By Adam Sherwin
Amy Winehouse could return as hologram but The Rolling Stones are sceptical, book on music stars’ afterlife finds
From holograms to warring heirs, it’s the essential guide to ensuring a lucrative pop afterlife – and musicians are snapping up a book which advises them how to make sure the cash keeps rolling in after they die.
Leaving The Building, a 500-page doorstopper by Dr Eamonn Forde, covers urgent questions for rockers pondering their mortality, including “what happens when battles erupt between heirs”, the ethics of being revived as a hologram, and the reputational consequences of scandal emerging post-mortem.
Published on Thursday, it is based on interviews with leading music lawyers, the representatives of estates including Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and David Bowie, and technology companies.
It reveals that plans for a touring Amy Winehouse hologram are still being pursued – but The Rolling Stones are sceptical about being turned into a ghostly spectacle.
Forde, an award-winning music business author, said he was aware that managers and artists have ordered copies of the book, which is the first to analyse the entertainment afterlife industry in detail.
Taking as its starting point notorious manager Colonel Tom Parker’s ruthless exploitation of Elvis Presley’s legacy within days of his charge’s death in 1977, Forde writes: “F. Scott Fitzgerald proposed that there are no second acts in life. Music estates have a single and clear purpose – to ensure that there are second lives in death.”
Contributors include Marty Tudor, the head of BASE Hologram, the pioneering firm which sent ghostly imagess of Whitney Houston and Buddy Holly on tour.
However, plans for an AmyWinehouse hologram, approved by the singer’s family, were dropped after a backlash from fans
“We’re trying to celebrate the artist. So bad on me if I present Amy Winehouse as she was in the end,” said Tudor. “Frankly, I wouldn’t do that.
He said he would only show the singer at her best – and indicated that the project could be revived when rights issues over the use of her music are resolved.
However Bill Zysblat, who represents the Bowie estate and The Rolling Stones said a virtual Mick Jagger would have little appeal. “I don’t know if hologram tours will stimulate sales or streams.”
AI experts told Forde that technology allowing the representation of a star to perform a private show in your living room had greater potential than hologram shows in theatres.
Dolly Parton, an astute businesswoman whose estate is already worth £600m, is cited as an afterlife role model.
Parton has recorded hundreds of unreleased acapella vocal tracks, which are stored in her archive, so that producers can mould musical tracks around them in whatever genre and style is chart-friendly in the decades beyond her death.
David Bowie’s hologram oddity
David Bowie experimented with hologram technology in 1998, when he recorded 30 minutes of experimental film shot by friend and collaborator Professsor Martin Richardson, the book says.
The footage was used to produce a hologram for an album insert. The complete film of the Ziggy Stardust star walking towards the camera and pulling poses was stored in a chest at Leicester’s De Montfort University for many years.
Professor Richardson said Bowie was “fascinated” by the technology because “a hologram does not need to be turned on. There is an instant connection with your primal senses that goes beyond anything digital can offer.”
Here’s some tips for a successful pop afterlife…
Leave an updated will that “guides exactly who’s in control”
“That can really get to be a food fight”, says music attorney Bob Donnelly. James Brown’s $100m estate was mired in a 15-year legal dispute between his children and girlfriend. “It’s gonna be a big mess when I die,” the Godfather of Soul correctly predicted.
Ensure trusted collaborators complete your unfinished work posthumously
Jeff Buckley’s mother Mary Guibert was furious when she learned Sony planned to “polish up” the cult singer’s demos for instant release after his death by drowning in 1997. Leonard Cohen’s son Adam completed a posthumous album, using the poet’s final recordings with his express permission, in 2019.
Damage limitation can rehabilitate scandal-hit stars
Representatives for Michael Jackson’s estate said the Leaving Neverland documentary detailing his alleged sexual abuse had little effect on his popularity. “His streams were up 50 per cent in 2019. That certainly wasn’t the intended effect,” said Alicia Yaffe, who oversees Jackson’s social media.
Insert a “virtual reality” clause in contracts, expressly approving or forbidding being turned into holograms or their successor technology.
“Having digital avatars of dead pop stars endorse a product they could never have used in their lifetime, or support a politician they would have found morally reprehensible, is really where the ethical shutters should come down,” writes Forde.
Working 9 to 5 to secure your legacy
Dolly Parton is a role model for artists seeking to curate their afterlife.
The country queen owns a multi-million dollar collection of businesses, including production companies for TV and movies and her “Dollywood” amusement park in Tennessee.
She held on to the publishing rights to hits including I Will Always Love You but is now looking to put her catalogue of 3,000 songs up for sale after seeing music legends cashing in on their work.
“There’s enough stuff to go on for ever with my music – to do new and original stuff,” Parton said of the hundreds of unreleased vocal tracks she has stockpiled in her archive for producers to add future arrangements.
Parton has even sealed an unheard track in a chestnut box at her DreamMore resort and spa, with instructions for it not to be opened until 2045 – she intends to attend its unveiling, aged 99.