On Monday, a former Columbia Records employee alleged in a blog post that Charlie Walk, president of Universal subsidiary Republic Records, sexually harassed her in the 2000s while Walk was a senior promotion executive at the Sony Music label. By Wednesday, Walk was placed on leave pending further investigation by Universal Music Group.
Last May, Antonio “L.A.” Reid was dismissed from his post as chairman/CEO of Epic Records, also a Sony subsidiary. Though the company hasn’t acknowledged that Reid’s termination was the result of a sexual harassment claim against him, sources confirmed at the time that an assistant had reported questionable behavior to HR, triggering an internal investigation.
Both Walk and Reid found success in the Sony system (both also segued to Universal) — a connection that’s not surprising to industry watchers who note a pervasive, anything-goes culture at labels big and small, and certainly not limited to the majors, in the pre-#MeToo era. During the music business’ gravy train years, when consumers were replacing their vinyl and cassette collections with CDs, record companies were living large and tales of excess, debauchery and bad behavior were the tenets of an industry engorged in its self-created myth of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’roll (read all about it in books like Walter Yetnikoff’s “Howling At The Moon” and Fred Dannen’s “Hitmen”).
Both men also appeared as judges on singing competition shows that aired the Fox network — Reid spent two seasons on the U.S. version of “The X-Factor” while Walk had a seat at the panel on “The Four,” alongside Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Meghan Trainor and DJ Khaled. Walk has since bowed out of the show’s finale, releasing a statement that read: “Out of respect for the contestants, my fellow judges and everyone involved with the show, I have made the decision not to attend the finale of ‘The Four.’ I do not want my presence to be a distraction.”
Many industry insiders note that Walk’s status as a TV personality amplified the mainstream newsworthiness of a music business executive who’s accused — scrutiny Reid was able to side-step as the show had already been canceled.
And there’s another key difference between Reid and Walk. When Reid exited Epic, it was five months before the New York Times published its bombshell expose on Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo hashtag had yet to be launched. Reid’s was a relatively quiet exit, followed in short order by first reports of a sexual harassment claim, while the Walk account by ex-staffer Tristan Coopersmith, who says she took a payout in exchange for her silence, prompted numerous responses on social media, the industry blog Lefsetz Letter and even the comments section of Variety.com — some anonymous and some who identified themselves by name.
It should be noted that no criminal charges have been filed against either executive.
The response from longtime friends and colleagues of Walk’s has been somewhat muted as many grapple with the issues at hand. The reaction to Reid’s ouster was more mixed, with artists like DJ Khaled and Camila Cabello coming out in support of the executive who made them a star. Also, far fewer women have publicly pointed the finger at Reid. As one industry insider describes Reid’s spring PR crisis: “It lasted about three days, then was gone.”
One could say the same of Reid in the months that followed his dismissal. Based in California, after spending much of his professional career on the east coast, he’s kept a low public profile while planning his next move: Hitco, a multi-faceted entertainment company with music at its core. The company’s name has its origins in Reid’s Atlanta years during which he established LaFace Records. Founded as a joint venture with Arista Records, which later folded into Sony Music, LaFace saw tremendous success in the 90s with such acts as TLC, Usher, Outkast and Pink. It also had the backing, support and stewardship of regaled industry veteran Clive Davis.
According to sources, Reid has raised well over $100 million and has met with and courted scores of managers and artists to work with Hitco. He plans to go big — with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta — when it’s time, and is currently staffing up. While he is said to be eager to launch, due to the current climate and continued focus on sexual harassment in various sectors of the entertainment, Reid is waiting out the storm.
Reid was present for the Grammy Awards festivities in New York last week, making an appearance at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy gala on Jan. 27, where he also received a mention from the stage, as Davis customarily does in order to recognize VVIP guests at the event. The Los Angeles premiere of Clive Davis’ documentary, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” also drew Reid and wife Erica, who were spotted at the after-party where Reid was sitting with Charles Goldstuck, another longtime Davis loyalist and Reid’s partner on Hitco.
Walk also made the Grammy rounds, after flying in with Diddy on a private jet from a late-night taping of “The Four.” But just hours after the awards ended, Coopersmith published her post and the Lefsetz Letter newsletter blasted the link to tens of thousands of music-industry readers.
“Needless to say this is very upsetting,” Walk said in a statement on Wednesday night. “Although I continue to support the ‘Me Too’ movement, there has been an extreme rush to judgment against me in this particular case which is unfair and inconsistent with anything that even actually happened. I welcome any investigation so that in short order these unfounded and hurtful accusations can be put to rest.”