Court hosts 'sound check' ahead of civil trial with Post Malone in 'Circles' co-writing lawsuit
The singer and rapper will be at the Los Angeles federal courthouse next week for trial in a lawsuit from musician Tyler Armes, who says he co-wrote the music for "Circles."
The man suing musician Post Malone played several guitar riffs from the witness stand in a Los Angeles federal courtroom, then donned a pair of headphones at a law clerk’s request.
Tyler Armes wasn’t sure he needed to scrutinize the recording of his jam session, saying, “No one’s ever going to listen to it like this.” But the clerk reminded him of a potential audience for which sound quality will be critically important: “The appellate court.”
Called a “sound check,” Wednesday’s courthouse recording session was the final preparation for a jury trial in Armes’ lawsuit alleging that Post Malone, legal name Austin Richard Post, is wrongly denying him credit and a portion of profits for co-writing the music in the 2019 smash hit song “Circles.”
Witnesses will be playing instruments on the stand, with the clerk emphasizing Wednesday that they won’t be able to quickly switch between testimony and music because each must be recorded separately. A traditional court reporter will transcribe testimony, but the law clerk will audio record the music to ensure a complete trial record.
“It’s going to have to be very defined,” the clerk said.
The rare trial procedure is meant to help settle a three-year-old federal dispute between Post, a 10-time Grammy nominee who tours internationally, and Armes, a lower-profile but also decorated musician whose work includes bandleader, writer and producer for the Canadian rap and rock band Down With Webster.
Both men will testify in the expected four-day trial, which begins next Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II.
The case centers on an all-night recording session with Post and his producer Frank Dukes at Dukes’ studio in Toronto on Aug. 8, 2018. Armes said he joined at the invitation of Post’s manager, Dre London. London will testify as a defense witness, as will Dukes, who is being sued alongside Post.
“Armes spent hours in the studio jamming with Post and Dukes and ultimately co-writing the song ‘Circles’ and contributing significantly to the sound of the final recording,” according to the lawsuit. Armes does not claim any part in the song’s lyrics or vocals.
Judge Wright mused Wednesday that the trial will be “an attempt to replicate that all-night session.” The courtroom will be equipped to play live music as well as the commercial recording of “Circles.”
“If what you want is for the jury to make some sort of comparison, you’ll be able to do so,” Wright said. The judge said his courtroom can accommodate any instrument used in the session, though not if “the Boston Pops were involved.”
“I guess the Boston Pops is the wrong group for this crowd,” Wright said.
The instruments used in the session include a bass guitar, a rhythm guitar, a keyboard and a drum kit. The law clerk spent about two hours Wednesday testing instruments through the courtroom’s sound system with Armes and the legal teams’ tech experts before Wright took the bench for a final pre-trial conference. Seven jurors will be impaneled for the trial.
Armes’ lawsuit was consolidated with a complaint Post filed in the Southern District of New York seeking declaratory relief that Armes has no stake in “Circles.”
Judge Wright granted summary judgment last April for Armes’ claim of authorship regarding the commercial release of “Circles”, but he denied summary judgment regarding the session composition, saying Armes “demonstrates genuine disputes in regard to his authorship.”
That paved the way for a trial for which even the courthouse security officers are excited. One remarked to his supervisor in the courtroom on Wednesday, “Can you assign me to this next week?”
Last August, Post’s lawyers unsuccessfully asked Wright to terminate Armes’ claims as a sanction for not disclosing the full extent of a text message exchange between Armes and London after “Circles” was released in August 2019, and for not disclosing texts between London and Armes in 2018 that Post’s lawyer say show Armes wasn’t invited but instead tried to “insert himself into the situation.”
Armes’ lawyers called their omission “an innocent, unintentional error” and said Armes didn’t produce the 2018 text messages because he no longer had them. Wright ruled Post’s lawyers “fall short of the required showing for any such sanctions, including monetary sanctions, by a wide margin.”
Post is represented by a team from Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, including New York partners Christine Lepera and Jeffrey Movit and Los Angeles partner Gabriella Nourafchan Ismaj.
Armes is represented by a team from Hollywood powerhouse lawyer Marty Singer’s firm Lavely & Singer, including partner Allison Hart and associate Max Dylan Fabricant.
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