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

After more than a decade of robotically calling Appetite for Destruction the “best album ever!!” I was jonesing for something fresh.  A friend turned me on to Queens of the Stone Age in the Y2K era and to this day, I’m glad he did.
While QOTSA’s “cocaine pop,” “stoner metal,”, “doom metal” and “desert metal,” (oh – let’s not forget, a “poppier” Soundgarden(!)) labels intrigued me, what really piqued my interest was the band’s rock pedigree.  Front man Josh Homme’s former association with early 90s’ sludge-metal monolith, Kyuss, probably my all-time favorite musical act, set my expectations at an almost impossible level. I expected Rated R to wow me and it did. But not at first and not in the way I anticipated.
Expecting to hear down-tuned Sabbath-like riffs on every track, I was surprised by Rated R’s dearth of saturnine molten guitar chords that were Kyuss’s signature.
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 pseudo-psychedelic offerings “Auto Pilot”and “Better Living Through Chemistry” – a trippy track with aural fits and starts that’s suffused with fuzz guitar and meandering bass lines.  “Better Living”‘s polished and timeless percussion stands out, too.
There’s the Top-40 pop confection “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret.”  It’s the one you’d likely karaoke to and, to me, evokes Disraeli Gears-era Cream; what with it’s fat guitar chords and a catchy chorus.
“In the Fade” is an atonal, darkly-tinged track sung hauntingly by the haunting Mark Lanegan (he of Screaming Trees fame). ” Leg of Lamb” features a quirky guitar hook that serves as counter-point to the song’s hypnotic vocals and disturbing lyrics.
Monsters in the Parasol,” often QOTSA’s live opener, plays as a straight-forward rocker complete with non-sequitur lyrics that are apropos of the song’s acid trip aesthetic. (“Paul’s dead, he’s warped and bubbly; oh well.”)
After choking down the acoustic filler “Lightning Song,” I settled in for what I now know is the album’s crowning moments.
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.  But it’s actually not. ‘Tension’ starts with a biting, down-tuned guitar intro (think accelerated “Into the Void”) then morphs into all-out death-metal cochlear assault overlaid by bassist Nick Oliveri’s guttural howls. The song’s searing fretwork and frenzied bass runs make this Rated R‘s high point.
I Think I Lost My Headache the final track, is the record’s second shining moment.  The track begins with a clean, haunting riff reminiscent of early Soundgarden/late Sabbath and features brilliant use of steel drums. ‘Headache’ also 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 songs with about as many musical styles. It lives up to the hype that precedes it and showcases the band’s varied talents and influences.
While QOTSA isn’t Kyuss (a sui generis band imho), Rated R stakes out some unique territory in rock ecosystem.  Josh Homme and crew clearly cement their status as top-level rock architects.