Pop superstars in huge benefit for world’s kids via UNICEF song benefit. By Frank Meyer

A collection of some of the recording industry’s top international names will gather at the United Nations General Assembly Chamber on the 9th of January, 1979, for a one-time concert to introduce both the International Year Of The Child and kick off a program of musical contributions to UNICEF which could eventually total in millions of dollars.

A Gift Of Song: The music for UNICEF” concert, hosted by David Frost, will be seen a night later as a 90-minute special on the NBC-TV web and eventually in any number of countries, featuring the performing and songwriting talents of ABBA, The Bee Gees, Rita Coolidge, John Denver, Earth, Wind And Fire, Andy Gibb, Elton John, kris Kristofferson, Olivia Newton-John and Rod Stewart, certainly one of the strongest lineups ever either live or on TV.

It’s not just a TV show,” Frost said. “It’s hopefully launching something that will last indefinitely.” Program, which airs at 8 p.m. eastern time, is the first of its kind to emanate from the General Assembly, though there have been classical concerts there.

“The program will be done virtually live, meaning we’re doing it as a concert, to time. Viewers will see things the next night as they happened, not a studio day of tapping for 10 hours.”

There will be no charge for the audience, which will consist of a number of groups, including permanent ambassadors to the UN. “But the majority of the audience,” Frost said, “in keeping with both the music, the spirit of UNICEF and the International Year Of The Child, will be young people.

“The point is that each artist or group, in addition to whatever link-up they may do with the other founder-composers, will be singing the song they have donated in perpetuity to the children of the world, to Music for UNICEF.

The Bee Gees, it was learned, will be donating all publishing and writing revenues from their current hit single, Too Much Heaven. All artists will be doing songs they either composed or co-wrote.

“The publishing companies are being asked to chip in their money, too,” Frost said. “Basically, the founder-composers are giving everything they can and I’m sure the publishing companies will go along. In some cases the artists control their own publishing, in other cases they don’t. But I doubt that anybody would want to say no.

“In the case of music publishing, we’ve tried to maximize the return to UNICEF and to make nil the return to anyone else. Chappel Music has donated its services to administer the music publishing rights on a non-profit basis. They can recoup their costs, but they’re not getting a fee or taking a profit.”

Frost pointed out the artists already lined up, all of whom are firm, will be working together for the first time, ABBA for the first time other than promotional ventures in the U.S. Frost will host the show, with a lineup of top names for co-hosts and he said they plan to “pack the 90 minutes with music...”

Maximize profits

From a financial and production standpoint, everything is being set up to maximize the profit and minimize even the potential for loss. “It’s a U.S. Committee for UNICEF production,“ Frost said, “so that monies made by the TV special will go to UNICEF after all costs have been met. NBC is paying a fee for the show to the committee.” Frost and Robert Stigwood, who conceived the idea along with The Bee Gees (Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb), are executive producers.

The Stigwood and Frost companies, RSO and Parradine, receive no production fee, and no share of profits. “After the costs of producing and distributing the special have been met, all revenues will belong to UNICEF and because the show is copyright by U.S. Committee for UNICEF, the money flows to them anyway.

“We did that so everyone felt reassured that if there was money saved on the budget it doesn’t go to the executive producers, our companies or anywhere else; it all goes to UNICEF,” Frost said.

Frost said that outside the U.S., “the distribution is being handled by Paramount, operating at cost and abandoning their usual fees. We thought about doing a live telecast via satellite, but since we were taping it the night before, we felt a satellite broadcast would look slightly bizarre.

“Also, bearing in mind that we wanted to maximize the return for UNICEF, a lot of countries said they wanted to play the show the same week, but on a Saturday or Sunday. Our concern was to make this a worldwide event, but while the important thing is to get across the International Year Of The Child and to launch Music for UNICEF, we wanted to maximize the return, and the expert advice we got was that a lot of countries resent paying for satellite fees at 4 a.m., which could be their time. And the initial satellite costs at this end would be ours, therefore UNICEF’s, so we decided to distribute it by jet courier.”

In the U.S., plans are in the works to simulcast the audio portion of the show on the 250-station network of D.I.R. Broadcasting, which syndicates the “King Biscuit Flower Hour,” at cost.

Frost said there’s a possibility an album could come out of this and if it does, it will be handled through an existing record company, which will not be RSO, on the same basis Chappell, D.I.R. and others are working, at a cost-only return, with all profits to UNICEF.

“The real money,” he said, “lies in the music publishing. What we dream of is that performer-composers of this calibre will inspire other people to follow their example. That’s why we hope this is not only an event in its own right, but the beginning of something. We hope the show will have a domino effect in causing others to donate songs.

Dance parties

“The committee is also going to organize Music for UNICEF dance parties all over the country the night of the show, to watch and participate, and they’re sending out 500,000 pieces of mail. It’s not trick or treat (a reference to Halloween nights that have been a prime fundraiser for UNICEF), but one hopes that at the grass roots level it will raise money as well.

“A souvenir, or commemorative, album is also planned. I use the word planned because the founder-composers are definite, the show is definite, Music for UNICEF is definite, the U.S. Committee is definite, but the souvenir album is not pacted. It’s subject to the approval of the artists and the record companies.

“The primary request we made to the artist, first and foremost, was, please be a founder-composer, please give a song and please be there on the night to sing it – the souvenir album therefore is an afterthought, but it is planned and anticipated, absolutely.”

There has been some suggestion that royalties due performers for record sales, per track, of the donated songs will also go to UNICEF, but Frost said that, too, is an afterthought – though it would be appreciated.

“Writers and publishers are what we’ve asked. We’ve asked the artists to give as good a song as possible because we’d like the songs to be hits in their own right. The publishing would be worth that much more. Obviously, on their own albums, the singing is their own. On a souvenir album, even the singing would belong to UNICEF.”

No money loss

Frost said there is “absolutely no chance” the operation could lose money. “Because the U.S. Committee for UNICEF is an important and registered charity and cannot risk money in any situation, while on the one hand we’re not taking any production fee, on the other hand, just so everything is totally safe, RSO and Parradine have guaranteed them against any loss.

“If there’s any overrun on the license fee, we would be responsible. If there’s an underrun, it all goes to the U.S. Committee. Unless we have a strange seizure, such a situation is academic, but it was important to the committee that they were not endangered by any loss.

“The deal with NBC is a straight-forward commercial deal for a 90-minute special, so they’re not involved in how well UNICEF does and UNICEF is not involved with how well they do in selling commercials. In terms of spending considerably large dollars for this at a time of year when advertising is not at its peak, NBC is taking a risk in its own way.”

Frost said UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, who’ll appear briefly on the spec with UNICEF exec director Henry Labuisse, wants very much to emphasize the International Year Of The Child to inspire composer-performers to join in. Frost said the show in itself could raise upwards of $100,000, depending on worldwide sales, especially since most artists, et al, are working at scale and absorbing many of their own expenses.

The orchestra, under Elliot Lawrence, will be paid scale, as will all the technical people involved. While Roger Birnbaum, repping Stigwood, and Ian Gordon, for Frost, will be execs in charge working sans fee, the regular production staff will be paid in accordance with normal fees.

Production staff

Marty Pasetta is co-producer with Ken Ehrlich and Pasetta also directs, with Charles Lisanby as art director, Bruce Vilanch, Frost and Ehrlich writers.

How much money can this eventually be worth? “We’re dealing with music publishing,” Frost said. “The figure, and one can only look at the long run – if The Bee Gees and everyone else live as long as we hope they will, we’re talking of 80 years of copyright at least.

“We’re talking of 10 songs to start with, but if we end up with 100 composers or further generations of composers, then you could easily see, over the period of copyright, $100,000,000.” Transcribed for ABBA World

Variety (New York) · Wednesday, 29 November 1978 (Pages 1 & 108)

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