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“Be Careful Who You Trust” – The Alleged Schemes of Sound Alive Records – Rap Rehab

    Atlanta-based music producer Eric “E Smitty” Finnerud notes on his MTV.com bio that he’s an “outside the box thinker.” Based on his alleged business practices as “CEO” of S.A.S. Management Worldwide and owner of independent record label Sound Alive Records, that statement may be true. Several artists who’ve worked with Smitty contend that he broke promises and committed numerous improprieties, including doing business through a nonexistent lawyer. The following statements are based off of testimonials from those artists. This is part one of a two-part story: 

    According to Smitty’s profile on Coast2Coastmixtapes.com, he has been in the music business for over 16 years. His biggest production to date is Harlem rapper A$AP Ferg’s “Choppas on Deck.” Smitty’s LinkedIn profile states that he had a prior independent label, Smitty Productions, from 2001 to 2011. Minimal information is published online about the label, and the origin of his S.A.S. management company is equally hazy. 

    New York underground duo Gem Code, who did business with S.A.S. management for almost a year and a half, are dissatisfied about their dealings with Smitty. Gem Code music producer MACHIA says that Smitty first called the duo, comprised of he and rapper Alpha Memphis, in the Fall of 2013. Back then, the group was named Dynamic Equilibrium.

    Allegedly, Smitty had come across an e-mail blast of their music, and told them that he wanted to sign them to S.A.S. management. MACHIA says that before Smitty would allow the group to sign, Smitty said he needed to charge them $700 to promote their existing music. The duo didn’t have $700 at the time, so they borrowed the money from friends and family members.

    The group says they paid Smitty for promotion, but didn’t sign the management contract. MACHIA says the duo soon saw their music posted on “smaller” blogs by Smitty. Smitty also sent them a weekly listing of radio stations that had played their records. Though MACHIA says that “we couldn’t trace any of [the radio plays] via research,” they continued the relationship. MACHIA says as Dynamic Equilibrium  prepared their first CD, Post Crack Era, Smitty continued to push for the group to sign with S.A.S. management.

    “At this point, he was even offering to mix and master [Post Crack Era]. He also offered to distribute it via his CD Baby account,” MACHIA says. “He ultimately got us to make our own [CD Baby account] and put the tape out after hyping us up about doing it for us. I guess he figured if he offered all of these services for free, it would make us feel more comfortable signing with him.” 

    According to MACHIA, Smitty made other promises, including getting Dynamic Equilibrium’s  music posted on high-traffic sites such as XXLMag.com, HipHopDX.com, and TheSource.com. MACHIA says Smitty also promised to fund a road tour to get the group more exposure. Neither of those purported promises came to fruition. 

    Additionally, MACHIA says Smitty told the group that when they traveled to Atlanta’s A3C Music Festival and Conference, he would look out for them. MACHIA says when the group arrived in Atlanta, Smitty was “nowhere to be found.” 

    In 2015, as Dynamic Equilibrium  was preparing their second project, MACHIA says Smitty attempted to charge the duo $500 to promote their old music. Smitty was allegedly trying to get the group “trending” again in preparation for the project. MACHIA says they were reticent to pay another promotion fee. Smitty began mixing and mastering the project’s music, but MACHIA alleges that “the masters were sounding like garbage.” 

    MACHIA decided to handle the mixing and mastering for the project on his own. He surmises that “[Smitty] held some form of resentment against me from that day.” 

    MACHIA says that Smitty began calling MACHIA’s Dynamic Equilibrium  partner Alpha Memphis, insulting MACHIA’s production skills. Before this, MACHIA says they always spoke with Smitty as a group. On May 4th 2015, Smitty contacted MACHIA via Facebook, saying he would no longer work with the group because they hadn’t signed to his management company.

    MACHIA alleges that Smitty also messaged Alpha Memphis, asking the rapper to become a member of his upcoming Sound Alive independent label. MACHIA contends that Smitty told Alpha Memphis that he was a “better producer” than MACHIA.

    Alpha Memphis, who’s been best friends with MACHIA for nine years, declined to join Sound Alive records. When contacted for comment, Smitty called this and other stories “unsubstantiated.”

    What did MACHIA and Dynamic Equilibrium  learn from their dealings with Smitty?

    “If it sounds too good to be true then it most definitely is,” MACHIA says. “NO one person is going to hand you anything on a silver platter in this music game.”

    Stories like what’s alleged to have happened between Dynamic Equilibrium  and Smitty are too common in the music industry. Aspiring artists are frequently preyed upon by managers promising the world and seeking upfront fees, which is always a red flag. As Christopher Knab notes on MusicBizAcademy.com, “no musicians should ever pay an ‘up-front’ fee to a so-called ‘manager’ who will not do any work UNLESS they are paid upfront. ”

    Most managers receive payment in two ways: the traditional 20-25% cut from business transactions they are responsible for, or the newer method of a set monthly fee. Either way, managers only expect to get paid once they actually get their artist paid, otherwise they have no motivation to work.

    No matter what parameters an artist sets with their management, it’s imperative to get it in writing before going forward. 

    Chris Robley writes on CDBaby that, “it’s best to agree to the terms prior to [a manager] working for you. Not making things crystal clear can cause a conflict of interest, bad feelings, and lead to legal problems down the line.”

    Gem Code would have been better served by insisting on a contract before paying anything or beginning a business relationship with Smitty. 

    As 30+ year industry veteran and RapRehab founder Paul Porter notes, “if you don’t have a contract you don’t have a deal.”

    Part Two of the story will discuss Smitty’s time as Owner of Sound Alive records, including the circumstances that led to producer Cole James Cash terminating his contact and allegations of impersonating a lawyer. 

    Andre G is a writer, poet, and co-founder of ColorTheFuture.org, a platform for young artists of color. @melaninaire