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E Smitty, Sound Alive Records and the Bad Record Deal – Rap Rehab

    Eric “E Smitty” Finnerud notes on his MTV.com bio that he’s an “outside the box thinker.” Based on his alleged conduct 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. This is the second part of the story:

    Smitty started Sound Alive records in June of 2015, receiving digital distribution from Sony/The Orchard distribution company. On Smitty’s own Twitter page, he’s posted that he’ll “produce a single/album/ep, mix/master it and distribute it/promote it” through Sound Alive records for one fee.

    An artist who corresponded with Smitty—who chose to remain anonymous—offered a sample of the sales pamphlet Sound Alive records sends to artists. The label offers three packages: a “bronze” priced at “$1,500+,” a “gold” priced at “$5,000+”, and a “platinum” priced at “12,000+.” Each package promises marketing, promotion, and “world-wide distribution to 100 countries.”

    Smitty’s all-in-one packages are a crafty, arguably unethical consequence of the advent of digital distribution companies. According to RapRehab founder Paul Porter, it makes little sense to sign to labels like Sound Alive.

    “Why would you split something with someone who isn’t doing anything for you?,” Porter ponders.

    Via e-mail, Smitty gave a somewhat conflicting response on whether distribution is factored into the pricing of his packages. He notes “[charging an artist for distribution] is regular protocol, this is a business, we can charge whatever we want for the services we offer.” He also says that he “doesn’t charge a penny for distribution.” When speaking on Oakland producer Cole James Cash however, he later says “I tried to help him out by offering him a distribution deal for his single/album with no upfront costs.”

    Smitty notes that Tunecore and CDBaby also charge upfront fees for distributing albums, though the respective $49.99 and $89 fees are substantially less than the $1,500 “bronze package.” Sound Alive also differs from the two services as an intermediary between an artist and Sony/The Orchard. CD Baby and Tunecore offer an artist the opportunity to work directly with a digital distributor.

    Cash, who recently left the label, says that as part of his “70/30” deal, Sony/The Orchard charged Sound Alive a 20% service fee for each sale of his A Letter To My Son EP. Sound Alive records was entitled to a 10% cut. Cash says he didn’t pay an upfront fee because “Smitty knew damn well I wasn’t gonna pay for distribution.”

    If an artist were to sign the same kind of contract Cash did with an upfront fee, Sound Alive would be able to accrue a lump sum and a 10% cut of the artist’s proceeds. Tunecore promises artists 100% of their sales, and CD Baby reportedly takes 9% of net income.

    Smitty promises marketing and promotion as part of the Sound Alive contract, but several artists are disappointed with these services. In the previous article, Gem Code notes their dissatisfaction and confusion about Smitty’s practices. An anonymous artist, who’s since left the label, says that Smitty is “basically a shabby PR firm that overcharges to email blast and buy blog spots.” The artist notes that he was kept in the dark about what exactly Sound Alive was doing for him, lamenting “Smitty does it all for you, keeping you ignorant.”

    Boston rapper-producer Tony Moreaux claims a firsthand account of Smitty’s reticence to discuss Sound Alive’s marketing practices. Moreaux was referred to Smitty by Cash’s manager Malcolm Albert for music production and promotion. Moreaux says his conversation with Smitty went awry once he began asking the details of Smitty’s promotional service.

    “I asked [Smitty] ‘will [my music] be submitted to different websites, radio stations, and podcasts? If so, which ones?’,” Tony recalls.

    According to Moreaux, Smitty’s answer was, “so vague that it didn’t even answer my question.”

    “His discomfort was starting to show itself at this point [of the conversation],“ Moreaux says. “I gave him the benefit of the doubt but still returned to the question.”

    After Moreaux again asked about the specifics of Smitty’s promotional service, he says Smitty extoled the benefits of Sound Alive’s distribution through Sony/The Orchard. He says Smitty boasted that Lady Gaga and Jay-Z used the same distribution company. Though a Google search of “E Smitty” returns a single February 2015 iStandard.com interview with Smitty, Moreaux says Smitty boasted of having a relationship with over 1,700 blogs.

    Moreaux says he was able to negotiate with Smitty to pay $400 instead of $1500 for Sound Alive’s services. Tony then informed Smitty that he wanted to talk to his management to review the offer.

    “Smitty [then said] he wasn’t interested in working with me anymore because he felt that I should have contacted my team before hand,” Moreaux notes. Of the conversation, Smitty says, “my time is very limited, so I expect artists to contact me when they are ready to do business, not commit and then give ultimatums, it’s very confusing and time wasting.”

    Moreaux says he did talk to his management before calling Smitty, and wanted to update them on the details of his conversation with Smitty. Moreaux also says that Smitty told him that the conversation “felt like an interrogation,” and abruptly ended the phone call.

    “I did not know Tony was a young kid because he looked like a grown man in his 30’s. He received the same type of response any unprofessional person would get after wasting my time,” Smitty said over e-mail.”I did however speak to [Alfred] and let him know that I apologize for the miscommunication and I offered to remedy the situation so that he may contact me when he is ready to proceed.”

    At this point, Moreaux seems uninterested in doing business with Sound Alive records. Tony tells aspiring artists “do homework on your potential promo service and make sure the person running the services is a respectful and professional individual who is ready to work for you.“

    The anonymous artist agrees:

    “Learn from bad experiences and keep moving. Be a boss! Hold your own money, devise your own strategies. Go out in the real world and talk to people face to face. Don’t be ignorant!”

    The artist says that Smitty once essentially stole from him. The artist wanted another artist—who he declines to publicly name–to feature on his work, and asked Smitty to reach out to him. Smitty told him the feature would be $1,000, but later found out that the featured artist was given around $600.

    Of the accusation, Smitty contends, “this is a business and a part of the business is purchasing features from other well branded artists. Let’s say you want a feature from Christina Aguilera. So I ask you what your budget is, you tell me ‘$15,000.’ At that point I reach out to the artist and see if the artist can work with the budget. Sometimes it works, sometimes it costs a little more or a little less.”

    Though it was less in that instance, Smitty made no mention of what he did with the difference.

    An heir of mystery seems to surround the practices of Sound Alive records. In our e-mail correspondence, Smitty mentions “officers” he’s consulted with, but Machia and the anonymous artist say Smitty and his wife are the only people in the company. Smitty also mentions his former manager/attorney Jonathon Parker, but I’ve been unable to contact him.

    When Cash and Smitty became embroiled in a dispute over the phone—in which each producer accuses the other of unprofessional conduct—Parker was the mediator. Though Smitty contends that he terminated the contract of Cash, Cash’s emails suggest otherwise.

    Cash declines to publicly state the specifics of the argument. He does say that he felt so disrespected by what Smitty told him that Parker’s apparent plea for a truce held little weight. Cash had already secured distribution through Redline Distribution before signing to Sound Alive. He looked at signing to Sound Alive as a favor to a peer he respected, but the respect had dissipated after their argument.

    Within the same day of the argument, Parker sent Cash an e-mail telling him that his contract was terminated, and his Letter To My SonEP was no longer distributed by Sound Alive. Though Cash was “puzzled” he received no termination paperwork from Sound Alive records, he felt relieved to be off the label. Cash took to his social media channels to announce the end of their business relationship.

    Two days later, he received an e-mail from Sound Alive records. The message contained a cease and desist order, composed and sent by Parker. The letter threatened legal action if Cash continued his “unlawful defamation” of Smitty. Smitty says the cease and desist order was Parker’s recommendation.

    Cash became suspicious of the letter, which had no letterhead from a law firm, no contact information, and contained questionable grammar. Additionally, the letter purportedly notes the elements of character defamation in New York state. Smitty resides in Georgia, and Cash resides in California. Moreaux notes that he received the same letter.

    Cash and Moreaux both contend that the lawyers they’ve spoken to have told them that the cease and desist order isn’t genuine. A search of the New York State Unified Court System–which contains a listing of all Bar-certified New York lawyers—brings up no “Jonathon Parker.”

    A Google search of the e-mail’s text displays a link to a cease and desist order template from ThompsonHall.com, a Minnesota law firm. It turns out that the order Cash and Moreaux received contained the defamation elements of Minnesota, not New York. It also appears that Mr. Parker left elements of ThompsonHall’s template in the order.

    When questioned on Parker, Smitty noted, “Obviously my attorney might practice in another district/state and there is no requirement that a person who is trained and licensed as an attorney identify himself as an attorney. He/She could just as easily have been a doctor, a secretary, or a construction worker. The majority of lawyers practicing in a particular field may typically not be certified as specialists in that field, and state board certification is not generally required to practice law in any field.”

    Smitty says that Parker contacted him “online” and asked to represent him. Smitty also notes he was “under the impression that Parker practiced law.” Apparently, Smitty has since “disassociated” himself from Parker due to Parker’s “unprofessionalism,” though he didn’t mention what transpired.

    Smitty has yet to reply to my e-mail which contained a request to speak with Parker.

    During our e-mail correspondence, Smitty noted his motto, “”Ignore Ignorance, Neglect Negativity, Disregard Disrespect.” Though he publicly reiterated that pledge on Twitter and frequently speaks on the benefits of a communal music environment, his private conduct says otherwise.

    Twitter Correspondence Between E Smitty and @DaBEATNIK

    Cole Cash and Texas rapper Knowledgeable Intellect have left Soundalive Records. His remaining signees were unavailable for comment. Given the accusations of several artists who’ve had dealings with him, it may be in their best interest to re-evaluate their situation.

    A Letter To My Son is still unavailable for purchase, and Cash may have to do the project over. The album was meant as a dedication to Cash’s son and other young minorities throughout the world, but the politics of the industry have interfered. According to Cash, it’s a consequence of doing business with someone less interested in artistry:

    “Smitty is nothing but a snake oil salesman using the artform meant to empower to only empower himself,” Cash says. “It would make sense his biggest song would be ‘Choppas on Deck,’ a song about killing our own. In the end, he’s only about money and taking yours while he’s at it.”