Leading producer Steve Levine recently discovered that a fake Steve Levine has been masquerading as the real thing, to secure work under false pretences. Read on for the rest of this amazing story...
There have been times, during my years of producing records, when two or three great projects have come along at once. All the ticks are in the boxes but you know you can't physically do every project. On occasions like these I've wished I could be cloned, like Michael Keaton in the film Multiplicity! But, as we're often told when we're young, you should be careful what you wish for — it might come true.
I'm writing this at the end of what has been one of the strangest and most surreal weeks I've ever experienced. I discovered, to my horror, that for the past year or so there has been another "Steve Levine", producing and setting up deals in the USA, mainly on the East coast, trading on my good name and reputation.
This situation was first brought to my attention by my manager, Stephen Budd. He had just received an email from an American lawyer and manager in New York, the representative of an artist who had signed a deal with the impostor's company. As the days progressed, a tangled web of deceit began to unfold. Apparently, while impersonating me, this charlatan (who, according to the lawyer, even wears a wig to look like me!) has managed to sign various artists to his production company. He claims to have an international production deal with Virgin Records, plus a studio in London (frighteningly close to the truth, by the way), and apparently almost sealed a deal for himself with MTV as a consultant — a deal I would actually like myself! He is currently in the process of setting up a charity concert event at the Lincoln Centre in New York. It's almost too far‑fetched to believe.
And it raises several interesting points. Why didn't someone suss him out earlier? Just how powerful is a reputation? Who is this guy? How can I stop him? How do I rectify any damage that has been done to my image and career? Is he a crook, or just deranged? Stephen Budd and his lawyers are on to it!
The saddest thing is that in pursuing this charade he is destroying a new artist's career before it has even got off the ground — not to mention damaging my reputation as a professional producer.
In an industry fuelled by Chinese Whispers and innuendo, this whole episode does explain some odd meetings that I have had recently. One in particular comes to mind: after I met a particular manager he sent me a letter praising me for the direction I had come up with for his band, saying how impressed he was with my studio and my professionalism, and emphasising that he couldn't wait to start the project — I was, in fact, totally different to what he had been led to believe.
This obviously has very serious implications for me and for others. My work depends on trust and building good relationships with artists, managers and record companies. Having the odd hit from time to time also helps. But as no producer can have a 100 percent success rate, developing trust and a reputation over time is very important. These are things I've worked to build for over 20 years and am very proud of — but they can be destroyed in an instant.
In this age of cyberspace, where you can use email and the Internet to make contact and exchange ideas without ever physically meeting, it's possible to have a virtual relationship with anyone and never come face to face with them. In addition, CVs, biographies and discographies are all in the public domain — that's how we get new work — so it's relatively easy for someone to use the information they contain for their own ends. Impersonating producers, I hope, is quite rare, but unless we all check our facts and do some research before we hire someone, we could be fooled by any old smooth operator.
My personal web site is at www.stevelevine.co.uk.
Steve Levine's extensive list of production credits includes work with The Clash, Culture Club, The Beach Boys, China Crisis, Louise, The Creatures, Westworld, Ultra, 911 and Honeyz (see SOS December 1998 for a feature on the last). He's been the BPI Producer of the Year and has received a Grammy award for his work with Denice Williams. His 1999 Kings Singers album was nominated for the Grammy for best classical crossover album.