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Arista Chief Conflict on Whitney Album? hide



A third of the songs on Whitney Houston's new album are published by a company owned by her record label's president.

The publishing company is Hitco, and it's owned by L.A. Reid, head of Arista Records, a division of Bertelsmann BMG Music Group.

Three of the ten new songs on Houston's new Arista album, Just Whitney..., are published by Hitco, potentially creating a conflict of interest for Reid.

About two years ago, I told you that Reid, the new head of Arista, also owned Hitco. Signed to Hitco were producers and songwriters who essentially were Reid's clients. If they had hits, he made money. Personally. At the time, Reid said that BMG Music, which owns Arista, knew he had the publishing company and didn't mind.

Reid said of Hitco: "I'm not allowed to run it. But you can't stop me from owning it." He also told me that "it never came up" about his ownership when he negotiated his deal with then-BMG Music President Strauss Zelnick, who was fired a few months later.

Now Reid, who has worked hard in the interim to establish himself as a leader in the record industry, has picked the songs for Whitney Houston's new album on Arista. And wouldn't you know it? The new single, "One of Those Days," is produced and written by Kevin Briggs and Patrice Stewart, who are Reid's clients. The song's publisher is Hitco, which Reid still owns and maintains through Windswept Pacific Music. He is listed as the president and founder on Hitco's Web site.

But that's not all. Briggs and Stewart also collaborated on "Dear John," a second song included on the finished album.

A third song written by Briggs and Stewart, called "Let's Go," was intended for Houston's album, but is not included so far on the final selection. It was nevertheless recorded for that purpose.

Additionally, another Hitco writer, Matt Bronleewe, also has a song that made the final listing on Whitney's album. It's called, appropriately enough, "Unashamed."

Calls to Arista, which is still dealing with the premature release of Houston's album on the Internet, were not returned.

Briggs, who performs under the name Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, has his own imprint at Hitco. It's called Shek'em Down Music. Really. I kid you not.

This news means that one-third of the material on Houston's new album is published by Reid himself, who will not only get commissions for the singles and songs doing well, but will also benefit as head of Arista Records if the album is a smash. This is a lot different than the days of Berry Gordy owning Motown and Jobete Music Publishing, since Reid does not own Arista. BMG does. He is simply an executive there.

But putting Briggs' songs onto Just Whitney... should help Reid maintain his lavish lifestyle. Reid, as previously noted here, is one of the nattiest dressers in record biz history, favoring luscious Brioni suits with silk pocket squares.

Yesterday I told you that that Whitney's new album was all over the Internet, leaked a month early to Web sites for downloading. Even though I liked several of the songs, most of the online reviews have not been good. More than one listener worried that Houston was "sleepwalking" through the sessions and that none of the songs was compelling.

Most everyone said the same thing: Without Clive Davis, her former mentor, Whitney's turned in a mediocre record.

That may be, but I don't think that's fair to say before the general public and Houston's fans get to hear the whole record.

As for Reid, I don't know if other record company presidents also have their own publishing companies. I rather doubt it. Certainly some of have been accused of managing acts on their own labels and taking hefty commissions. And many have found more surreptitious ways to get their slice of the pie. But actually presiding over a record company and picking one's own songs for the label's artist -- that may be a new act of hubris in the annals of an already very corrupt business.

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