded House's Best Of had bettered Pure for international sales by a New Zealand album.

But that album should be overtaken once Westenra begins her five-month promotional assault on North America.

"Once the machine kicks in, it's just a juggernaut. I've got a feeling it's going to be huge in the US. Even if it doesn't do particularly well it should sell a million copies, and the upside would be $3 million to $4 million." Westenra will perform a showcase in New York's Times Square this month, before her album is released in April. Promotional efforts will include Westenra singing on a Disney animated feature, and appearing on 20 million bags of snack food Doritos.

She will also take voice coaching to help master an American accent for possible film work.


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