Just like any music mogul (Clive Davis, Jimmy Iovine, David Geffen, Quincy Jones, Diddy, and L.A. Reid,) Tommy Mottola has made a lot of frenemies in the business, and depending on who you talk to, you’ll either hear stories of great respect, admiration, and gratitude, or resentment and straight-up disdain (remember when Michael Jackson staged a press conference to call him “devilish,” blaming him for the poor sales of 2001’s Invincible?).
But you don’t go from being a college dropout to global CEO of Sony Music Entertainment without a pair of what Harvey Weinstein calls “guts and balls of steel.”
If you’re looking for beautiful writing, go elsewhere, but if you want a sort of crash course on how the music industry evolved from the time of Elvis to the iPod, and how an Italian American from the Bronx went on to become one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes figures in pop music, then Mottola’s new memoir Hitmaker: The Man and his Music is a quick, worthwhile read.
It’s ok if you’re like my mother and know Mottola simply as “el esposo de Thalía”‘. The 63-year-old music mogul has in fact been happily married to everyone’s favorite telenovela queen for 12 years and counting, so you’ll be glad to know that Mottola does get personal about his relationship with Thalía, as well as that other superstar he was once married to, Mariah Carey.
The way he paints the picture, that marriage, which lasted from 1993 to 1998, was doomed from day one, but who can blame him for falling in love with a 7-octave vocal range like that? At one point in the book, Mottola even apologizes to Mariah, whom he signed to Sony almost immediately after hearing her demo and later fell in love with: “If it seemed like I was controlling, let me apologize again. Was I obsessive? Yes. But that was also part of the reason for her success. Her success and my success. If you’re not controlling things when you’re running a company with four hundred artists and fourteen thousand employees, you’re not going to be successful – or on the job very long. The problem was that I was the chairman of Sony and her husband at the same time. She grew resentful…Things got more difficult and tense by the day.”
After managing Hall & Oates, John Mellencamp, Carly Simon, among others, Mottola spent 14 years at Sony, during which he helped launch the careers of Mariah, Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, and even Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Marc Anthony during their respective crossover phases. He also worked alongside Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, the Dixie Chicks, George Michael, and Pearl Jam, among others.
If you’re a devoted Michael Jackson fan like myself, then you’ll be interested in the parts where Mottola talks about managing the King of Pop’s emotional ups and downs – and his astronomical budgets for short films (a.k.a. what Michael would call videos).
These days, Mottola’s life is much less hectic than portrayed in the book. He stepped down from his Sony post in 2003 and now lives in New York with Thalia and their two young children, Sabrina and Matthew. He heads a global entertainment and media company known as the Mottola Media Group.
Here’s a few surprising things we learn about Mottola’s personal and professional life through the book:
1. Mottola was once a recording artist himself, signed to Epic Records at just 18. He went by the name T.D. Valentine back then, and had mild success with a 1960s song called “Love Trap.” It’s not half-bad, but it’s hard to imagine he’d have the longevity of some of the artists he helped launch.
2. Mottola’s therapist was utterly opposed to his relationship to Mariah, and even warned him about it. “The therapist kept trying to make me see Mariah as someone who’d been through a difficult childhood. All I could see was what Mariah was about to become,” writes Mottola. The therapist even went to so far as to say, “Tom, you’re in denial.” But, as Mottola notes, “Smashing through the word no was a big reason for my success…I thought ‘Life is short. F* it. This is what I feel. This is what I’m going to do’…I went off with Mariah without thinking about the possible consequences or repercussions…How the hell this happened to the razor-sharp Bronx street kid who would’ve grabbed a buddy in the same situation by the lapels and then slapped him silly – I’ll never know.” We’ll never know either, but we’re thankful that at least some great, timeless music came out of that union.
3. Mariah Carey wasn’t a fan of the song “Hero” initially in 1993. She, according to Mottola, always wanted to go in a more hip-hop direction, but he would insist that she didn’t have to limit herself to one genre and could instead conquer all audiences. But his instinct was right with “Hero,”as with Mariah’s now-classic Christmas album, which she also apparently resisted at first, finding it corny. “The only good part of this story for me is a magazine article not long ago in which Mariah told a writer how she thought I was crazy for asking her to do the album and how she initially resisted, but that in retrospect it’s become one of her favorites and that she was really happy I made it happen,” writes Mottola.
4. Celine Dion initially did not want to sing the Titanic theme song “My Heart Will Go On” in 1997 either, and Mottola, as well as Celine’s husband/manager Rene Angelil had to talk her into it, says Mottola. The demo she recorded of that song – which was meant to be a rough cut to send to James Cameron and the folks behind the movie – ended up being what we hear in the movie and have heard countless times. And she did it all in one take – no fixes! It went on to generate a billion dollars in business, win an Oscar, and four Grammys.
5. Thalia and Mottola did long distance for the first part of their relationship – and apparently this was the key to their lasting love. After having been reluctantly set up on a blind date by Gloria and Emilio Estefan in New York at the tail end of 1998, Thalia and Mottola hit it off right away, but she was still in Mexico City shooting Rosalinda, and he was based in NY. “Sometimes we’d fall asleep at the end of our eighteen-hour days while talking to each other,” writes Mottola. “We took photos during our workdays and mailed them back and forth as if we were high school pen pals. The distance, and the language barrier, only intensified our feelings.” In another section of the book, dedicated to other people’s perspectives of Mottola, Thalia writes of her husband: “Tommy and I met at a great point in our lives. Tommy was already successful. I was already successful. So we came together as equals.”
This story originally appeared on Fusion (ABC/Univision).