Thriller: Jackson's songwriters dancing on his grave (on their way to the bank)


A few years ago, the Irish Independent wrote about Gerry Rafferty, a one-hit wonder whose 1978 song "Baker Street" makes him more than $150,000 a year in royalties, penny by penny, each time it's played on the radio. And that song was mostly cool in the confines of Britain. Appeal to a wider audience and the take increases: Don McLean's "American Pie" reportedly nets more than $418,000.

Write a song that taps into the American zeitgeist -- say, one that becomes the theme song for a national mourning, as Elton John accomplished upon Diana's death with "Candle in the Wind" -- and a songwriter can start drawing up plans for additional summer houses. Maybe three or four of them.

Michael Jackson's songwriters will never write another note for him, but the windfall will continue for years. They never have to work again.

ASCAP, one of the three main music licensing companies, estimated in 2007 that a single song on an album would pay out 9.1¢ per sale, or a total of $9,100 on sales of 100,000 physical CDs alone. Use a song one time on a TV show and ASCAP estimates the price at $6,000 to $10,000, and if the performance is released on video (you just know the tribute concert will be), more money is in store.