It’s the inevitable cost of fame. Recounting one’s success story for the nth time and sounding like a scratched record.
Lira, born Lerato Molapo in Ekurhuleni in the East of Johannesburg in South Africa, has done it too, countless times, and relates it again – how she came to be a singer – in one breathless sentence. At 16, she was in the final year of high school in South Africa when she teamed with her best mate and two other friends from church for a singing competition. That night, they walked away with awards for best composition, best performance and best vocalist.
That night, a star was born.
In the present, Lira has performed all over the world, and has almost a million social media followers – that new measure of creative capital.
The accolades have come thick and fast: a Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards nomination as ‘Best International Artist’ in 2012; performances with the likes of A-listers Alicia Keys, Shakira, K’naan and John Legend at the FIFA World Cup opening in South Africa in 2010, a big role in an Italian feature file, The Italian Consul, and a performance, in a David Tlale-designed gown, at President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball in 2013 in the United States (US). It was not just Lira’s, but South Africa’s wow moment on a global stage.
“I was performing for all kinds of races and that bridged the race lines for me. It was the first time that I saw something that transcended all boundaries,” says Lira.
She launched her American album Rise Again in the US in 2014.
As an undergraduate student, Lira studied finance and used her skills to exchange for recording time at a local studio. It resulted in her first demo at the age of 18. Then she put her music career on hold, finished her degree, started working and saved all her money, almost every penny she made.
“No one gave me the idea that I could go into music. I was into finance – general finance and auditing. I turned 22 and decided I would take five years to get it out of my system. I cashed in on my pension and made sure I could survive for a year. Two weeks after I served my notice, I landed a deal. I was exceptionally lucky,” she says.
When she submitted her resignation, she created a five-year plan for her music career. In 2000, she was discovered by music producer Arthur Mafokate, who signed her to his record label, 999 Music. She released her debut album, All My Love, in 2003. Despite earning accolades at the Metro FM Awards, South African Music Awards (SAMA), Channel O Reel Music Awards and topping charts, it was “a disaster”. Her idea of how it would all play out was quickly shattered – and it broke her.
“My first deal was a disaster, they exploited me. It crushed my spirit so much that I slipped into depression. It took two years to get back on my feet. They just want to make money out of you, they want control over you.”
She left 999 Music; teamed up with keyboardist Victor Mngomezulu, bassist Tshepo Sekele, and producer Robin Kohl; and signed to Sony Music Africa and released Feel Good in 2006. A huge success, it led to multiple nominations and wins at SAMAs. The following year, the album was released in Italy, where its title track gained massive airplay.
In 2006, she started her own label Otarel Music in South Africa to house all her business interests. In 2011, she launched the label in the US. Otarel Music was responsible for the publishing of her musical works and her management company. The singer and songwriter outsourced her publicity and co-produced her own music.
“Mediocrity had become the norm but excellence is part of my brand value. I remember when I quit my job in the financial space, when friends would ask what I did, I would say I am a musician. No one would take us seriously. We have to be able to take ourselves seriously. I now do keynote speeches at high-level events, I speak as a businesswoman in the music industry. It is the one thing I am proud of, it is a model that I have built,” she says.
One of only two wholly black-owned labels in South Africa, she learned from other labels and modeled her business on them. With Lira as the sole attraction, she has built a brand around herself with a multi-million rand company which has consistently seen a 20% profit growth in the last six years.
“Every time we have a tour in the States, it is self-funded, it is completely my brand. It is incredibly difficult to build a brand for an artiste. Artistes have to see themselves as a business. I couldn’t baby another artiste, I mentor a lot of people and consult on that level. I recommend that artistes manage their own business,” she says.
She splurges on her business and her image. She’s adamant she has found the secret to the glamorous life without racking up debt. Her brand is centered around being innovative and creating an image she can export.
“The best thing is being able to control my career, as an artiste, you want to express your creativity. I’ve been able to imagine and fund the kind of live performances that I want. We were the first people to spend money on a big production. I was the first African artiste to produce a full HD production. We used a RED camera and we held the record for having the most RED cameras in any production in the world. The only other production that beat that was The Hobbit. That’s the kind of excellence you push for,” she says.
For many African artistes, gaining traction in the US is daunting. For Lira, who has a large following in Africa, growing her brand internationally is a slow process but since going solo, she aims high.
“My brand works beautifully because of the visual products I put out. My intention was always to produce products of a global standard. People take me seriously because they can see that. When people google Lira the quality of my work speaks for itself,” she says.
“For three years, I built my business up. Within a year, I doubled my income. This whole diva tactic doesn’t work for me. Stars that succeed know that without your customers you will not have business,” she says.
Her next project is a seven-part TV show, Dream Chaser, which traces her story and what goes into building a brand out of a musician. Based on years of footage of Lira’s performances, the series shows everything – Lira with warts and all. She has been dubbed one of South Africa’s biggest acts – and wealthiest. Her following ranges from grannies to young executives to CEOs.
“The truth is I could retire. I don’t know what my net worth is but I have been debt-free for nine years. Well I guess my company turns over R7 million ($522,411) and I’m the only artiste. If I was in the US, I would probably be in the league of Beyoncé,” she says.
Lira may be one of South Africa’s highest-earning female artistes but she struggles to balance fame, wealth and her image in South Africa. For Lira, South Africa’s legacy doesn’t allow her to be ostentatious.
“We all love the underdog. As soon as you are successful, nobody likes it, they want to pull you down. It’s just the nature of us as South Africans. We cannot be happy for you if you rise too quickly – we’re not happy, we reject it. We just don’t like to celebrate each other’s success. It’s okay for you to know that I’m successful but not how.
“You will never know what car I drive, you will never know where I stay, you will never know what shoe I buy. I’ll never show off these little things because I still need to be close to the people. Your maid will come to my show, your mom who is struggling – those are the people who draw inspiration from what I do,” she says.
“In this country that’s what we’re like as a people. If people found out, that’s it, I must just go find another place to go make a living somewhere else,” she says.
She’s managed to secure her wealth and has built up a large following for her business model and investment knowledge. She sees money, wealth and self-respect as inextricably linked. Her views on money read like a self-help book. She’s clued up on making her wealth grow.
“I am successful because I work hard and I am very good with money, I’m very good with it. People don’t know how to deal with money. We don’t think we deserve, so when you have it, you will squander it. You will buy things that you think will fill what’s missing in your core person. You start using it to patch those spaces, that won’t last of course. You fill in what’s missing instead of dealing with who you are, when you deal with yourself, you will recognize how you use money to correct what is wrong with your person. As soon as you change that, you are awake.
“Everybody takes their cut and the last person you will honor is yourself – if at all. That’s how much we dislike ourselves. People think they are not linked. I will probably do a lot more with my little seven million than people who earn 20, 30 or 40 million because of my relationship with myself and how I use my money.”
Each concert is carefully orchestrated to deliver a deliberate punch of music. From conceptualizing to the actual stage performance, attention is paid to every detail and making sure her audiences experiences the wow factor. She has spent R700,000 ($52,240) producing a show at South Africa’s Carnival City as a local artiste with a two-hour performance. She’s got a 12-man team from stylists, makeup artists to light and sound technicians. Her show had a built stage and screens set up but Lira says her efforts go largely unnoticed and that there isn’t money available for African artistes. It’s a sentiment shared by many. Her commitment to delivering value for money is to make sure that the show will be top-notch.
“Chris Brown comes in, it’s just him and a DJ. I, with all that money cannot charge R500 ($37) which would make sense for me. For Chris Brown, the minimum ticket is R650 ($48) – he’s drunk, he’s swearing, he’s high, he performs for 45 minutes and South Africans will pay for it. That is the truth of my reality. I am done with entitlement. I realized I’m working so hard to reshape a certain consciousness. It took me time to get South Africans to trust me with their R200 ($14) to see just me. My returns are ridiculous so I do it for the love, for the brand-building,” she says.
“People are struggling to put food on their tables. But you’ll find more cellphones in Africa than people so we foolishly spend on showy kinds of things. We’re very twisted in that way,” she says.
Lira admits to being a dollar millionaire, but doesn’t foresee the billionaire pop star emerging out of Africa any time soon. Equivalent in status but the differing contexts of the US and South Africa translate into different ticket prices. She envies the returns of international artistes.
Her best experience was in Brooklyn, New York, at Beyoncé’s concert where patrons paid R11,000 ($820) for VIP tickets. Lira’s reality sits in direct contrast. R975 ($72) was Lira’s most expensive concert which included a VIP package. Lira has earned the trust of her South African audience – and it’s paid off. A concert ticket would cost R200 ($14), and R300 ($22) for the golden circle. But in order to do well, she estimates she would have to charge R500 ($37) for every ticket in order to keep her own label.
“It is very limited here. You get tired of scraping by because you always work so hard. You invest in your career but the returns are tricky. When I see my balance sheet at the end of the year, it almost feels like a miracle that you did so well but it is a worthwhile pursuit.”
A collaboration with Pharrell Williams would cost $250,000; John Legend is $100,000. There aren’t any collaborations on the cards – she doesn’t think it’s worth it yet. For now, she wants to be a household name all on her own.
Aside from her property which boasts a fully organic food garden, a filtered water system and a view to die for, Lira’s biggest splurge has been shoes.
“I have dropped some ridiculous amounts on shoes. I will never do that again. I do spoil myself on holidays, amazing holidays. I was in Paris with my husband and I did splurge on shoes. I spoil myself plenty on stuff that I really want,” she says.
“My fans are predominantly female and I have built myself as a wholesome brand. It would be out of character for me to be showing off my wealth. It’s not taken positively,” she says.
With Lira, it’s about brand management and investing for the present and the future. It is rare for an artiste to display financial wizardry and musical flair. And master both.
Can Diddy’s Ciroc Recipe Work On Alkaline Water?
The first time Sean “Diddy” Combs took a sip of Aquahydrate alkaline water—given to him by pal Mark Wahlberg at a Las Vegas boxing match in the early 2010s—he found it to be an ideal antidote for evenings spent consuming adult beverages.
“I went out that night and had a Vegas night, and I woke up and had a Vegas morning,” Diddy told me in 2015. “I drank two of the [Aquahydrate] bottles and it was, like, the best tasting water that I’ve tasted. And it really, honestly helped me recover.”
Diddy became the face of the company alongside Wahlberg shortly thereafter, and the pair invested $20 million in Aquahydrate over the years while billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa added another $27 million.
They aren’t the only ones with lofty ambitions for the brand: last week the Alkaline Water Co., the publicly-traded purveyor of competitor Alkaline88, bought Aquahydrate in an all-stock deal that valued the latter at about $50 million.
For Diddy, who ranks No. 4 on our recently-released list of hip-hop’s top earners and boasts a net worth of $740 million, alkaline water holdings are just a drop in his financial bucket. His Diageo-backed Ciroc vodka—and its myriad flavors, from Red Berry to Summer Watermelon—is responsible for the lion’s share of his wealth. But it’s clear he thinks alkaline water, flavored variants included, could swell his portfolio. So do his new partners.
“You put both these brands under one public company, it makes a ton of sense,” says Aaron Keay, Alkaline’s chairman, of the Aquahydrate deal. “We see synergies on distribution, we see cost-savings on cost of goods. On production, on logistics, on staffing. … And we don’t see both brands actually then competing for the same target market.”
In the past, flavored water has enriched investors including some of Diddy’s hip-hop world comrades. A little over a decade ago, 50 Cent famously took Vitaminwater equity in lieu of stock as payment for his endorsement—and walked away with some $100 million when Coca-Cola bought its parent company for $4.1 billion in 2007.
A ten-figure valuation for an alkaline water company seems an outlandish target even for the notoriously bombastic Diddy. But Keay notes Alkaline clocked $33 million in revenues over the past fiscal year and had been expecting $48 million in 2020; now, with Aquahydrate on board, he projects closer to $60-$65 million. That compares favorably to Core Water, which was doing some $80 million as of last year before getting acquired.
“For two or three years, Core Water was just another clear water,” says Keay. “Then they added about a half dozen flavors. Sales doubled. They got bought for $500 million. I mean, for us, $500 million would be a big number off of where our market cap is right now.”
Diddy appears to be an ideal ally in achieving that goal. With Ciroc, once a middling vodka in Diageo’s roster, he was able to articulate importance of the brand’s defining trait: it was made from grapes, not grains (never mind that this might technically disqualify it from being considered a vodka). His contention, according to Stephen Rust, Diageo’s president of new business and reserve brands, is that grapes are simply sexier than potatoes.
“One of his favorite things [to say] is, ‘If you can have a vodka that comes from a history of winemaking, why would you do that versus the history of coming from potatoes?’” Rust explained in an interview for my book, 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, And Hip-Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Rise. “That’s Sean.”
With alkaline water, Diddy has demonstrated a similar knack for sizing up a product and extracting an elemental notion that passes muster with consumers (if not necessarily scientists). If “you’re full of acid,” Diddy once explained to me, you need to “get your body leveled out.”
Vodka and water, of course, are two very different products, and the same tactics won’t necessarily translate from one business to another. Flavored water itself seems to have been over-carbonated of late, as the recent struggles of brands like La Croix show; Alkaline’s shares have slumped this year as well.
Perhaps that’s why Alkaline is looking beyond its flagship bottled water business. Future plans call for a move towards cans in a nod to environmentally-conscious customers, as well as expansion into the nascent CBD-infused beverage space. Keay figures Diddy and Wahlberg, along with fellow celebrity investor Jillian Michaels, should provide a boost across the board.
“Once the FDA makes a ruling about how CBD is going to be distributed through those chains and channels, those guys are going to want trusted brands, brands that they know already have a consumer following,” says Keay. “And that was another big reason why it made sense to bring [Diddy, Wahlberg and Michaels] in, because it’s only going to help.”
–Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes
The Highest-Paid Actors 2019: Dwayne Johnson, Bradley Cooper And Chris Hemsworth
A bankable leading man is still one of Hollywood’s surest bets, even if your name isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio. While the lucrative twenty-twenty deal ($20 million upfront and 20% of gross profit) doled out to the likes of Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise may be more or less gone, Hollywood still has its big-money brands, those actors who can promise an audience so big that they command not only an eight-figure salary to show up on set but also a decent chunk of a film’s nebulous “pool”—or the money left over after some but not all of the bills are paid.
Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, tops the Forbes list of the world’s ten highest-paid actors, collecting $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019.
“It has to be audience first. What does the audience want, and what is the best scenario that we can create that will send them home happy?” Johnson told Forbes in 2018.
It seems he makes the audience happy. Johnson has landed a pay formula as close to the famed twenty-twenty deal of yore as any star can get these days. He’ll collect an upfront salary of up to $23.5 million—his highest quote yet—for the forthcoming Jumanji: The Next Level.
He also commands up to 15% of the pool from high-grossing franchise movies, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which had a worldwide box office of $962.1 million. And he is paid $700,000 per episode for HBO’s Ballers and seven figures in royalties for his line of clothing, shoes and headphones with Under Armour.
While Johnson’s deal is the biggest in the business right now, he’s not the only one with a lucrative deal. Robert Downey Jr. gets $20 million upfront and nearly 8% of the pool for his role as Iron Man, and that amounted to about $55 million for his work in Avengers: Endgame, which grossed $2.796 billion at the box office.
That gross was so big that it secured spots on this year’s top-earner list for Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd, in addition to Downey; together, they earned $284 million, with most of that coming from the franchise.
“Celebrities such as Downey and (Scarlett) Johansson currently have extreme leverage to demand enormous compensation packages from studios investing hundreds of millions of dollars in making tent-pole films, such as The Avengers series,” entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae told Forbes.
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Cooper is the rare actor who can thank a bet on himself for his 2019 ranking. The actor earned only about 10% of his $57 million payday for voicing Rocket Raccoon in Avengers.
Seventy percent came from A Star Is Born, the smaller musical drama that he directed, produced, cowrote and starred in with Lady Gaga. The movie was a passion project for Cooper, and he forfeited any upfront salary to go into the film and Gaga’s salary. It paid off—the movie, which had a production budget of only $36 million, grossed $435 million worldwide, leaving Cooper with an estimated $40 million.
The full list is below. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, ComScore, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers (generally 10%, 15% and 5%, respectively) are not deducted.
The World’s Highest-Paid Actors Of 2019
10. Will Smith
Earnings: $35 million
9. Paul Rudd
Earnings: $41 million
8. Chris Evans
Earnings: $43.5 million
6. Adam Sandler (tie)
Earnings: $57 million
6. Bradley Cooper (tie)
Earnings: $57 million
5. Jackie Chan
Earnings: $58 million
4. Akshay Kumar
Earnings: $65 million
3. Robert Downey Jr.
Earnings: $66 million
2. Chris Hemsworth
Earnings: $76.4 million
1. Dwayne Johnson
-Madeline Berg; Forbes
Comedian Jim Gaffigan Rakes In $30 Million By Ditching Netflix And Betting On Himself
Gripping a lukewarm Heineken, Jim Gaffigan hunches his six-foot-one frame over a peeling table in the green room of the An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny, Ireland. Summer nights are never terribly hot in these parts, but this one is warm enough to need some air conditioning, which the theater almost never uses. It’s hardly a glamorous moment. But then again, glamour isn’t really his thing.
“There’s nothing sexy about Jim Gaffigan,” he says, sweat dotting his brow. “I’m not young. I don’t have a full head of hair. I’m out of shape. I don’t talk about having dinner with Kanye.”
Fortunately for him, he is funny. Just ask the more than 300,000 people in 15 countries who’ve paid an average of $56 to see his latest routine. For the 53-year-old father of five, it’s been a grueling schedule: more than 75 cities in the past year, including whistle-stops like Letterkenny, a northern community of 20,000 that was once lauded as the Republic’s “tidiest town.”
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They may not offer much sizzle, but places like this are the lifeblood of Gaffigan’s business. He has raked in $30 million this year, putting him at No. 3 on Forbes’ list of the highest-earning stand-up comedians. Half of that was earned by putting “butts in seats.”
The rest comes from spreading his punch lines far and wide. And in this business, if those jokes are funny enough—and your reach wide enough—you can fill a lot of seats with a lot of butts. With the right distribution deal, those jokes can deliver exponential returns. But that’s where it gets a bit tricky.
“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice and it’s melting,” Gaffigan says. “So you’d better be building a new house.”
Gaffigan’s been building. In 2016, he agreed to partner with Netflix, the industry’s dominant force and home to original specials from all but one of the comedians on Forbes’ ranking. Last year he cut loose from the kingmaker and placed a bigger bet on himself, pairing up with Comedy Dynamics, an independent producer, to release his next special everywhere but Netflix.
Gaffigan will star in the first original stand-up special on Amazon, which is going after the streaming giant with a push into comedy. Quality Time goes live today, and it can be shopped on the open streaming market when its exclusive run with Amazon Prime Video is up in two years. And that market is only expanding.
Gaffigan has learned a bit about home building in the entertainment industry. He cut his teeth on the club circuit in the early 1990s, when HBO was the primary destination for stand-up specials and Comedy Central was a fledgling cable network.
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In 2000, he landed what was then the holy grail of comedy success—a broadcast sitcom—which was the source of the fortunes the creators of Seinfeld and Roseanne minted once they had enough seasons on the air and could sell the series into syndication.
Gaffigan’s shot proved to be short-lived, but six years later he scored a second chance and headlined a Comedy Central special called Beyond the Pale. This time it paid dividends, landing him his first theater show a month later. The butts were now coming to the seats, and while his rise was live, in person, with microphone in hand, his breakout was digital.
At the time, YouTube was changing the rules of the game, providing comedians a global platform with unprecedented distribution. Then Twitter emerged, giving comedy bookers a real-time assessment of who was attracting audiences.
READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Comedians Of 2018
Then came the debut of streaming on Netflix, which latched onto comedy as a cheap and effective way to lure subscribers, while some, notably the now disgraced Louis C.K., used streaming to control their own distribution, making their shows available for fans to purchase directly.
“It was a technological wave that crashed over the stand-up world,” says Wayne Federman, a comedian and professor of the history of stand-up at the University of Southern California. “And we’re still all trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Gaffigan’s first original Netflix special aired in 2017, long after the company had reshaped the industry. It was a promising place to be: Aziz Ansari and Ali Wong were propelled into superstar status through their Netflix specials, while household names like Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld reportedly cashed in with $60 million (Chappelle) and $100 million (Seinfeld) paydays in exchange for long-term, multi-program deals. Gaffigan’s first special, Cinco, sold for a more modest seven-figure sum.
It was more than just a check; it was access to a potential audience of nearly 94 million. Although Netflix’s subscriber base has grown since then, so has its stand-up library. The platform now shops nearly four times the number of original stand-up specials than when Cinco debuted.
That makes it harder to stand out in the scroll. Plus, the streamer often holds onto specials in perpetuity, including Cinco. The up-front money is nice, but there is no ability to earn on the back end.
Gaffigan used his next special, 2018’s Noble Ape, which was directed and cowritten by his wife, Jeannie Gaffigan, to test the waters. Comedy Dynamics bought the rights and made it available everywhere Netflix wasn’t. It had a theatrical release and could be purchased and rented on multiple services, including iTunes, YouTube and Walmart’s VUDU.
Later, there were short streaming windows on Comedy Central and Amazon Prime. According to Comedy Dynamics CEO Brian Volk-Weiss, it was even syndicated to planes and cruise ships. The up-front payment to Gaffigan from Comedy Dynamics was lower than at Netflix, but the wide distribution allowed him to earn on the back end, bringing in a total of $10 million, according to Forbes estimates.
And new services are on the way from Apple, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal and Disney, any one of which could choose to pursue cheap-to-produce and popular stand-up specials.
Because of this widening field, stand-up specials may have more life (and revenue) in them, and that could be good for comedians looking to gamble on their success with deals that offer back-end participation. “We have titles in our library that are making more in year 12 than they made in year one,” says Volk-Weiss, whose company also owns specials by Bob Saget, Iliza Shlesinger and Janeane Garofalo.
Still, leaving Netflix means walking away from a partner that has now established itself as a formidable entertainment company. Netflix has some 180 original hour-long stand-up specials and is singularly focused on exploiting content around the world. Gaffigan, though, is content to keep the bet on himself.
“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice and it’s melting. So you’d better be building a new house.”
In the stuffy backstage room in Letterkenny, Gaffigan reviews some of the new material he tried out on stage. A joke about Ireland’s nonsensical roads killed it. He stumbled with a bit about the English. The classics played well—“My dad never went to a parent-teacher conference; my dad didn’t know I went to school.”
And he’s well aware that Amazon’s core mission is to sell stuff, even though it has won critical acclaim for shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Transparent. With plans to deliver three more specials over the next five years, he’s got time to see just how good a partner the retailer might be. Along the way, he may decide it’s time to find a new neighborhood.
“The reason I went to Amazon is to expand my audience,” he says. “I don’t know what they’re gonna do and I don’t fully understand their marketing might. I might be pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s a huge corporation. They could probably make more selling socks.”
-Ariel Shapiro; Forbes
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