My experience (so far) with Stellar Records and their CAP program….Posted: December 6, 2011
About a year and a half ago, I decided to run a karaoke show. I have been a singer for 15+ years and I decided I wanted to give it a go at running my own gig. I stumbled on someone who was getting out of the business and was selling their equipment as well as their karaoke music collection at a price I didn’t think I could pass up. During negotiations, I asked about the karaoke music and specifically about it all being legal, original discs. I was shown about 50 original discs and assured that there were “plenty more” in storage. In my excitement to get things going, I took them at their word and plunked down the cash for the system. As it turns out, the 50 discs I was shown were the only original discs I was ever provided. The other 10,000 or so songs that came with the system were actually illegal digital copies on a hard drive. Lesson learned on my part and I took a hit. But I learned my lesson and life goes on.
As a result of that experience, I started looking at ways to quickly and legally increase the variety of my collection as cost effectively as possible. I started looking at the major karaoke music companies to see what kind of deals they offered. Most singers that I have encountered prefer karaoke music supplied by one of the Big 3 – Sound Choice has the “Get Legit, or Quit!” program and offers a substantial discount on discs. Chartbusters regularly offers deals on karaoke music packages as well. Finally Pop Hits Monthly also offers package deals to enable you to expand out quickly.
Along the way though, I also discovered the Stellar Records site which I came to find out released karaoke music under several brand names and currently manages Pop Hits Monthly. On the Stellar Records site, they make mention of their “CAP – Compliance Assistance Program”. In summary, it seems to boil down to this – Stellar recognizes that some folks have been duped or otherwise acquired karaoke music that was not legal. Instead of suing a bunch of folks, they are giving people the opportunity to approach Stellar to buy into the CAP program to make things right. I think this a great approach – Stellar can regain some of the losses the have been hit with over the years due to piracy and KJ’s can get legal at a reasonable cost that won’t put them out of business. Plus the KJ’s are ultimately pumping money back into the industry and, in theory, this should lead to more music at a reasonable cost. Not to mention, being able to charge more for shows by having a completely legal system to compete against the rogues out there. On the surface it seems like a win-win agreement.
What do you get when you buy into the CAP program? A “Certificate of Defrayal” which is defined on their web site as –
“These certificates hold harmless and protect the certificate holder from any legal action that might be initiated by the KIAA or Stellar Records for the unauthorized usage, either past, present or future of specific Stellar Records’ products including, but not limited to those accompanied by a visual lyric display file (karaoke format), or for the use of any Stellar Records’ trademarks that may be displayed either on-screen as part of a lyrics display, and/or use of its trademarks in the original product packaging. The certificates are limited to the song titles listed in the accompanying exhibit that is attached to the covenant agreement, and as contained in the brands listed on the accompanying Certificate of Defrayal.”
Note – The exhibit referred to in the last line is not on the web site. However, if you click the “Get Certificate” link you see the following –
Overview: Covering all products produced between 1995 and end through 2007. This includes the brands UK Karaoke®, American Gold®, Top Hits Monthly® (1995 & 1996), Rising Star, and Pop Hits Monthly®.
Also includes products bearing the unauthorized use of the Top Hits Monthly brand by Panorama (i.e. Platinum Series, Decades, All Time Greats Series, etc.) including the 1999 through 2007 monthly releases.
The way I read this is that, someone (like me!) that buys what they think is legal karaoke music, but finds out it isn’t, can buy into the CAP program and avoid any potential legal action from Stellar Records. Esentially enabling them to continue to use the recordings they have in their possession without fear of legal action. In fact, after I called the number on their page and spoke to Tony Walstra at Stellar Records, I was convinced that this would be the best way for me to proceed since this is exactly what happened to me. (Here in the Seattle area I know of many venues and KJ’s that were hit with lawsuits earlier this year and I did not want to end up one of them).
After thinking it over I called back on July 14th, and bought into the CAP program. I also purchased the Pop Hits Monthly (PHM) Library from 2008 forward and picked up an annual subscription to the PHM monthly updates for Pop, Urban, and Country music through August of 2012. All told I spent $4189.95 to “get legal” and grown my library. In the essence of transparency, I was actually only charged $2989.00 on July 14th with payments of $300 made each month after. But it is now December 5th, 2011 and all payments have been made. I have a zero balance with them at this point. As promised I was shipped all of the discs I paid for which I received on July 26th, 2011.
You would think I would be a happy karaoke host at this point – I made myself compliant, I feel no pressure about getting sued over any music I have from Stellar Records and I expanded my music library by several thousand songs with the music they shipped to me. Unfortunately, we are now 9 days away from the 6 month mark since I was first charged for my purchase and……
I still don’t have the CAP certificates.
On July 27th, I sent an email to Tony Walstra thanking him for getting the discs out to me so quickly and expressed my desire to have the CAP certificates sent out to me ASAP. I was never told during the initial process that there would be any delay in getting them to me. I assumed they would have been sent out with the discs I ordered. But they were not. I received a prompt reply from Tony stating that he was glad I received the discs and…..
“We are close to completing our new CAP certificates and paperwork. We will be in touch once that process is complete. We redesigned the whole program and designed a software program to enter all the data into.”
This was the first I heard of any delay in getting the certificates to me, but, having worked in the software industry for my day job for the last 17 years, I do understand that sometimes it takes a little time to work out the kinks in a new software system. I decided to ride it out figuring I had billing statements showing I had been charged and I could produce my invoice with a description of “CAP Certificate” on it if there were ever any issues.
Since that time, everything has gone downhill. Every month since the first shipment, I have had to contact them by email to ask where my monthly discs are and have them ship them out to me. The only exception was the December update and I chalk that up to the particularly pointed email I sent them just before stating how dissatisfied I had ultimately become. I have actually sent several emails to specifically inquire about the status of the CAP certificates –
Sept 2, 2011 (just a basic ask)
Oct 4th, 2011 (Tony Walstra’s reply looped in Tom Viveiros, President of Stellar Records)
Oct 28th, 2011 (I sent a very long, very wordy email to Tony and Tom and Donna Mello expressing my dissatisfaction that it had been two weeks since the President of the company was looped in and no one had been in contact with me)
Oct 31st, 2011 (finally get a response from Tom, not at all what I wanted to hear, but I got a response)
Nov 15, 2011 (the first anbd only email to date from Stellar that was *not* initiated by me.)
Dec 2nd, 2011 (Just another inquiry)
Late on Dec 2nd (another long, wordy email that in summary states, that I no longer have the patience to wait and I am asking for a refund. It should also be noted that I also decided to put up this blog as a result of the experience I have had with Stellar Records)
So here we are on the evening of December 5th, 2011. No response back yet from Stellar Records. Granted, I sent my last email to them late on Friday and I did not expect a response over the weekend, particularly given the slow reponses I have experienced thus far. But since the President of Stellar Records accepted my friend invite on Linked.com early this morning, I know he was active. I would like to think that the president of a comapny reads his email at least once day during the standard business week. I would have thought I would have at least garnered a response to my refund request even if it was “We are looking into it”. But that doesn’t make me any less upset how all of this has transpired. It doesn’t make me wonder if maybe Stellar Records has no intention of sending me the certificates at all.
I find it oddly ironic that the Stellar Records CAP program is an effort to re-coup losses from groups or individuals that have essentially stolen from Stellar Records and yet at this point, I personally feel as if Stellar Records has stolen the $3200 I paid to them for the CAP certificates, which 6 months later, I still do not have. Again, I know that new software can present some speed bumps, but 6 months down the road is not acceptable. Besides, I offered, as a Microsoft employee, to get them assistance with their computer software issues in my November 15th and received no response.
I have done my part.
In the email I sent to Stellar on Dec 2nd. I noted I would be blogging about the experience and gave them a link to this site. I have no way of knowing if they are actually reading it. Regardless, I am airing my side of the story here in public. I welcome their public response.
I encourage you to go read the official description of the CAP program here.
Chris – Feel Good Productions