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The Country Music Live Scam!

The following represents ongoing correspondence that has been moved from STACY'S MUSIC ROW REPORT, due to space consideration. Disclaimer: All statements are printed with permission and represent all correspondence received that I have been authorized to to reproduce.

An October 31, 2002 E-mail from Kevin O'Leary

"I also was burnt out of a couple hundred dollars from Marc Michaels. I worked with this so called businessman for two issues as graphic designer.

"I was fresh out of art school being bounced around from freelance to freelance when I stumbled upon this job. Well, needless to say, after we completed the second issue (that I worked on) I was fired for false accusations. He claimed I was working on other outside projects during work hours which was untrue. I worked two weeks unpaid still to this day.

"He will not return my calls. This was about 2.25 years ago."

An October 22, 2002 E-mail from Paul Horbal

"I subscribed to Country Music Live three months after your report says they ceased operation. That means that when they cashed my money order for $52.00 U.S., they had no intention of fulfilling my subscription, and since I live in Canada, the money order was the equivalent of $83.20 CAD. I went to the BBB but they have stopped trying to contact them. Is there anything I can do to retrieve my money from these thieves. (may be a little harsh, but what else are they). Any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated."

A Post-September 11th, 2001 Country Music Live  Press Release

For Immediate Release

October 1, 2001

Country Music Live Magazine Goes Monthly

Nashville, TN – Country Music Live continues to hit its stride, as it prepares to kick off its third year in publication with the exciting news that it will become a monthly magazine. Beginning with its January 2002 issue, the well-regarded country title will shift from a bi-monthly schedule to its new, monthly status.

Marc Michaels, CML’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, stated, "It’s with enormous pride that we’re able to make this announcement. The response to the magazine has been amazing, and we’re looking forward to expanding our presence and keeping our readers even better informed and entertained."

While maintaining a special emphasis on live event coverage, CML continues to offer a diverse, content-rich magazine presenting exclusive interviews along with dedicated features, news and reviews. Among the stories upcoming for CML’s Fall issue are interviews with Toby Keith and Chely Wright, as well as features on Crystal Gayle and the legendary Conway Twitty. CML’s monthly schedule debuts with its January anniversary issue, on sale nationwide December 10th.

A division of Media Communications, Inc., Country Music Live is available via subscription and also in stores throughout the U.S. and in a dozen other countries.

Country Music Live

909 18th Avenue South

Nashville, TN 37212-2186>

Phone: 615-342-0099

Fax: 615-342-0199

E-mail: info@countrymusiclive.com

www.countrymusiclive.com

August 28, 2002 E-mail (Name Withheld Upon Request)

Hi Stacy... My name is... and I have been a freelance photographer for approximately 15 years and have enjoyed much success for which I am eternally thankful...I am sorry to say that I know of a number of photographers that have been burned by Marc Michaels of CML. These photographers are good people who depended upon their freelance status to earn a living.

"Fortunately, Michaels only owes me a small amount of money. My major concern is the fate of all of the images that he received from us and what his plans are for the images. I have forwarded you copies of emails between Mr. Michaels and myself from several months ago, where you can plainly see that he promised to return such images. Mr. Michaels, being a former 'photographer' himself, knows that the use of these images without the express written consent of the owner is considered copyright infringement, which is a violation of the federal copyright laws and can be punishable in a court of law. However, if Mr. Michaels has skipped town (and possibly the country), I am sure that he has taken our images with him.

"Marc Michaels is a pompous and arrogant man who cannot deal with his own shortcomings, so he, in effect, blames others for his problems. All of this could have been avoided had Michaels been frank and upfront in the beginning with all of his freelance staff, including writers and photographers, about his situation at CML. Up until the very last minute, he refused to admit that CML was in trouble when we knew all along that his magazine was going to cease. Michaels is finally getting payback for what he has done to others and I, for one, am glad that he has "tucked tail and ran" just like he has done so many times in the past. I only wish it were possible to track his whereabouts so others could be warned before he rips them off.

"In closing, I am asking that you withhold my name from your website but you are welcome to print this letter. The emails that I am sending you are to substantiate my claims and those of others that Michaels owes.

August 24-27, 2002 E-mails from Rochelle Talmage

"Please note the following latest developments. If he is indeed an honest person as he claims, why has he not provided his current forwarding address and phone number so that my attorney, the Williamson County Court Clerk's office and others may forward our necessary documentation of judgments, etc.? He stated to the water department that he was leaving the country.

"I have in my possession a letter of intent to purchase my property signed by Mr. Michaels. He was never able to provide a commitment letter from a lender to accompany this letter as requested by our attorney so that a closing date could be set. Further, Mr. Michaels had his electricity and gas service stopped for lack of payment. It is quite obvious to me that since he could not manage to pay the rent he currently owes, the attorney fees he currently owes, not to mention the basic services of the electric and water, he certainly could not manage to purchase our property.

"I am not desperate to sell the property, it was simply a lease to purchase option. Frankly, as for what I have heard from many people with which he did business, he has allegedly stated that he already owned the property. He offered to sell it to the next door neighbor; in fact.

Mr. Michaels suffers from delusions of grandeur and since I have seen this behavior before for others, I am aware that there will never be an end to his "excuses" for his lack of payment. The statement he makes that photographers were terminated, is a sort of symptom of his personality. Hence his statement that he decided not to purchase the property that "I desperately needed to sell". You see, with people like this, it is always someone else's fault when things are problematic.

If Mr. Michaels has the intestinal fortitude to provide me with his current information, and further with the remittance of the funds that have legally been determined that he owes directly to me, I will cease to discuss this situation in either the public or private domain. Until such time that I have received financial remedies from him, I will proceed with making every attempt to inform others so that they may be prevented from suffering similar situations.

"As an update, my attorney's office received a call from Marc Michaels at some time after your posting. He stated to the attorney that I was 'slandering him on the web'. Of course the response was, how can this be considered anything at all when all statements are verifiable facts?

"Interesting, isn't it. I hope that with my statements he may actually file suit against me so that he would have to appear. Seeing that he has already committed perjury in the Williamson County courtroom by stating directly to the judge that he would pay his rent to me within ten days; I highly doubt that we will see him appear or offer a legitimate forwarding address. He states that he is moving to France. The last time I checked, mail and certainly email is transmittable to other countries.

"I have learned my lesson, but still hope that others will find remedy in their pursuit of Mr. Michaels and his schemes.

"Thank you again for your time and efforts, I am sure that others appreciate your position of honesty.

Sincerely

Rochelle Talmage

An August 27, 2002 E-mail from Marc Michaels

'Stacy, I would like to make a final brief statement to the writers and photographers who contributed to Country Music Live.

"Unfortunately, due to financial circumstances beyond my control, CML has ceased to exist. I did not want or expect that, however, that is what has occurred.

"I do personally apologize for any work published without compensation, and assure you that it was totally unintentional. CML’s overall success was always our main goal. I did everything I could to keep CML alive, but the end result proved futile.

"I now must 'pick up the pieces' of my own life, as I have been severely affected by this situation, both personally and professionally. I wish you all the best and thank you once again for being a part of CML."

"Respectfully, Marc Michaels"

August 26th-27, 2002 E-mail from Mike Miller

"Stacy, I guess I was not one of the vast group that got their money back or another subscription. I paid for a two year subscription. I got one issue! I sent Michaels a number of emails, called his office and sent him a snail mail. I got one email after 9-11 saying the problem was with the US Mail! I am a US Mail Hauler! That was insulting!!

Original Message ----- From: "Marc Michaels" To: "Mike Miller" Sent: Thursday, November 01, 2001 11:29 AM Subject: Re: When???

>>">Mail is moving slower than usual due to the Anthrax situation. Your issue should arrive shortly. Sorry for any inconvenience. CML/Customer Relations."

>>"Hello! I subscribed to your magazine and my credit card was charged on = > >8-7-2001. It has been almost two months and no magazine. I want my > >magazine! Thanks!!Mike Miller Parsons,Tennessee."

An August 27, 2002 E-mail from a former CML writer (name withheld upon request)

"Count me among the many people owed money by Marc Michaels/Country Music Live. I did a few freelance articles for them, and without actually looking up the exact amount, he/they owe me somewhere in the neighborhood of $350. Not a lot compared with the amount some people got ‘taken’ for, but still, it's non-payment for work completed (and published).

"Anyway, I thought I'd drop you a line and forward some of the correspondence I've received from Marc as well as former Managing Editor Chris Melancon. My ’dealings’ were always with Chris, and he certainly seemed to be on the ball (and I have a hunch he got hung out to dry- just like everyone else - by Michaels).

"Regardless, as you can see in one e-mail, I've tried to contact Michaels by e-mail and by phone. No response was ever made to the phone messages I left, and now any e-mails sent to either of Michaels' former e-mail addresses simply get returned to me. Big surprise there!

"As you know, I've certainly ‘been around the block’ and seen how some ‘Music Row types’ operate. But for some reason, the Michaels deal really burns me up. I think he used everyone- including Melancon- right down to us little peon freelancers.

"Where is all the money that obviously came in via advertising dollars? Did he EVER have it in his mind to pay any freelancers, or was it just another one of his ‘schemes’ from Day One? And how can he, in good conscience, be so concerned with what is written in your column about him, yet completely ignore those he owes money (not to mention apologies) to?

"Apparently creating stories and lengthy messages that ‘sound good’ are more important than communicating with those former workers who he shafted. I'm still waiting for that ‘update’ he mentions in his ‘latest’ message. I'm totally at a loss...:"

"Like I said, please don't use my name, but I just thought you'd like to read some of the ‘correspondence’ I've had with the CML folks. Truly bizarre."

An August 24, 2002 E-mail from Paula Ghergia

"Just a short note to you... Did Marc contact you via E-mail? Because since he moved leaving what appears to be no forwarding address, I/we have no way of contacting him, if you could forward that to me I would appreciate it.

"Also just FYI we actually had to call in favors to get credentials for Fan Fair, since he waited till the last minute and wasn't provided enough (at least that is what he had said, but I don't know how much I can hold as truth). We were actually credentialed through a publicist, shooting mostly for that publicist, not Marc Michaels, or Country Music Live.

"Lenses were not a problem for us, we weren't shooting for the magazine though. Funny how in December we got a call from him with great news, (this some 3 months after we requested that he stop using our material and return it to us, and right after being told we were going to hire a lawyer) and wanted to call and talk. When the call was made we heard all about how Country Music Live was going to be a monthly publication after the New Year, and how he was going to be releasing a new regional title as well.

"He will tell you this NEVER took place, but I do believe somewhere someone has a copy of his October press release regarding one or both of these matters, unfortunately for me I do not have one of those, after September we weren't on his list of media contacts.

"And one last thing, Media Communications Inc. (along with Media Communication Inc., and Nashville Live) is listed as one of Marc's companies under the Tennessee Secretary of State's office. I love the way he makes it sound as if this company is separate from him. Like I have said in the past, I can stand by what I am saying, and I can look you in the eye."

An August 22, 2002 E-mail from Marc Michaels

"Stacy, In response to the information posted on your website regarding Country Music Live Magazine with several comments directed towards me, I offer the following statement: Country Music Live Magazine, formerly produced by Media Communications, Inc. ceased publication in December 2001, after twelve issues. This was primarily due to a soft economy, a slumping country music industry and unfortunately, an overall lack of support.

"The revenue streams required for a magazine to succeed include advertising, subscriptions, and newsstand sales. Though we had been enthusiastic and optimistic, the general business climate prevented us from generating adequate numbers in these crucial areas.

"In a nutshell, Country Music Live proved to be not viable, and fell victim to these uncertain economic times. The corporation simply ‘ran out of capital’ and was unable to attain the resources needed to meet its obligations and continue being produced. Exhaustive ongoing efforts were made throughout this past year to attempt to remedy the situation. What some disgruntled individuals considered excuses were actually true explanations that they refused to accept. I commend those contributors who declined to be involved in efforts to damage the reputation of the magazine and who continue to be supportive despite the fact that CML is presently inactive.

"Personally, it has been very difficult to let go of this ‘dream’, as I always felt CML 'raised the bar' in country music journalism. I am very proud of what we accomplished without resorting to gossip or paparazzi type photos.

"The vast majority of our subscribers received their issues, refunds or substitute subscriptions. We regret any errors that may have caused any missed issues to any of our readers.

"The lawsuit referred to on your site was a small claim action against the corporation. The photographers in question were dismissed for failing to provide Fan Fair coverage. Specifically, they arrived with inadequate lenses and were promptly terminated. Then they attempted to be overpaid for their work by refusing to accept the agreed upon pay scale. Again, this matter was given a sense of over importance in your column as you provided a forum for them to 'grandstand' their fictitious claims.

"Regarding the recent comments posted here from ROCHELLE TALMAGE, which involves a landlord/tenant matter and nothing more, I can only say that her claims are grossly exaggerated and contain many untrue statements. I contend she is upset that we chose not to purchase her property, which she desperately needed to sell. Until just recently, we had planned to complete that purchase, and then decided it wasn’t in our best interest. We notified her and vacated the property after making that decision, which coincided with the expiration of the lease purchase agreement we had between us.

"In closing, I want to thank the many artists, publicists and industry people who supported our efforts and who appreciated what we did during the two years that CML existed. I will always love country music and hope I can help promote this art form again in the future. *Country Music Live* set a new standard, received critical acclaim, and I expect the remaining country music publications now realize that the fans are interested in the music as much, if not more than the artists personal lives."[sic]

"I am truly saddened that CML is no longer in production at this time. Take care. Marc Michaels, CML."

An August 17, 2002 E-mail from Rochelle Talmage

"Dear Stacy: My name is ROCHELLE TALMAGE, and I have some more stories for you and the other interested parties about MARC MICHAELS.

"My husband and I own the home in Franklin that the Michaelses have been renting since their arrival in Nashville. I only wish that I had seen all of the information about his past prior to renting him our property. He paid on time only once during an eighteen month lease term, and did not pay at all for several months. He made up the same sort of stories that you and others have heard, problems with accountants, staff issues, checks that were mailed and we never received; he even tried to 'prosecute' us for receiving our payments and not cashing the checks!!!

"After several patient negotiations, I hired an attorney and received a judgment against him in Williamson County Court. Two days ago, I witnessed rental moving trucks in the driveway of the house, and did not see any sign of either Marc or ANNETTE MICHAELS [Marc's wife]... perhaps others were ‘conned’ into doing the manual labor for them.

"He owes us approximately $10,000.00 in rent and associated attorney's fees, so needless to say, we would like to know where his next location is. I feel that with so many victims of his either ‘bumbling financial’ expertise, or more in line with my opinion; his premeditated fraud, that there is indeed a criminal lawsuit that should be pursued. After all, as he accepted money in the form of magazine subscriptions and did not refund any, this could be a mail situation.

"At the very least, in the current climate of responsibility by the owners and CEOs of business, I feel that if we all join forces, we may at least have the satisfaction of not allowing him to victimize anyone else in the future. I will be happy to discuss this matter further with anyone interested.

"Please pass this along to those with whom you have been communicating so that all interested parties may have the opportunity to decide how to proceed. If you happen to receive any information as to where he relocates, I would certainly appreciate your sharing that with me. Hopefully, everyone will be compensated in some way."

"Thank you for your time and consideration."


Updating my own information in this matter: It seems Marc has had legal difficulties not only in Pennsylvania and Tennessee but also in California. My understanding is that Michaels offered to pay a fraction of what he is alleged to owe former photographers for Country Music Live,  following a meeting at the Belle Meade Starbucks, but that Marc reneged on that agreement. If that version of the story is correct, it means that instead of that lawsuit ending in an out-of-court settlement, plans resume to prosecute Michaels.

During a March 10, 2002 conversation, Marc Michaels cautioned me against indicating that Country Music Live was suspending publication. Michaels' reasoning was in so doing I would create an erroneous assumption that CML had ceased publication. Mark told me the March/April issue was all but complete, awaiting the outcome of an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit against him.

Michaels told me he saw no reason to advise subscribers of the delay. Perhaps it's not surprising then that on March 17, 2002 Bob De Tore of Cincinnati, Ohio e-mailed me his comments and posted here with Bob's permission:

A March 17, 2002 E-mail from Bob De Tore

"Stacy - I had a two-year subscription to CML and haven't got a copy in... at least six months... nor a response to numerous letters and e-mails to CML. Do you know if I can get my money back or credit to another publication I might wish to subscribe to or am I out of luck?"

I have given Bob my thoughts on the matter, but I would also like Marc to return my phone call of March 11 so I can better inform my readers of his plans. Beyond that, I'd like to hear from other CML subscribers as to whether Marc has updated them, even as Bob and I have yet to hear from Michaels.


On March 14, 2002 Jon Weisberger asked that I post the following from an e-mail received a day earlier:

A March 13, 2002 E-mail from Jon Weisberger

"Since my name was recently mentioned in connection with the subject, I'm writing to confirm that I have yet to see the first cent of the almost $1000 owed to me by Marc Michaels and Country Music Live for columns and reviews published in the past year or so."

A March 12, 2002 E-mail from Stuart Munro

"Hello Stacy, I've had it in mind to write you since I received word that you were beginning to cover the CML/Marc Michaels fiasco, and am doing so now that Ken Burke has mentioned me. I am writing mainly to confirm what Ken said--that Michaels does indeed owe me payment for all of the work I've done for him. I'd only done a couple of reviews for the magazine when I became aware of the fact that no one was receiving payment for their work; since that time, I have declined to do anything else for the magazine. I, too, have received periodic emails from Michaels promising that this situation would be rectified shortly, but I haven't seen much reason to think that payment will be forthcoming anytime soon.

"If you wish to use my confirmation of what Ken Burke says about me, feel free to do so. At this point, I don't have much else to add about this sorry tale."


The following, based on e-mails from Paula Ghergia and long conversations with Ghergia and with Marc Michaels on March 10, 2002, (there were also brief conversations with Maria Morello and Annette Michaels, though not for publication on March 10th, another conversation and a phone call and e-mail from Paula on the 11th in which Ghergia indicated that Marc Michaels and his attorney had canceled the March 12th settlement meeting agreed to by Paula and her attorney), a March 11th e-mail from Elianne Halbersberg (with Halbersberg's cc: Paula Ghergia) and a March 11th e-mail from Ken Burke will be updated as circumstances warrant. (It should go without saying that these views should not be construed to reflect my own and that, because I cannot vouch for the authenticity of any of the statements made, all points-of-view by anyone who has ever been associated with *Country Music Live* will be given a forum. I only require that full contact information be provided.)

"Hi, Stacy, Paula Ghergia here (you know me, Maria Morello and I are writer/photographers in town). Just thought I would drop you a quick note to shed a little light on a media controversy going on behind the scenes. There are a number (more than 20) writers and photographers owed money from the magazine  
Country Music Live  since last year (the last check we got was over a year ago) with constant promises of payment and one flimsy excuse after another...

"I was even told by the editor/publisher, Marc Michaels via e-mail that my check had crossed his desk. That was sometime over the summer. Every issue has fallen to the same fate.... Everyone kept working for the magazine, until the magazine pulled up the stakes of their Nashville office and retreated to parts unknown. (But I know, Franklin.)

"[Former CML editor] Chris Melancon finally pulled out with grace and poise… even apologizing to the few who have e-mailed him. Not that it was his fault: He was as much in the dark as the rest of us...

"The last check we [Paula and her business partner, Maria Morello] received was in January of 2001. We continued to work for CML; of course, back then we were asked to ‘bear with us in this time of transition to Nashville.’

"We stuck it out until September, when we requested that [former Pennsylvania-based Michaels] not use any more of our photos… We were told our remaining photos were being mailed. They weren't.

"Then we were told they had been shipped UPS... A week later Maria dropped by the office and picked up the pics, which had obviously not been shipped, nor were they ready to be shipped.

"Shortly thereafter, CML moved out of that location. We found Marc's address through the Secretary of State's office, through his business license. Maria and I worked with Marc since the second issue, and the checks never seemed to match up. (They were still in Philadelphia at the time).

"Every check sent we questioned... We were constantly told that ‘I am getting a new payroll company.’ ‘We will take care of that next issue.’ ‘Oh, I'm sorry, you must have fallen between the cracks.’

"We were told that [Marc] wanted to use us as his ‘exclusive Nashville photographers.’ That he wanted ‘Your names to be like Tim Campbell’s name is to Country Weekly.’

"We said yes, and agreed not to provide anyone else with our photos. And, if we were hired to shoot something by a publicist, we told him he could have first choice of the pictures (How Dumb Was That??).

"I was told by Marc and his wife Annette, over lunch at Noshville, that I would hold the position of PHOTO EDITOR ‘as soon as we have a Nashville office.' I joked about a corner office.

"At that same lunch, he told Maria and me that ‘I am solvent for the next five years’ and how he didn't need advertisers, ‘although they would be nice.’

"When he and Annette first came to town, I took them around backstage at the Opry and introduced them to all the artists, to [Grand Ole Opry officials} Pete [Fisher] and Steve [Buchanan]. I questioned [Michaels’] exclusive photographer statement a while later when I saw someone sporting a credential with CML on it. He responded 'Well I can't be exclusive to just you two. There's a lot going on in Nashville.’

"I also found out recently that he offered the position of Photo Editor to my pal Shea [Scullin] out in California, only Marc told him that he wanted Shea to move here and work at the office. As if he would make it worth his while; Marc owes him too.

""In October [Michaels] sent out a press release announcing the good news: CML was going to be a monthly publication!!!!!!! And that a NEW REGIONAL TITLE was in the works!!!

"Then shortly after that he was using the September 11 tragedy as an excuse as to why he couldn't pay anyone... (He's owed us since March prior to September 11th). And I still don’t know why he would make this announcement in October, AFTER the killings in NYC and DC if 9/11 had really affected him, for as long as I can remember October comes after September so he would have known his dire straits before his press release.

"Now it's a whole new yarn of folklore. I no longer have access to my old e-mails from [Michaels] on the computer. But I did print a lot of them out. I will be more than happy to fax them to you... one where he saw our check cross his desk, and a ton of other such mythical stories.

"Maria and I have a lawyer, as does Marc, and so far [Michaels] hasn't been able to meet with us because he ‘has been out of town.’ That was two meetings down the tubes. Plus we had a court date, but they requested a continuance, because [Michaels] was going to be (Yes, you guessed it) ‘out of town.’

"We are supposed to meet again this Tuesday [March 12]. This is a nail biter... Through a series of friends who have been dancing this dance with us we have found court dockets from his Philly days, when he was sued for the same things, one of the suits was from a printer who never got paid for printing the magazine.

"These dockets were on the Web [http://dns2.phila.gov:8080... and http://www.tennesseeanytime.org] I have those printed out too.

"Had I known then what I know now about [Marc], I wouldn't have provided his magazine with anything. I can fax those dockets to you too.

"But, just in case here's a link to that site as well. We put in ‘Marc Michaels’ and Country Music Live : FJD - Civil Docket Access. We found a VERY interesting one from the 80's when he and some others were sued big time, but not for publishing.

"[Michaels] now has four names under his business license here in Nashville, If you want to check it out in more detail just click on the link and put in the business id (it's faster that way. Business Information Search: Business Name, Business ID Number, Type, Status COUNTRY MUSIC LIVE 0407693 , ASSUMED NAME , ACTIVE MEDIA COMMUNICATION, INC. 0407693 , CORPORATION , CHANGED MEDIA COMMUNICATIONS, INC. 0407693 , CORPORATION , ACTIVE NASHVILLE LIVE 0407693 , ASSUMED NAME , ACTIVE.

"I also sent you the link to the Philly courts if you want to check out those dockets on line, so you will know I am not making this up... Well, I have probably provided you with a bit of solid foundation. Be ready for the others!

"Anything else you need I will be more than happy to share, including the meeting that MIGHT take place on Tuesday."   


Returning a March 10th call placed earlier in the day, Marc Michaels told me, on behalf of  Country Music Live,  "We are currently dealing with business circumstances that we hope to resolve shortly."

Apparently in response to my breaking the news on March 10, 2002 of pending (and past) litigation involving Marc Michaels and Country Music Live (e.g., following arbitration, a Pennsylvania court upheld The Creative Print Group’s award of a $41,695 judgment against  Country Music Live,  Incorporated in October, 2001), Elianne Halbersberg forwarded a copy to me (March 11, 2002) of an e-mail dated January 29, 2002 and addressed to "To all media contacts."

In the e-mail, Elianne apologizes for the "impersonal" mass-mailing, explaining that she was "trying to reach as many of you as possible."

Halbersberg’s message to those who have listed her in "databases as a contributor to  magazine” was that she was "no longer contributing to the publication." Elianne gave as her reason for disassociating herself from the publication her contention that "Marc Michaels, editor and publisher of CML, owes me over $1,000 for articles and photographs dating back to March 2001, in addition to sums of money owed to CML's other writers and photographers."


Yet another account was e-mailed from Black Canyon City, Arizona March 11: "Hi Stacy, Ken Burke here. You and I exchanged e-mail's a few years back about your excellent on-line publication.

"I was forwarded your inquiry about Marc Michaels and Country Music Live  and I'm pleased to swap stories with you. You have my permission to quote me on everything below."

"At the suggestion of publicist Brandy Reed, I contacted Marc Michaels at Country Music Live  regarding possible work during October of 2000. At the time, the magazine was located in Philadelphia. Eventually Michaels assigned me a feature story on Hank Thompson to run in the 'Applause' section.

"I was told at that time that CML pays two months after publication and that I would receive ten cents a word. I asked for more assignments, and as time went by I was commissioned to write CD and book reviews, 'On The Air' segments and an 'Up And Coming' piece. I was very grateful to get the work and enjoyed a strong e-mail relationship with both publisher Marc Michaels and managing editor Chris Melencon.

"The problem, as you know by now, was in getting a check out of Michaels for my work. I received one payment from Michaels -- that came during March of 2001. I had to call and e-mail him several times to get that payment.

"At the time, he told me flat out, that I wasn't the only one who hadn't been paid. His excuse was the magazine's move to Nashville put him behind on all his paperwork and that he planned to hire someone to hire finances once the dust settled.

"My first and only payment was strange in two ways - 1.) My last name was misspelled. (The bank cashed it anyway.) 2.) I was overpaid by $75, which I told him about immediately.

"During spring and early summer of last year, I was pleased to receive many assignments for CML. I ran up phone bills interviewing subjects for the 'On The Air' pieces, turned down freelance assignments, and really lunged into my work. Although both Michaels and Melencon praised my work, I wasn't paid for anything I did for them after Hank Thompson piece.

"As the bills began piling up and things got worse for me and my little family, I wrote and called Michaels to seek payment. He assured me that he'd pay me before I starved. Yet I heard nothing.

"At one point, during the middle of the hot Arizona August, the power company came to shut off our electricity. After borrowing money from some friends (and don't think that wasn't embarrassing), I tried in vain to contact Michaels. When he didn't return my calls or e-mails, I suspected something was wrong at CML and decided not to take on anymore assignments.

"During the early fall, I began to hear rumblings that CML was closing its doors from PR people and record company people. I e-mailed Michaels about this rumor, and he shot back that it wasn't true, then asked who was spreading this rumor. I responded that I was asked not to name names and his e-mails to me took an ugly turn. At one point he threatened to sue me for spreading defamatory statements, when all I did was tell him what I heard."

"Later, he sent e-mails asking if I was willing to 'remain patient' about payment while taking on new CML assignments. I wrote him a strongly worded e-mail saying that I would not and told him that his inability to pay had endangered my family, which pissed me off. We had a couple of snippy exchanges and then silence. Still mad, I contacted Jon Weisberger, who is also my colleague at *Country Standard Time,* and asked if he too was owed money by Michaels. I learned that he and Stuart Munro were also owed.

"Eventually I heard from Elianne Halbersberg about how many people were owed and that lawsuits were being planned. Travel and lawyer expenses would just about eat up all of what Michaels owes me, but I would be willing to join in on someone else's suit if necessary.

"This situation disappointed me terribly because - A.) I didn't see it coming B.) I actually liked Marc Michaels (based on our friendly phone calls), and C.) I believed that Country Music Live  had potential to be a great magazine. Certainly it covered more of what Country Music is about than any other regular publication I had seen. I really had hoped to make my national reputation at CML.

"Eventually, a Fall issue supposedly came out with the last of my contributions. At that point CML owed me $800. I have never seen this issue, but the website proclaimed my 'Up and Coming,' 'On The Air,' and 'Applause' pieces were in it.

"In November of last year, as a total shot in the dark, I once again asked Marc for payment, adding that it would make Christmas a lot brighter around the Burke household. After a pleasant exchange of e-mails, he called me and tried to clear the air. He apologized and told me that he would pay me soon, January the latest, and that his troubles stemmed from two sources - 1.) A potential partner pulled out at the last moment. 2.) The events of 9/11 affected distribution and sales in some way. He also said that other publications were telling record labels not to advertise with CML because they were going out of business.

"Michaels then asked me, 'If I paid you up to date, would you write for Country Music Live  again?" I said that I would, because I felt the magazine was genuinely worthwhile. So, once again, he promised to pay me, and we hung up on good terms.

"Since then, I've received a couple of mass mailings promising better days for CML, but no money. This whole situation has really put a damper on my enthusiasm and drive to be a full-time music writer.

"Things are tough in the magazine business right now. Another publication I wrote for, *Blues Access,* went out of business in January, and other magazines are cutting back on accepting freelance submissions.

"If Michaels would pay me what he owes, I could get my bill situation up to date, and put in one last lunge at making a living in this business. As it stands, I'll probably have to take a full-time day job pretty soon, and relegate writing to a part-time hobby. The idea of this depresses me terribly.

"I do blame Michaels for all of this. It's my feeling that he is not so much an intentional crook as he is a fiscal bumbler still learning the ropes.

"Am I willing to forgive him? Well, he'll have to show me the money and re-earn my trust, but yeah. Life's too short to hate someone forever.

"Anyway Stacy. Let's hear your story and if there are any questions you'd care to ask, feel free to fire away. (Oh, and if you know anyone looking for a hardworking writer, please let me know.)"  

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