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CHC Trial: Kong Hee: The Budget Of The US Album Had To Be Sound And Reasonable

The court saw details of the budget planning process for Sun Ho’s US album and how thorough Kong Hee was in ensuring a conservative projection.

The morning also saw how Kong worked with Ho’s manager Justin Herz and with co-accused Serina Wee, who handled accounts for Xtron, to arrive at a reasonable budget for the album. Kong’s defense lawyer, Edwin Tong established that his client was deliberate and careful with details of the budget.In this morning’s session, the court heard how the Crossover Project went from an Asian regional effort to an international one with Sun Ho’s entry into the US music market. As her singles began to top the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play charts repeatedly, her manager fielded to Kong Hee the possibility of Ho launching an English album.

From Asia To The US

The idea of breaking into the United States was seeded by American Christian minister Dr Robin Harfouche—a former dancer, actress and singer in Hollywood.

The court heard how, in March 2003, Kong was invited to speak at a church pastored by Harfouche and her husband Christian in Florida. According to Kong, she had heard about the Crossover Project’s success in Taiwan and was intrigued. She asked Kong for promotional materials to circulate among her friends in the US entertainment industry. Kong told the court that Harfouche felt that the fruits of the Crossover Project could be replicated in the US. However, Harfouche said that it was difficult for an Asian to break into the US market without a suitable style and sound, and one of Ho’s music videos reflected the style and sound the US market would take to. Shortly after, Kong received a call from Justin Herz and Peter Rafelson. Herz was the former CEO of Tonos Entertainment, which was owned by David Foster, Carol Bayer Sager and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Sager’s husband was the former chairman of Warner Brothers. Rafelson was a reputable songwriter/producer who wrote the hit song “Open Your Heart” for Madonna.

Kong told the court although at that point he was not looking at the US and was surprised at the unfolding of events, he was grateful to God for an open door. He said if Ho was able to enter the US market, the entire Crossover Project would be taken from a regional level to a global level. As the US is the “epicenter” of pop culture, every continent would be open to Ho and by extension, open to the missions of City Harvest Church.

With Herz and Rafaelson, Ho recorded two singles meant to be included in her Chinese albums, which Herz would then market in the US. “Where Did Love Go?” was the first single recorded in July 2003. It went to number one on the Billboard Hot Dance chart that Christmas. The second single “One With You” topped the same chart in July 2004. By then, Herz had roped in publicist Tas Steiner, who represented the likes of Hugh Grant and Uma Thurman. Herz and his team were happy at Ho’s chart performance—at that point, there had not been another Asian artist who had topped any Billboard chart.

In January 2005, Sun Ho’s third English single reached number one on the US Billboard Hot Dance Chart. This further confirmed to the US team that Ho’s songs were genuinely popular.

This morning Tong questioned Kong on the involvement of Xtron director Wahju Hanafi in the Crossover Project. Hanafi had pledged his financial support for the Crossover Project. He traveled to the US mid-2004 to meet with Herz personally and was convinced that it was a worthwhile venture for Ho to try breaking into the US market. Seeing the success that Ho was having with her English singles, Herz put forth to Kong the potential for Ho to release a full English album in the mainstream market in the US.

Kong also told that the church was constantly updated of Ho’s progress and prayed for the Crossover Project to impact the whole world.

US Album Costs And Delays

Tong produced an email to show that Kong was mindful of the cost involved in producing an album in the US. Kong told the court that the budget was significant because he was aware that the Xtron directors were investing the money into the project and they trusted Kong to budget well. He had to ensure that the budget was sound and reasonable and that their investments would not go into the red. In the event the sales of the album were not forthcoming, he would be at least satisfied by the fact that the budget was reasonable. At the same time, Kong was also persuaded by Herz’s credibility to deliver what was promised, as well as his ability to connect Ho with good songwriters, musicians and producers.

Kong told the court that his mindset at that time was that whatever was done in the US had to benefit the Crossover work in Asia. The goal had to remain that the Great Commission was fulfilled through the venture.

According to Kong, the English album which included Ho’s successful singles and a few more songs, was slated to be launched in February 2006. Herz was not satisfied with the product as it did not have that “smash hit”. Kong explained that Herz invited songwriter and producer Wyclef Jean (formerly of The Fugees) to “polish up” the album. Jean was the successful producer of Colombian singer Shakira’s big break into the US English market with the number one song “Hips Don’t Lie”. Jean wanted Ho to do a Asian-Reggae fusion album—akin to Shakira’s Latino-reggae album. This led to the production of the single “China Wine” and the re-recording of the album.

However, Ho felt uncomfortable with the Asian reggae direction for the album, and also, Jean’s asking price was too high and Kong asked Herz to keep negotiating for a better price. The negotiation eventually broke down in 2008 and Ho was subsequently managed by Johnny Wright, whose clients include Justin Timberlake and Jonas Brothers.

Details, Details

When Hanafi was on the stand last year, the court saw several emails sent by Serina Wee that contained the budget for the US album. Kong confirmed that he was the one who gave her the information which was based on the discussions he had with Herz.

The court saw emails in which Kong told Herz to consider the “maximum expenses” when planning the budget so that Kong would not need to keep going back to Hanafi for approval in case of budget overruns.

The court also saw an email discussion between Herz and Kong on a five-year profit and loss projection drawn up by Sony Music vice-president Lisa Ellis. The attached spreadsheet showed projected revenue and expenses of the US album, which included tours, digital album, digital single, concert tours and other licensing and merchandise fees. The email showed a list of questions posed by Kong to Herz asking him for more conservative models for the projection and clarifying different items on the spreadsheet.

Kong also explained that he tasked Wee to check the workings of the spreadsheet to ensure that the calculation was accurate and the assumptions set out by Herz (for 1.5 million copies of the album to be made) were taken into consideration.

At the start of the day, Tong produced exhibits of Xtron Productions label printed on the CD sleeves of Sun Ho’s fourth and fifth albums. To emphasize his point from yesterday, it was “no secret” that Xtron was the artiste manager for Ho.

Court resumed at 2.30pm.

Source: The City News Team, CHC Trial: Kong Hee: The Budget Of The US Album Had To Be Sound And Reasonable, CityNews, http://www.citynews.sg/2014/08/chc-trial-kong-hee-the-budget-of-the-us-album-had-to-be-sound-and-reasonable/, Updated 4:51 pm, 12/08/2014. (Accessed 14/08/2014.)

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