CHICAGO – R. Kelly owns nearly 700 songs, but sat in a Chicago jail till Monday, seemingly struggling to come up with a mere $100,000 to bail himself out.
As most know by now, Robert Sylvester Kelly a.k.a. “R. Kelly” was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in Illinois’s Cook County Court over the weekend, according to various news outlets. Kelly, through his attorneys, has said he is not guilty of these charges.
Kelly has been the whisper and common discussion of longstanding rumors of sexual abuse. The latest charges were in relation to the alleged sexual assault of four victims, three of which the Sun-Times said were between 13 and 16 years old.
A Chicago judge signed off on a warrant for the R&B singer’s arrest and as of Sunday night, Kelly was still being held in an Illinois jail on $250,000 bond for each charge, totaling $1 million dollars. The normal bond fee is ten percent or $100,000 of the total figure. Kelly’s team hopes to have it raised in the days to come.
The Class 2 felony charge carries a three- to seven-year sentence in the state of Illinois. If Kelly is found guilty on all 10 charges, he could face up to 70 years in prison.
I have covered Kelly’s latest charges for local CBS in Atlanta and got several calls this weekend, asking how a guy with a large catalogue of hit albums like “12 Play”, “The Best of Both Worlds”, “R. Kelly” and “Love Letter” and hits like “Bump and Grind” and the mega-hit, “I Believe I Can Fly”, not have a relative small amount of money ($100,000) on hand to get out of jail.
He has clearly sold over 40 million records and countless millions in streaming and digital downloads.
But, anyone in the music game knows that you look at the music publishing and songs written for the long-term residual steady income.
Berry Gordy had JoBete Publishing that made hundreds of millions of dollars.
Sean Combs a.k.a Diddy has Justin Combs Publishing worth well over $100 million and a catalogue of over 1000 songs plus.
And, of course, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s relationship was strained for years over the $2 billion dollar Beatles catalogue that MJ brilliantly bought a piece of from Yoko Ono to build his billion dollar catalogue.
So indeed, Kelly’s publishing catalogue could be worth tens of millions of dollars in a normal situation.
Particularly, when you think of monies from jingles, covers of the songs, re-makes, print and sheet-music, synchronization rights (music in films/TV, etc.), digital downloads, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, I-Tunes, and the list goes on and on.
However, in the past decade, his personal conduct has cost him millions in lost tours, merchandise and music publishing.
And, his scandalous lifestyle has hurt him outside of the music industry too.
Had Kelly not experienced any legal problems, his net worth would easily top $100 million presently and he would be bonded out of jail.
But, he has had to allegedly pay countless settlements for lawsuits and claims made by people and women who claimed they were abused by the singer or done wrong business wise.
About 7 years ago, it was reported that he owed millions in back taxes and around the same time he lost his Chicago home to foreclosure.
Here in Atlanta, he was reportedly recently evicted from two Atlanta area homes for back rent and fees.
Early this year, a Chicago building rented by Kelly and hosting his studio was the subject of a legal action. The 8000 square-foot building was valued at $4 million, but the building owner filed a lawsuit against Kelly seeking unpaid rent. According to the lawsuit, Kelly’s rent was $23,000 per month and Kelly owed the landlord $167,000 at the time of the filing.
And, the music side that would normally carry an artist through these financial storms, has not been the financial base it once was for Kelly.
For example, had he completed his final two albums for Sony RCA, his record label, he could see royalties as an artist and royalties as a songwriter. The label halted the release of any music by the R&B crooner.
Specifically, as a major artist and songwriter, his royalty rate could be $1.00 per record sold on the artist side; and assuming he wrote the entire album as a whole, probably a near $1.00 per album in writer publishing monies – just on album sales.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended from time to time, the basic math is about .091 cents per song he wrote for each CD sold. Thus, if he has a platinum album, and wrote just 1 song, his label, would owe him $91,000 in publishing income. Assuming he wrote all ten songs, he would make $ .91 cents per album or $910,000 for a platinum selling album.
If you figure his albums go multi-platinum (i.e., at least a million sold), that is millions of dollars in publishing and artist royalties.
Universal Music Publishing Group once owned Kelly’s catalogue over 10 years ago, as part of parent Universal Music Group’s acquisition of BMG Music Publishing. But, they dropped the singer-songwriter about a year ago.
According to one recent report, Kelly has over 675 songs registered with BMI, including such hits as “I Believe I Can Fly,” and “Ignition,” as well as tracks for other artists, including the mega Michael Jackson co-written classic, “You Are Not Alone“.
Sony RCA froze Kelly’s contract about two months ago; and thus the value of his publishing took a huge hit. Radio stations have declined to play his music and Spotify and other on-line portals have put restrictions on his music or deleted it all together.
His touring is also dried up significantly, which hurts publishing as there is no radio play and you do not get performance royalties from radio stations.
CAA Talent Agent Mark Cheatham said the concert scene is at a low point for Kelly.
“His touring has slowed down for quite awhile now. If R. Kelly had none of these issues, he would easily be worth $175,000 to $200,000 per night for 50 shows per year”, according to Cheatham.
“But that’s when he didn’t have any of this stuff hanging over his head…” Cheatham pointed out, in reference to the latest charges of sexual abuse.
Added Michael Elder of ME Entertainment, Inc., based in New York area, “Folks have to keep in mind, prior to these charges and scandals, R. Kelly could get six figures per night and do 4 shows a week.”
“So he could easily make $600,000 per week or more,” explained Elder, who books concerts for a who’s who of the music industry worldwide.
And, keep in mind, while touring, Kelly is selling records, making publishing income from his songs, merchandising, and other ancillary income.
That ancillary income included helping other rise to the top of the charts.
“People also forget R. Kelly revitalized the careers of many others,” said J. Richard Byrd, a longstanding industry veteran.
Music artist Al Thomas has toured and performed for years and pointed out, “Economically, this affects not only R. Kelly but so many more like musicians and all the professionals that are involved with recording, manufacturing, touring, sales, advertising and the like. Not to mention all of the artists he wrote for…”.
Thomas recalled the great success of Ron Isley a.k.a. the Kelly inspired “Mr. Biggs” and Uncle Charlie Wilson, whose careers Kelly “helped resuscitate…”
The question now is whether R. Kelly can revive and resuscitate his own career.
National publicist and marketing guru, Carlos Scott, who represents a number of artists, TV personalities and professional athletes seems to think the financial window is not closed.
“Kelly can survive this latest scandal, but his public relations team needs to put together a strategy aimed at having him apologize and admit to wrongdoing and have him acknowledge that his issues stem from the sexual abuse he suffered as a child,” Scott advised.
Scott, owner of N-Vision Marketing, Inc., feels that in order for Kelly to return to his financial sound standing, he would also have to “agree publicly that he will seek professional counseling for his behavior in an effort to heal and refrain from any contact with underage girls…”
One music songwriter and lover, Lawanda Golar highlights the long successful music career Kelly has had but feels strongly if he ever returns to the top, he should not just implore the suggestions of Scott above, but he should take care of the many women he allegedly abused.
Said Golar, also a songwriter, “his victims should get some of his royalty payments since they were the unwilling inspiration to many of his songs; or the monies should go to charity organizations that help women and people who have been abused.”
Only time will tell if Kelly can financially bounce back.
By James L. Walker, Jr. (@jameslwalkeresq)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Attorney James L. Walker, Jr., is an entertainment and business lawyer based in Atlanta, GA. He can be found on Twitter @jameslwalkeresq or Instagram: @jameswalkerjresq or via www.walkerandassoc.com. A longstanding law professor, Walker is the author of This Busines of Urban Music (Random House).