The website Celebrity Net Worth has an article about the royalty situation on The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” that is absolutely, utterly fascinating.
Because of the vagaries of music authorship rules, every penny of royalties that is generated by both “Every Breath You Take” and “I’ll Be Missing You” goes into the bank account of one Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, a.k.a. Sting. Not Puff Daddy—or P. Diddy either. Not Andy Summers, who is the only member of the Police whose musicianship can be heard on “I’ll Be Missing You” directly. Not Stewart Copeland, who also had a hand in writing the song. All the money goes to Sting—and that money amounts to roughly two thousand dollars a day—seventeen years after the Puff Daddy song was released and thirty-one years after The Police song was released. According to Celebrity Net Worth, more than a quarter of all the money Sting has ever earned comes from “Every Breath You Take”/“I’ll Be Missing You.” The number’s a little more eye-popping when presented in annual form: It comes to $730,000 a year, each and every year for the foreseeable future.
The short version of why this came about is that Puff Daddy forgot to ask Sting for permission to use “Every Breath You Take” before the fact. If he had done so, he would have ended up paying Sting a mere 25% of the royalties. But Puff Daddy didn’t ask, which allowed Sting to take legal action, and that resulted in Sting receiving 100% of the royalties generated by “I’ll Be Missing You.” The other part of this is that Sting is listed as the sole songwriter on “Every Breath You Take”—not The Police, not Sting/Summers, just Sting alone. So he receives 100% of the songwriting royalties generated by “Every Breath You Take,” which in this case happens to include all the royalties to “I’ll Be Missing You” as well.
Famously, the members of The Police couldn’t really stand each other a high proportion of the time, and the recording of 1983’s Synchronicity, The Police’s last album and the album on which “Every Breath You Take” appears, was every bit as acrimonious as the sessions for the Beatles’ Let It Be. Everyone agrees that Andy Summers wrote the undying guitar riff featured on “Every Breath You Take.” But Sting was savvier, and Sting secured sole songwriting credit.
Understandably, Summers is more than a little annoyed about all of this; he’d like to see some of that $2,000 a day flowing into his bank account! Summers has called the song “the major rip-off of all time,” adding, “He actually sampled my guitar… that’s what he based his whole track on. Stewart’s not on it. Sting’s not on it. I’d be walking round Tower Records, and the fucking thing would be playing over and over. It was very bizarre while it lasted.”
Celebrity Net Worth quotes a chunk of a Revolver magazine interview from 2000 with all three members of The Police—the first such interview in fifteen years:
Summers: We spent about six weeks recording just the snare drums and the bass. It was a simple, classic chord sequence, but we couldn’t agree how to do it. I’d been making an album with Robert Fripp, and I was kind of experimenting with playing Bartok violin duets and had worked up a new riff. When Sting said ‘go and make it your own’, I went and stuck that lick on it, and immediately we knew we had something special.
Copeland: Yeah, Sting said make it your own – just keep your hands off my f***in’ royalties. Andy, since we’re here, I’m going to back you up on this. You should stand up right now and say, ‘I, Andy, want all the Puff Daddy money. Because that’s not Sting’s song he’s using, that’s my guitar riff.’ Okay over to you Andy, Go for it…
Summers: [meekly] Okay, I want all of the Puff Daddy Money.
Sting: Okay Andy here’s all the money [pours some change on the table]. Unfortunately, I’ve spent the rest of it.
Copeland: So Sting’s making out like a bank robber here, while Andy and I have gone unrewarded and unloved for our efforts and contributions.
Sting: Life… is… fucking… tough. Here I am in Tuscany…
Copeland: And don’t we know it! You’re in Tuscany in your palace with wine being poured down your throat and grapes being peeled for you. Sting can you buy me a castle in Italy too? With the proceeds from the longest running hit single in the history of radio? Just a little chateau somewhere?
Sting: We don’t have fucking chateaus in Italy, They’re called palazzos. I’ll lend you a room.
By the way, the full interview is completely enthralling reading for anyone who is into The Police. The weird animosity and yet chemistry that Sting, Copeland, and Summers share is one of a kind. They clearly kind of hate each other, or at least Copeland clearly kind of hates Sting, but insofar as they share a friendship and a bond, it’s largely made up of a kind of grudging respect and a taste for rough humor. When the interviewer, Vic Garbarini, decides to join in on the verbal horseplay, he’s rebuked by Copeland: “Now, now Victor, we’re all here pulling each other’s chains, having a bit of fun at each other’s expense. But you can shut the f*** up!” (Asterisks in the original version.)
It’s tempting to think that Andy Summers deserves all of the royalties from “Every Breath You Take” and “I’ll Be Missing You.” And surely he does deserve some of them. But if you ask the question, who was responsible for the success of “Every Breath You Take” and “I’ll Be Missing You,” surely the names Sting and Puff Daddy are pretty high on the list, right? This is not to deny that the irresistible guitar riff is a major, major part of the appeal, it’s merely to admit that the emotional content of Puff Daddy’s feelings for the (then) recently departed Notorious B.I.G. and Sting’s own spooky, overly serious persona were doing a lot of the work as well. And we’re only even talking about this because Diddy made a stupid error in terms of not requesting permission to use “Every Breath You Take.” But for all we know, that kind of cautiousness would have ruled out “I’ll Be Missing You” ever being recorded or released or becoming such a massive hit. We just don’t know! What we need is a Solomonic figure somewhere to adjudicate who gets what part of the money.
Until then, Sting gets all of it—reportedly, all of it until 2053, when he’ll be 102 years old, should he live that long. As Sting himself once said, “Life is fucking tough!”
Except for him!
All you musicians out there, try to think more like an attorney once in a while!
UPDATE: As satisfying as it is to hate on Sting, I have learned since posting this, that unfortunately, the Celebrity Net Worth article is apparently not accurate. Vic Garbarini, the journalist who conducted the 2000 interview with the Police quoted in the post, writes in comments: “The basic premise that Sting gets all the royalties/publishing for Police songs is simply not true. Early on it became apparent that Andy and Stewart’s unique contributions to Stings songs, really gave them a whole other dimension. So Sting agreed to give each of his bandmates 15% of royalties each, on all his songs.”
So give Sting credit: he recognized an injustice and adjusted the royalty arrangements on his entire Police catalog even though he didn’t have to, from a legal perspective.
Thank you John Kalman!