How Can I Avoid A&R Scams?

Lacy Darryl Phillips, aka The Uncle Earl shares his story of being ripped off by a scammer who promised to ‘get him signed to a major label’. He offers suggestions to avoid falling for these tempting offers.



Aka The Uncle Earl, Lacy is an accomplished actor, award winning singer, dancer, director, choreographer, songwriter and  music producer.



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Welcome to our Cartne video titled, ‘How Can I Avoid A&R Scams?’ Our guest today is Lacey, Darryl Phillips, also known as ‘The Uncle Earl’.

Hi, my name is Lacy Darryl Phillips, a.k.a the Uncle Earl. I’m a native New Yorker, but I’ve traveled the world my whole life in this business we call show. I’m here today to discuss something that’s very important for many up and coming, as well as established artists. I’ve been in the music industry my whole life. My mom was in northern U.K. Soul Star.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up around the world. Music was sort of symbiotic. My mom was pregnant with me, actually, when she was singing. So I was in the studio bouncing around in the sack. So I think I got all of my juices, my creative juices from that. But to be serious, music has been a part of my life since I can ever remember. 

And when I started in the business, it wasn’t about making money. It was not about being famous. It was the love and joy of the art and meeting great people, and just learning and growing together. And you know, exchanging ideas and information. So I got caught up in it and lost in it, and I never thought about, ‘Oh, how much money am I going to make? How famous am I going to be?’ Because it was like my playground, you know? And as kids, we want to play. And sometimes as we get older and become adults and become established or you know, have more notoriety, it becomes a business, you know, more so than ever. And you forget about the play part of it because it’s what we love to do.

The passion that drives the excitement sometimes goes away with business and contracts with people, managers, PR, marketing. All this stuff gets in the way. But we have to remind ourselves, play the love, the joy. Don’t forget that. 

However, with all that said, there are times when you must put on your big boy pants here, big girl pants and, you know, stand up for yourself.

And at times I forgot to do that. And I can say most recently about seven years ago, I was approached by a gentleman. He says, “Oh, my God, I love your work. You’re doing great stuff. You know, I’d love to help you. I think we can take you to Billboard number one.” You hear those words – that’s like gold, you know? So you get like your brain just opens up and pops, basically. So I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’ Gung ho right away. 

And at the time I was working. I had a show, a podcast, a radio show called The Ultimate Underground Experience. And what I did was I would showcase and highlight up and coming as well as established artists. And I wouldn’t charge them because I understand about the business, you know, and how hard it is when you don’t have a budget, you don’t have a manager, you don’t have a record label. And you’re doing it on your own, sometimes in your house, sometimes in your bedroom, you know? So I would accept their demos. I’d listen to it and I’d rate them for them as well as give them airplay. And a lot of times people would get, you know, some opportunities from my hearing of their songs. Then their songs lived on my podcast for perpetuity, so people can go back and listen. 

But that being said, I met this gentleman. He had some artists. He says, “Oh, would you, you know, we could do an exchange.” I was like, “Oh, great, I love that.” So he says, “If I send you some of my artists and then, you know, maybe I could rep you and shop you around and get you a deal.” I was like, “Oh, well, this is like golden.” So I accepted the offer, and he sent me some of his artists. I played them on my show, and then he says, “Well, you know, start sending me your stuff so I can get familiar with you.”

I sent in my bios and my music. Some were demo, some are fully produced because I produce everything myself. I’m a songwriter, I’m a singer, I’m a vocal arranger. I do my own background, some leads, and sometimes bring in guests to be on my things. But I make sure my stuff is correct. So we went into a sort of soft agreement and he says, “Yes, I’ll take you on and I think I can get you a deal with…” I don’t know if I can say this, but a big label like Sony Orchard, I was like, “That sounds great.”

And I preface with this. I know that I’m not a young man, and they like youth. However, I come off a little youthful. So, you know, when I perform, I jump around, I’m a perform, I’m on Broadway, perform or sell a performance, it’s me! And I become a kid again. But that being said, yes. So we started this relationship and it was all so exciting.

I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m going to get a deal with a big label. Yay!” So I kept pursuing, consuming. And then he presented me with the contract and I was like, “Wow. Okay.” He never mentioned a lot of these points that were on these pages, and it was quite lengthy. So I did take a read of it and my problem, or should I say my fault was that I did not consult with a lawyer. They’re your best friend. Really. Pay the money upfront, kids, because you don’t want the back end to come and blow you away like it did me. 

And this is what happened. So he sends me the agreement. I read it over and I was like, “Okay, well, can we talk about some of this?” He’s like, “No, this is how it is!”

This is ‘You have to sign this’, you know? And then he took on a whole new persona that I didn’t ever see from him before. And I was taken aback by it. I said, “You know what? The guys helped me out. Then give him a chance, maybe three days.” So I signed the paper. And from there, it went downhill.

Once he had my masters, he had my signature. We planned to do a release party. He kept asking me for money, and I gave it unwillingly. So it came up to be about $10,000 that I paid for my own release party. He put out nothing. I had to pay for the venue. I had to pay for the advertising. I had to pay for it. There were just – all these costs kept coming up. The night of the performance, he came to me asking for money when I’m preparing to perform. “I’m like, Dude, I just gave you all this money.” “Well, this came up, this”. 

And then we got to the venue, It was not what he said it would be. He charged as a door. He took the money at the door as well. I was livid. I had to perform. He came. He showed up high. I don’t know what, on what, but he was out of his head. He had on a T-shirt and jeans to introduce me. I was destroyed. 

I mean, I had packed the place. I got the people there. I was ready for him. I had my live band. I didn’t do tracks. I had a band. I had to pay them. People came from out of town. So anyway, so I don’t even remember that night because I was so, I was boiling. You know that feeling you get when you’re just flushed. And I was on automatic. And I know I made it to this show. The people –  I saw the people jumping around waving their hands and clapping. But I really was not. It was an out of body experience. 

So I say all that to say, never fully put your life in someone’s hands. Always keep the reins. Always have someone at your back. Don’t think you can do this alone. You need a village to do what you do. We cannot do this alone. I thought I was mighty man. And I found out I was almost Minnie Mouse.

But you know, it was what do you call it? It strengthened me in a way, though, because I went through that and now I know what it feels like. So if anyone ever needs to know, I can teach a workshop on it because I actually had it happen to me. All I can say is do your due diligence.

Really research people. Don’t take any people on their word, and get a second opinion. You know, don’t get too excited and so out of your head that you’re like, “oh, yes, yes, yes, I’ll do anything.” Don’t do anything. It’s not worth it. Sometimes it’s worth it to turn it down and wait for the right opportunity. 

And I gave you the Cliff Notes version because I could go on and on about it, but I don’t like to talk about people or, you know, bring people down. It’s all about what you can gain from a situation and move forward and help others. So that’s what I’m here to do today.

My entertainment attorney would always say, ‘think of me as insurance. You can pay me now or pay me later. And if it’s later, as in taking someone to court or being sued, it’s going to cost you a whole lot more!’

So Lacey, what would you say would be some red flags or warning signs that a deal might not be legitimate?

Someone – I’d say the warning signs would be a few things. Someone who seems overzealous and eager. You know, to me it should be a very relaxed environment. It shouldn’t – you shouldn’t feel pressure to sign or pressured to divulge information. It should be a mutual exchange. You should be able to give and take.  If you ask a question and someone won’t ask you straight forward or right away, or say, “Oh, I’ll get back to you,” pause. 

Because if you’re giving up, it’s like you’re opening up your life. You’re putting your life in someone’s hands, basically. And if you’ve built your reputation, you’ve worked hard, you’ve invested money, you’ve taken your classes, you’ve studied, you’ve written your songs, or you produce them yourself. In some, you’re going to hand that over. It’s like a baby. Would you hand your child over to a stranger and just do what you will?

So think of it as that. It’s your baby. You know, that’s one thing. A second thing is, before you sign anything, get a second, even a third opinion and run it by your family to as many opinions within your circles. I’m not saying just go out on the street, “Hey, hey, hey, I got this deal!” But, you know, really get opinions. And people who love you, who truly love you. Because they don’t love you. All they love is the green that they see, possibly that they’re going to make out of you. You know, they don’t see hearts. And, oh, we’re so passionate as artists. They have no passion. So that’s two things. 

A third thing is, if you do decide to sign and they will not negotiate it, don’t do it. There’s always a give and take. This is it. Rules are made to be broken. There should be safe rules as well as some standards. But there are some things you should be able to negotiate. ‘Well, if I can’t get that, how about you give me this?’ So you know, it should be able to erase a few lines or add a few addendums. You’ll see. Nothing should be ironclad, you know.  That’s what I can think of off my head right now.

That’s great advice. How can someone check the reputation of the people they’re considering working with?

Well, Google works. It works really well. I mean, and, you know, in this business where really not that far separated from each other. Once you get in there, I mean. I know at the beginning it’s like, “Oh, my God, where do I start?” But once you, if you do your research, you’re around for a few years, you either know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody or you’re connected through social media to someone. Go there. Do your research. 

Basically find out, you know, or if you look at their register, you find an artist. Reach out there.  That is, “Hey, how are you doing? I’m so and so. I just wondered if your experience with blah blah blah, blah, blah, you know. Is it going well. How do you feel? Is it working out?” You know, we’re just people. Because we’re all people and we all really want the same things. And some people are open and more receptive than others.

But just try, try to find out everything you can before you just jump head over heels into… It’s like a marriage, basically. You don’t just date someone one day and say, “Okay, let’s get married”, right? You’re going to date for a while. You’re going to go… you’re going to meet the parents. Hopefully some people do.

Oh, yeah. But just, just really recently, I’d say researcher is your friend. Google’s your friend you know. Your social network is your friend. Go to some events that they hold – the people that, you know. See how the artists are, you know. Find out about them, find a lot of things.

Right. Of course, getting references is important as well. You can check out their website. That’s another way. I’d be leery to work with someone who doesn’t have a legitimate looking website. There’s just no such thing as doing too much research on someone.

Yeah, well, one thing I want to throw in there during my research I found out that the person who was a third party in my deal was a convict on top of all that other stuff. He actually had a prison record and had started threatening me when I said, I want him off this. Yeah. Threatened me and says, “Oh, I’m going to come after you.”

So I had to get a lawyer and get my masters back. I went through that horrible fight. I finally did. It took me a couple of years, but it happened. But he was threatening me seriously, like bodily harm and life and death and all that. So be careful. Really be careful. You know, Wolf, in sheep’s clothing.

Do you know if the scam artist was ever caught as a result of your actions? Or are they still out there?

Well, I got a very good lawyer, and I think it scared him. But I don’t know, because I removed myself. So it wasn’t personal, you know, I didn’t want to put myself or my family in harm’s way. I let the third party handle it, and it worked out. I got my masters back. Once I got my masters back, I was fine and I didn’t push any further. I was like, ‘I don’t want to go after any money. Just get my babies back.’ Because the money comes and goes. So I don’t know. Honestly, I honestly don’t know. And I haven’t cared to find out. Good riddance.

You know, it’s sad, but stories like this are in every segment of the business, and many people get so devastated that they can’t bring themselves to move on or at least trust anyone else. Did this experience have that effect on you?

Yes, it did have that effect on me. And what happened in the interim of that… So I’m going to be honest. This happened in 2016. So now we’re 2023. I’m dating myself. But regardless. So I had to take two years – almost two and a half years just to come down from that experience. I thought about giving up. 

I said, “You know, I’m too old for this. I can’t go on. I don’t think I can make it” because I thought that was my shot. I’ve been working my whole career to get a deal with a major label, and I finally got one. And then I was shelved and thrown out and just destroyed. 

So I actually had a nervous breakdown. I didn’t want anything to do with music. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I was locked up in my room for a couple of months. My friends and family were worried about me. I mean, I didn’t go into drugs or anything like that. But I wasn’t eating properly. I wasn’t sleeping. I was always in my head and I was sobbing a lot. I was deeply hurt. I was destroyed. 

So after I got over all that, I said, “You know what? I can’t let someone be the determinant of my destiny like that.” So I decided to start my own label, do my own research. And I’ve been – and I started Early Hits Records. And I’ve been releasing on that. 

And it’s been going pretty well for the past couple of years. I’ve been winning awards, and I own my music, you know. I’m like, it’s harder, it’s hard. It’s not easy. But hey, you know, what’s this thing called life? It’s not easy. You know, anything worth having is worth fighting for. So I had the fight of my life. I said, if I’m going to fight, I’m going to fight for myself.

And I let someone, you know, fight for me. So it’s been up and down, but good. I can only get mad at myself now, not anybody else, you know?

So you’re right. It doesn’t do any good at this point to let the anger control you. 

I’m a manager, and I view that as a marriage as well. We have to date first. So I don’t take on a management client until I’ve worked with them for three to six months. That way I know their work ethic, their level of integrity and everything else about them.

Yeah, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you just brought back something else. 

Okay, so at that moment, before I did that, I had worked my way up. I had gotten a manager together. I got a booking agent. I got a sponsor, I got sponsors. And at that time, everything fell away from me at once. The manager, the booking agent, the sponsor, the money, the… And he did that. No one liked him. They all left me one by one. And I had built that team. It took me three years to build that team. I lost it in one month.

So it’s not just money that’s at stake. It’s our reputation. Our friends, our associates, and so much more.

Yeah, I’d say don’t be afraid to breathe through the fear. Because fear, fear is a natural instinct, a natural emotion. But use that as fuel. Breathe into it. Don’t shy away from it. And you’re only as good as your last effort, and you’re not as great as your next. Live in the fray and always strive to be the best. Never think you arrive because there’s always room to grow. That’s the best I can do for you, right now.

That concludes our video titled, ‘How Can I Avoid A&R Scams? We want to thank our guest, Lacy Darryl Phillips, also known as The Uncle Earl, for sharing his incredible story and experience.

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