Paul Versus the Rapper: How YouTube Tutorials and Creative Lawyering Played Key Roles in Recovering Judgment Against Elusive Defendant

In almost two decades of practicing in the post-judgment arena, My clients and I have run the emotional gamut from near-intoxicating highs (the “unicorn” fact patterns where the debtor pays up immediately or, even better, the debtor forgets to empty his bank account and when we freeze it, there’s more than enough funds to satisfy the judgment) to disappointment (when the debtor files bankruptcy and there is a long line of prior creditors) to abject frustration (the debtor appears to have no physical ties anywhere yet profusely broadcasts his life of luxury on all social media channels – think Instagram selfie in tropical locale) to the unnerving (a debtor or two have threatened bodily harm).

But occasionally, I’m faced with a fact pattern that requires both tenacity (they all do) and creative collection efforts. Here’s an example of a recent case that fell into this category. The facts are simple: the debtor – a well-known rapper – failed to show for a scheduled concert in another state and gave no notice. The club promoter filed suit in that state and ultimately got a money judgment for his deposit along with some incidental expenses and attorneys fees.

After I registered the judgment here in Illinois, I began hitting snags in rapid succession. I quickly realized this debtor didn’t fit the normal template: meaning, he didn’t have an official job from which he received regularly scheduled payments, had no bank account and owned no real estate. While the debtor’s social media pages were replete with concert videos and robust YouTube channel offerings, the debtor seemed a ghost.

Add to that, the debtor and his record company used UPS stores as its corporate registered office and the debtor’s entourage ran interference and covered for him at every turn.

Here’s what I did:

(1) Source of Funds: Concerts and Merchandise

I looked at the debtor’s website and social media pages to determine where he would be performing over the next several weeks. Then, I researched the business entities that owned the concert venues and prepared subpoenas to them. For the out-of-state venues, I lined up attorneys there to (1) register the Illinois registration of the foreign judgment, and (2) subpoena the venue owners for contracts with the debtor so I could see what percentage of the “gate” would flow to debtor. My plan was to eventually seek the turnover of funds funneling from venue – to management company – to debtor.

On another front, I tried to identify who was in charge of the debtor’s T-shirt and merchandise sales. Since the website was vague on this, I requested this information from the debtor’s management company through an omnibus citation Rider.

(2) Creating Buzz and a Discovery Dragnet: Getting Others Involved

I then served citations to discover assets on debtor’s management company and booking agent. (I was able to locate these companies through the debtor’s social media pages.) This allowed me to cast a wide net and involve third parties whom I surmised the debtor wasn’t keen on getting dragged into this.

From the management company and booking agent, I sought documents showing payments to the debtor including licensing and royalty fees, tax returns, pay stubs, bank records and any other documents reflecting company-to-debtor payments over the past 12 months.

(3) Licensing and Royalties: Zeroing In On Industry Behemoths

In reviewing the management company’s subpoena response, I noted the debtor was receiving regular royalty payments from ASCAP – the national clearinghouse that distributes public performance royalties to songwriters. Based in New York, ASCAP likely wasn’t going to respond to an Illinois subpoena. So I would have to register the judgment in New York. I lined up a New York attorney to do this and notified debtor’s counsel (by this time, debtor, management company and booking agent hired a lawyer) of my plans to register the judgment in NY and subpoena ASCAP for royalty data. They didn’t like that.

Sensing I may be onto something with the ASCAP angle, I dove deep into the byzantine (to me, at least) world of music licensing law. I learned that while ASCAP (BMI is another public performance royalty conduit) handles performance rights licensing, the pre-eminent agent for “mechanical” licenses (licenses that allow you to put music in CD, record, cassette and digital formats) is the Harry Fox Agency, Inc. or HFA – also based in New York. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this but I found YouTube a treasure trove of music licensing law building blocks.

Armed with my published and video licensing law research, I alerted debtor’s counsel of my plans to subpoena HFA for mechanical royalties in lockstep with my ASCAP subpoena once I registered the judgment in New York.

(4) Settlement: Persistence Pays Off

The combined threat of liening the debtor’s concert and merchandise monies and subpoenaing his public performance and mechanical license royalties was enough to motivate debtor to finally – after months of fighting – come to the table with an acceptable settlement offer. While another creditor beat me to the punch and got to the concert venue owners first, our aggressive actions planted enough of a psychological seed in the debtor that his royalties might be imperiled. This proved critical in getting the debtor’s management company (again, without their involvement, this never would settle) to pay almost the whole judgment amount.

Afterwords: My Younger Self May Have Given Up

This case cemented the lesson I’ve learned repeatedly through the years that as a judgment creditor, you have to be persistent, aggressive and creative – particularly with judgment debtors that don’t neatly fit the 9-to-5-salaried-employee paradigm.

Through persistence, out-of-the-box thinking, internet research and wide use of social media, my client got almost all of its judgment under circumstances where the “old me” (i.e. my less experienced self) may have folded.

 

 

I Think I Lost My Headache: Album Review, “Rated R”, Queens of the Stone Age

rated rThere seems to be a definite hunger among rock fans/listeners for reference points and comparisons when one seeks to capture the sound (and feel) of a given band.
Before even hearing Queens of the Stone Age, I culled, from divergent sources, the following musical comparisons: Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, The Cult, Danzig, Cream, Soundgarden, Motorhead, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Radio Head, The Stooges, Ozzy, Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, Corrosion of Conformity, Marilyn Manson.
Their music was alternately labelled “cocaine pop”, “stoner metal”, “stoner rock”, “doom metal” and “desert metal.” No doubt these labels tailed the band because of QOTSA bandleader Josh Homme’s former association with Kyuss, an early 90s sludge rock (still another label) icon, known for, among other things, playing extended jams in the California desert fueled only by the generator’s power and light.
Given the breadth of these descriptions of the QOTSA sound and genre, and the fact I love many of the aforementioned bands, I was intrigued and expected Rated R to wow me. 
It did.
That’s not to say I wasn’t taken aback at first. Expecting to hear saturnine Iommiesque guitar riffs on every track, Rated R’s dearth of (but not entire lack ofof those  proto-metal, mammoth guitar chords took some getting used to.
It took about six full listens to truly appreciate Rated R musical depth and reach.  The album defies pithy categorization, with nearly each song demonstrating a different genre.
There’s the punkish/garage-band jams “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”- an ode to recreational pharmaceuticals – and “Quick and to the Pointless” – a Ballroom Blitz-type number complete with electro handclaps and a “yeah yeah yeah” cheerleader chorus.
The album also offers trippy, psychedelic offerings “Auto Pilot”and “Better Living Through Chemistry” – an aurally fragmented track with lots of fits and starts that’s awash in fuzz guitar and meandering bass lines.  “Better Living”‘s polished and timeless percussion stands out, too.  Charlie Watts (or, more accurately, Bill Ward) would be proud.
“The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” is pretty close to a Top-40 pop confection.  Which isn’t to say it’s not good.  It definitely is.
The song evokes Disraeli Gears-era Cream in tenor and aesthetic, complete with fat guitar chords and a catchy chorus.
“In the Fade” is an excellent track featuring the Screaming Trees (remember “I Nearly Lost You” from the Singles soundtrack?) frontman Mark Lanegan’s baritone haunting the vocals.
Rated R’s “Leg of Lamb” features an atonal, quirky guitar hook and hypnotic vocals (“You’re a head case with a smile”) that mesh well.
Monsters in the Parasol,” often QOTSA’s live opener, plays as a straight-forward rocker about hallucinations with non-sequitur lyrics that are apropos to the songs acid trip aesthetic. (“Paul’s dead, he’s warped and bubbly; oh well.”
After choking down the acoustic filler “Lightning Song,” the listener should strap in and mentally prepare himself for the album’s penultimate track and heavy (in every sense of the word) aural artillery.
 When the UK rock magazine NME called “Tension Head” one of the greatest rock songs ever “realised,” I dismissed it as across-the-pond hyperbole.  
It’s definitely not. A true cochlear assault, the song begins with a biting, down-tuned electric guitar intro (think accelerated “Into the Void”) before morphing into an all-out speed metal assault in which some of the band’s unsavory habits are alternately broadcast and hinted at in a breakneck time signature.
“Tension Head”‘s searing fretwork can (and probably has) cut glass.  The song’s megawatt guitar work and frenzied bass runs, complete with Kyuss alum Nick Olivierie’s desperate howls make this the album’s high point and, for my money, should propel “Tension Head” rapidly to Metal God status (if there is such a thing).
Rated R’s final track “I Think I Lost My Headache” is the album’s second most shining moment (after “Tension Head” of course).  The track begins with a clean, haunting riff reminiscent of early Soundgarden/late Sabbath and features brilliant use of steel drums.  
“Headachealso features flawless off-note percussion (think A-game Neil Peart), a crunchy guitar hook and Josh Homme’s signature falsetto.
It’s a pity “Headache”‘s final moments are hijacked by a monotonous horn section playing on a continuous loop.  This questionable recording studio gambit detracts from a song that has all the makings of a (pre-horns) magnum opus.
By my count, Rated R features eleven somgs with about as many musical styles. It lives up to the hype that precedes it and showcases the band’s varied talents and influences.
QOTSA isn’t Kyuss – the band’s inimitable desert rock ancestor.  But no one is.  Kyuss, or should I say The Mighty Kyuss, is sui generis.
Still, Rated R stakes out its own unique territory in the Y2K rock landscape as Josh Homme and crew clearly cement their status as top-level rock architects.