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Management firm sues Kelly Clarkson over unpaid commissions

By | Published on Wednesday 30 September 2020

Kelly Clarkson

Nashville-based management firm Starstruck Management Group has sued Kelly Clarkson in a bid to secure allegedly unpaid commissions and to get court confirmation that the firm is due commissions on the singer and TV host’s future projects too.

Although a pretty basic lawsuit over Clarkson’s management deal – which, as is quite common in artist management, was an oral agreement rather than formally written down – there is also a personal element to this dispute. Until earlier this year Clarkson was also married to her manager, Brandon Blackstock, who – as well as being part of the team at Starstruck – is the son of the firm’s founder Narvel Blackstock.

Starstruck has provided management services to Clarkson ever since 2007. In the firm’s new lawsuit, it sets out the basics of the deal between the company and the star, which – as the lawsuit states – is pretty much a standard deal for the US industry with Starstruck providing a bunch of services in return for a 15% share of the income her various projects generate.

As well as the terms of the deal, the fact it was never formalised in a written contract is also pretty common in the music industry. Now that it seeks to enforce the oral agreement it reached with Clarkson thirteen years ago, the lawsuit explains in some detail the conversations that occurred back then between Blackstock Senior and Clarkson, her lawyer and her separate business manager.

Those conversations – not to mention the thirteen years of working together and Starstruck taking its 15% – demonstrate that everyone knew what deal had been agreed, it argues. Although the real dispute seems to be over two things that are always a challenge when negotiating management deals: how does either party end the deal and does the manager continue to earn a commission even once they are no longer actively working with the artist (what is often referred to as the ‘sunset clause’).

According to the lawsuit, during those 2007 pre-deal conversations it was agreed that the Clarkson side “would be required to continue paying such commissions on commissionable projects as long as Starstruck was ready, willing and able to continue providing the Clarkson defendants with management services”.

As it is still “ready, willing and able”, Starstruck then argues, Clarkson should carry on paying the firm its cut from her current and future projects. But, it seems, commission payments stopped earlier this year, presumably as the musician’s marriage to Blackstock Junior came to an end.

With her stint on the US version of ‘The Voice’ and her own NBC talk show – among other things – bringing in the cash, the firm reckons Clarkson already owes it $1.4 million in unpaid commissions. And by the end of the year, it could be owed over $5 million.

To that end, Starstruck wants the courts to formalise and then enforce the contract between the company and Clarkson, forcing her to pay over the management outfit’s 15%. It will be interesting to see what the Clarkson side says about what was agreed in 2007, and the rights and wrongs of the version the deal described by Starstruck, and to what extent that deal is indeed “industry standard”.