ZHU Facing $3.5M Lawsuit Over Alleged Contract Breach

Steven Zhu, the electronic music artist who records under the mononym ZHU, is being sued by longtime collaborator David Dann in a California state court. ZHU has collaborated with Tame Impala, Tinashe, AlunaGeorge, Majid Jordan, and others. Dann, the founder of Mind of a Genius Records and a music producer, filed his lawsuit against Zhu and various limited liability companies in July 2020, according to documents viewed by Pitchfork.

In the lawsuit, David Dann and his legal team allege that Zhu breached written and oral contracts with Dann; they also accuse Zhu of promissory fraud. Dann is asking for at least $3.45 million in damages.

“David shared a great deal of positive history with Steven, and was instrumental to the inception of ZHU,” John Vafa, Dann’s attorney, said in a statement to Pitchfork. “It is unfortunate that the relationship reached litigation. Artists are obviously entitled to their share, as are the teams and individuals behind their success. David hopes to resolve this matter amicably and wishes nothing but the best for Steven.”

In documents filed in September 2020, Zhu and his lawyers argue that Dann’s case has no merit. “Dann’s lawsuit is factually and legally frivolous,” Matt Rosengart, Zhu’s attorney, told Pitchfork. “His counsel has been placed on notice that their suit subjects them to monetary sanctions, as well as a separate lawsuit for malicious prosecution once their ill-advised, desperate, and fabricated claims are dismissed and my client is vindicated. In the interim, we have filed a motion to dismiss based on the suit’s complete lack of merit, and we will shortly be filing a cross-complaint against Dann for monetary relief and disgorgement.”

The case is currently scheduled to be heard in court on February 25, 2021. 

In the complaint, David Dann says that he and Steven Zhu met in 2013. Dann alleges that Zhu showed him “a melody for what would later become the topline” for the song “Faded,” and that he worked with Zhu to finish the song.

The song was released on April 20, 2014 via Mind of a Genius. The track peaked at No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart and earned ZHU a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording.

Citing the success of the collaboration, Dann says he quit his own career to work with Zhu and that Zhu joined Mind of a Genius “as an equal partner.” According to the complaint, Dann sought talent manager Jake Udell and his TH3RD BRAIN management company in 2013 to assist in managing Zhu’s career.

Here is where Dann and Zhu’s stories begin to differ: Dann says that in October 2013, Zhu entered into a Management Agreement with Jake Udell, who would be paid “20% of all music-related income Zhu earned,” and that the commission would be “owed ‘in perpetuity.’”

At the same time, Dann says that he entered into a Producer Agreement with Zhu that would give Dann a 10% commission. Dann claims that the terms of his agreement mirrored the terms of Udell’s, meaning he, too, would get commission in perpetuity.

In their objection to the lawsuit, Zhu and his team claim that the Management Agreement is “materially different” from the Producer Agreement and that the Management Agreement “does not provide Dann any relevant contractual rights.”

Dann says that he and Zhu “worked successfully together” from October 2013 until December 2019. Dann says that, in that time, he produced songs for ZHU, recruited guest artists to feature on tracks, worked with Udell to promote ZHU’s career, and earned his 10% commission. All the while, Dann claims that “Zhu expressly acknowledged in several written and oral communications” the terms of the Producer Agreement.

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