A Former ‘New York Times’ Reporter Allegedly Exploited Artists For Personal Gain

A new report from Input Magazine alleges that a former reporter at The New York Times exploited a number of artists for personal gain. Ian Urbina is accused of seeking out artists to give him music that he would put on a soundtrack to accompany the release of his book The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across The Last Untamed Frontier, which arrived in August of 2019. Urbina described it as a “passion project” and said that a company, Synesthesia Media, would handle the distribution of the music through streaming services. He also claimed that $50,000 was earmarked for the project and that Spotify, Netflix, and book publishing house Knopf were all building content around the soundtrack.

The deal Urbina worked out with the artists that submitted music to him involved him receiving 50% of the revenue they made from the song(s). In exchange, he promised to use his platform and the interest generated behind the project to promote the artists and their work. He claimed that the artists would receive a bigger boost in their careers through working with him.

But many of the artists claim that the promotion behind the songs was extremely minimal. One, Benn Jordan, who performs under the name The Flashbulb, made a video about Urbina’s project, which he called a “scam,” and shared it on YouTube.

In the end, at least 462 artists partnered with Urbina and more than 2,100 songs in total were submitted to him. Brian Trifon, who works under the alias Trifonic, says he signed on to work with Urbina, but after suspecting something was off with the project, he ended up submitting a single song rather than the EP that was part of their agreement. “I saw that there was a good chance the scope was expanding to more than just a handful of artists,” he said. “97 percent was my materials and sounds and I was no longer thrilled to be giving up 50 percent of it.”

He added, “But there was no Netflix, Spotify, Knopf or NYT special support. It was all 100 percent about his book and even that, not many people seemed to care. I’ve worked in music long enough that I know that sh*t happens and I just moved on, but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Urbina declined to comment about the matter and directed Input to a statement published by Synesthesia. “The video is inaccurate,” it read, adding that the project’s goal was to amplify journalism, highlight issues covered by the reporting, “and if possible, to develop additional funding to support more reporting.” It continues, “We deeply value our artist relationships. We have always wanted our partners to share our vision.” The statement also says that artists no longer interested in signing off a portion of their revenue to Urbina can release themselves from the agreement and that Synesthesia will “direct 100 percent of all such revenues to the artist.”

Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokesperson for NYT, says the publication is aware of Jordan’s video. “The allegations are troubling,” she says. “We are currently looking into the matter.” Urbina departed the New York Times on May 30, 2019.

You can read the full report from Input Magazine here and view the video from Jordan above.