Streamers Spend on Music Documentaries. Big Stars. Unique Access. Sky High Budgets. $25 Milllion for Billy Eilish

You’d have to look hard to find a more compatible pair than the Music documentary and the streaming ecosystem.

The genre relies on the celebrity artist and is therefore pre-sold to an intense fan base that crosses borders, delivering on the streamers’ global ambitions.

The market leaders can spend big on Music:

  • $25 million by Apple TV+ for Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry.
  • $30 million by Disney+ for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

The Music genre contains many of the similar attributes described by Ed Hersh in his very popular analysis of trends in the True Crime genre, including the need for total access to the subject and “never before seen” archives.

Inspired by Ed’s analysis, my associate Camran Shealy wrote profiles of a dozen recently publicized Music commissions.  (Camran is a rising senior at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.)

Most of the films are originals from Netflix, Disney+. Showtime, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, CNN Films and Apple TV+.

Sundance and Tribeca are well-represented in Camran’s selection, particularly for grittier stories about musical artists who aren’t superstars.

We’ll explore in future posts, the special mix of challenges facing Music documentary producers. These include access to the artist and their archives, their editorial control, the layers of stakeholders who expect to be compensated, the cost of negotiating and paying for various music rights, and more.

These themes are revealed in depth in my Fab 4 Archive Case Study: “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week”


by Camran Shealy

Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry

Reminder: Who is Billie Eilish?

  • Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell (born December 18, 2001), known professionally as Billie Eilish, is an American singer and songwriter signed to Interscope Records. California singer and dancer debuted her ethereal indie electro-pop sound when she was barely a teenager.
  • Born and raised in Los Angeles, Eilish grew up in a household of actors and musicians, and was homeschooled along with her brother Finneas O’Connell (the Slightlys).
  • At the age of eight, she joined the Los Angeles Children’s Choir, developing the soulful vocals that would later appear on her early singles.
  • After the release of “Six Feet Under” and “Fingers Crossed,” Eilish made her breakthrough with “Ocean Eyes,” produced and co-written with her brother Finneas and released by Interscope. It surpassed 14 million online streams and spawned a number of remixes with Astronomyy, Blackbear, and Goldhouse. Eilish followed up in February 2017 with “Bellyache,” then landed another track, “Bored,” on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
  • Her debut full-length album titled “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We All Go?” was released March 29th, 2019 via Interscope Records.
  • The Vogue

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Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: The Final Elton John Performances and The Years That Made His Legend

 

Reminder: Who is Elton John?

  • Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE, is one of the most highly acclaimed and successful solo artists of all time.
  • He has achieved 1 diamond, 32 platinum or multi-platinum, and 21 gold albums, over 70 Top 40 hits, and he has sold more than 300 million records worldwide.
  • He holds the record for the biggest selling single of all time, Candle In The Wind 1997, which sold over 33 million copies.
  • Since launching his first tour in 1970, Elton has over 4,000 performances in more than 80 countries to his credit.
  • Elton is the most successful solo male in the history of the American charts and the third most successful artist overall, behind only Madonna and the Beatles.
  • He has logged 67 Hot 100 entries between 1970 and 2000, including nine No. 1s and 27 top 10s. He achieved seven #1 albums in the three-and-a-half-year period from 1972 to 1975 — a period of concentrated success surpassed only by the Beatles.
  • EltonJohn.com

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The Lost Weekend: A Love Story

Reminder: Who is May Pang?

  • May Fung Yee Pang (born October 24, 1950) is an American, best known as the former girlfriend of John Lennon. She had previously worked as a personal assistant and production coordinator for Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono.
  • In 1973, when Lennon and Ono separated, Pang and Lennon had a relationship lasting over 18 months, during a time which Lennon later referred to as his “Lost Weekend.”
  • Pang subsequently produced two books about their relationship: a memoir called Loving John (Warner, 1983) and a book of photographs, Instamatic Karma (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).
  • Pang was married to producer Tony Visconti from 1989 to 2000 and has two children, Sebastian and Lara.
  • People Pill 

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Untitled Lizzo Documentary

Reminder: Who is Lizzo?

  • Melissa Jefferson (born April 27, 1988 in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.), known professionally as Lizzo, is an American rapper and singer.
  • She is a founding member of indie hip hop groups The Chalice, Grrrl Prty, The Clerb, Ellypseas, and Absynthe. Her debut album, Lizzobangers, was released in 2013. In 2015, she released her sophomore album, Big Grrrl Small World.
  • Born in Detroit in the late 80’s, Lizzo spent much of her formative years in the church, where she was raised on the gospel sounds of The Winans, The Clark Sisters, and Fred Hammond, along with mainstay secular artists such as Stevie Wonder and Elton John.
  • At the age of 10 her family moved to Houston, TX, and Lizzo was exposed to a wide array of emerging Southern musical styles, from the trademark chopped and screwed rap tracks of the underground, to the progressive and polished R&B sounds of groups like Destiny’s Child that were raising the city’s national profile to new heights.
  • In fact, it was after she stumbled across a Destiny’s Child performance at Wal-Mart that Lizzo—then a 5th grader– was inspired to start writing music on her own.
  • Over the next decade that decision would take her through the trenches of some of the most varied musical genres: R&B girl groups (I.N.I.T.I.A.L.S., Cornrow Clique), progressive rock bands (Elypseas), solo rap ventures, and electro-pop duos (Lizzo & The Larva Ink).
  • The Vogue

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Little Richard: I Am Everything

Reminder: Who is Little Richard?

  • Of the great artists from the first era of rock & roll, few were as powerful and exciting as Little Richard, and no one bested his magnetism and flamboyance.
  • Blessed with a singularly forceful voice (his piercing “Whooooo!” is still one of the most eloquent screams in American music) and a rollicking piano style, Little Richard fused gospel, rhythm & blues, and boogie woogie into a sound that was purely electric, and he startled audiences with his flashy clothes, outrageous persona, and willingness to present a sexually ambiguous image at a time when such things were all but unknown in popular culture.
  • And though Little Richard had a relatively short tenure as a major hitmaker — nearly all his hits appeared in 1956 and 1957 — he maintained a reputation as an unrelenting stage performer, capable of blowing nearly any act off the stage, and his influence would be felt decades after he stopped charting singles on a regular basis.
  • The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, David Bowie, and Bob Dylan all cited Richard as a key inspiration, and he never entirely lost his audience despite walking away from secular music not once, but twice, convinced that rock & roll was an offense against his Christian faith.

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Halftime

Reminder: Who is Jennifer Lopez?

  • Actress, singer, dancer, producer, and businesswoman, Jennifer Lopez parlayed her Golden Globe-nominated portrayal of tragic Latin pop icon Selena in the 1997 biopic into pop culture superstardom, including forging a career as an influential pop star in her own right.
  • Establishing a confident, sensual style, her first single, 1999’s “If You Had My Love,” went all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Just two years later, Lopez became the first woman to hit number one on the album chart and at the box office in the same week, with her second album, J.Lo, and her lead role opposite Matthew McConaughey in The Wedding Planner.
  • In 2001, she launched the long-running clothing line J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez and received her second Grammy nomination in the dance recording category.
  • 2002 brought the number one hit “All I Have” featuring LL Cool J, and her first fragrance, Glow, became a top-seller.
  • While continuing to land occasional lead roles on the silver screen, she became a fixture in the Top Ten with albums including the Spanish-language Como Ama una Mujer (2007) and her seventh full-length, Love? (2011).
  • In the meantime, on TV, the onetime In Living Color dancer co-created the reality series DanceLife, and in 2011 she began a multi-season stint as a judge on Fox’s American Idol. Lopez issued another Top Ten studio album, A.K.A., in 2014 before leaving American Idol in 2016 to star in the NBC crime drama Shades of Blue (2016-2018).
  • In 2020, Lopez received her first Golden Globe nomination in 22 years, for her portrayal of Ramona in the previous year’s Hustlers, a film that she also co-produced. She combined her passions with 2022’s Marry Me, a romantic comedy for which she starred and provided the soundtrack alongside co-star Maluma.
  • All Music

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Nothing Compares

Reminder: Who is Sinéad O’Conner?

  • Sinéad O’Connor ranked among the most distinctive and controversial pop music stars of the alternative era, the first and in many ways, the most influential of the numerous female performers whose music dominated airwaves throughout the last decade of the 20th century.
  • Brash and outspoken — her shaved head, angry visage, and shapeless wardrobe a direct challenge to popular culture’s long-prevailing notions of femininity and sexuality — O’Connor irrevocably altered the image of women in rock.
  • Railing against long-standing stereotypes simply by asserting herself not as a sex object but as a serious artist, she kick-started a revolt that led the way for performers ranging from Liz Phair to Courtney Love to Alanis Morissette.
  • All Music

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Look at Me: XXXTentacion

Reminder: Who is XXXTentacion?

  • Controversial rapper Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy (aka XXXTentacion) played fast and loose when it came to genres, often incorporating elements of punk rock, hip-hop, R&B, and heavy metal.
  • In the late 2010s, he experienced a quick rise with his dark and emotionally intense content, scoring a number one album with 2018’s. Months later, at the peak of his popularity, he was shot and killed.
  • All Music

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Machine Gun Kelly’s Life in Pink

Reminder: Who is Machine Gun Kelly?

  • Delivering lyrics with the speed of a bullet train, Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly experienced a meteoric rise in late 2011 when he transitioned from grinding out self-released mixtapes to working with major labels.
  • From there, the rapper skyrocketed to superstar status, with each of his albums charting in the Top Ten. A beef with Eminem, a film career, and even some reality show appearances would follow as the high-powered lyrical rap style of albums like 2019’s Hotel Diablo morphed into a driving emo-rock sound on collaborations with Travis Barker and on the Barker-produced 2020 album Tickets to My Downfall, which topped the Billboard 200.
  • Kelly worked alongside Barker again in 2022 on album number six, Mainstream Sellout.
  • All Music

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Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby

Reminder: Who is Lil Baby?

  • Charismatic, confident Atlanta-bred rapper Lil Baby quickly rose to fame after he launched his career in 2017.
  • Following a series of mixtapes, his popularity exploded in 2018, the year he released his first proper album, Harder Than Ever (which included the Drake-featuring hit “Yes Indeed”), and Drip Harder (a collaborative mixtape with Gunna), both of which entered the Top Ten of the Billboard 200.
  • He topped the chart in 2020 with second studio album My Turn and again the next year with The Voice of the Heroes, a collaborative studio effort with Lil Durk.
  • All Music

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Sheryl

Reminder: Who is Sheryl Crow?

  • Sheryl Crow’s fresh, updated spin on classic roots rock made her one of the most popular mainstream rock artists of the 1990s.
  • By the time she struck gold with 1993’s sunny, good-time rocker “All I Wanna Do” from her debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, she’d already spent over half-a-decade paying her dues as a songwriter, industry session player, and touring back-up singer.
  • That blue-collar work ethic seeped into her albums, which were loose and eclectic on the surface, yet consistently tied together with polished, professional songcraft. Crow’s self-titled 1996 follow-up was another massive success, yielding additional signature hits like “If It Makes You Happy” and “Every Day Is a Winding Road,” and establishing her not only as a dependable star, but one with a knack for creating consistently high-quality material with an organic flair. Crow’s success carried into the 21st century with a pair of platinum albums in 2002’s C’mon, C’mon and 2005’s Wildflower.
  • Her career was briefly put on hold after a cancer diagnosis, but she recovered and recorded 2008’s gold-certified Detours. Crow also continued to evolve musically, embracing vintage soul and R&B on 2010’s 100 Miles from Memphis and country music on 2013’s Feels Like Home.
  • Throughout her career, Crow has collaborated with a wide array of high profile musicians ranging from Eric Clapton and Keith Richards to Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn. Her 2019 album Threads, which she billed as her last, assembled an intriguing cast of stars like Willie Nelson, Chuck D, and Stevie Nicks to join her for a set of duets.

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