Monday, March 8, 2010

Scams and Con Jobs. What Are They and How To Deal With Them

Con Jobs: Watch Out:for the Flim-Flam Man

The music business has a bad reputation when it comes to working with musicians. But there are rip-offs and there are RIP-OFFS. If you read about the history of this business you’ll find it littered with unscrupulous businessmen who made P.T. Barnum’s famous quote their motto: “There’s a sucker born every minute and two to take him.”

Musicians have been exploited in the past, are being exploited today, and will most likely continue to be exploited in the future, if they allow themselves to remain ignorant of business. Apparently there’s something about the very nature of the creative person that exudes the scent of an innocent lamb to hungry wolves.

Here are some of the most common ways you can be exploited.

Live Gig Con

There’s no one particular rip-off related to playing live but there are a lot of potential ways for a club or venue to weasel out of paying you. The best way to prevent exploitation is to get the deal you agreed upon in writing. However, for new artists and bands that can be easier said than done. Most local scene performers are lucky to get any kind of gig in the beginning and the only contract is an oral agreement made over the phone.

When there is no written contract, the best tip I have is for you to write a letter of agreement to the venue. Be very polite and thank them for the gig. Then just state all the issues that were agreed upon over the phone, mail it to the venue, and keep a copy for yourself. If an argument should arise, pull out your copy of the letter and do your best to fight for what is yours.

Another thing you can do to prevent not being paid properly is to have a friend of the group stand by the door and count with a hand-clicker the number of patrons entering the club. At least that puts the venue on notice that you’re an alert and professional musician who won’t easily be duped. Over the years I’ve talked with countless musicians who complain about not getting paid for their gigs from the same venue over and over again! Just because “it’s the only place to play, man.” Yeah, right. How stupid is that? As your career is developed and you gain a following, written contracts will become the standard operating procedure.

Bogus Compilation Albums

Have you seen ads in your local paper or national music mags that say something like “Your Music Sent To Over 800 Music Industry Contacts...Our Compilation CD Will Put Your Music Into The Hands Of The Right People!” They do that all right. They sell you the idea that for merely $400 to $800 you can have your best song on their CD. They take your money, and along with twenty other gullible artists, you’ll get your song on the compilation CD. (Hmmm…20 bands x $800 is $16,000. Not a bad deal when it only costs them $3,000 to $5,000 to make and mail the CDs.) They usually do manufacture the CD and mail it to the industry list they have. But that’s it… it’s really nothing.

Any legitimate record label will tell you that making the record is only the beginning of what a record label does. Once the record is finished, the real work begins. “Working” the record is what it’s all about. And working a record takes time, a lot of money, great contacts, and patience.

This type of compilation CD is paid for by naive musicians who fork over their money to these sleazy companies. They’re happy to take your money, manufacture a limited number of the CDs, and then disappear from your life forever. They may send you a few copies of the record as part of their contract with you, but when you call them to see what’s happening to the CDs after the mail-out, you’ll never be able to reach them. They’ve moved to a new location, changed their addresses and phone numbers, and you’re left wearing the dunce cap.

Shopping for a Record Deal

One of the potentially riskiest endeavors for musicians is when they try to find someone to shop their CD to the labels. The biggest flashing danger signal is the industry person who needs to get your money up-front before they’ll begin shopping for you. Listen to me closely: any person who takes up-front money from a musician before they begin to shop that musician’s music is a totally unprofessional fraud, a slime ball. This type of exploitation is very prevalent in the business. Any music business professional that demands such an arrangement is preying on the musician’s gullibility. Feeding on the dreams of naive musicians is a big business. There are so many wannabes out there waiting to be plucked that the temptation is to take their money and run.

So, beware. Real professionals do not ask for your money to begin the shopping process. Remember, legitimate deals are made in writing, and state such things as how long the shopper has to shop the music, and how the shopper will be paid if they’re successful in securing a contract. Please consult with your attorney before allowing anyone to shop your music.

Independent Record Promoters

This is an honorable profession. A legitimate independent promoter is someone who has (in most cases) worked for a number of years for a record label promoting records to radio stations. After they’ve worked with a label and developed their relationships and reputations within the industry, they sometimes go off and start their own independent record promotion companies. This means they have a positive track record of successfully getting songs on the radio. They’re usually genre specialists—Top 40, Urban, Alternative, AAA, etc.

When it comes to negotiating with independent record promoters, go slowly—do your research. Ask around about the reputation of the company or person. Meet with them. Ask a lot of questions about what they expect from you and what their rates are. A good independent Rep can cost $400 to $1,000 a week and you’ll need their services for at least two or three months. Don’t consider hiring an independent radio promotion person without having secured a distribution deal for your release. If a company is willing to take you on and never asks how you’re going to sell your record, they’re most likely a rip-off company.

All good independent promotion companies have some kind of relationship or partnership with a retail and distribution person who is working your release to the music stores while the radio promotion person is working the airwaves.

Songwriting Scams

I can remember reading ads for songwriters in newspapers and entertainment magazines when I was a kid. These companies were looking for songs of any kind and promised a lot of money for the songs you wrote. When you sent off your songs you got this amazing letter back saying what an incredible songwriter you were. For a mere $1,000 you could register your song with them and be on the road to riches because they had “many contacts in the business who know how to make money with great songs like yours.”

Today these songwriting scams are still going on. The legitimate publishing business does not work this way. The legitimate songwriting and publishing business is as hard a nut to crack as getting a recording contract.
There are many wonderful songwriting organizations, associations, and clubs that sponsor contests and showcase opportunities. Just remember that even though they’re mostly legitimate they’re also lotteries in a sense. People do win these contests, but a very small percentage of them go on to long lasting careers as songwriters. Instead of gambling with your talent, build it.

If all you do is write songs, find singers to sing them, develop songwriting partnerships and record a good quality demo. Then search out the legitimate publishing companies who will never ask you for any money up-front before they work with you. If you write and sing your own songs, then form a group and get out there and play as many gigs as you can. If your songs are good, and people are showing up in growing numbers to hear them, believe me it will be a lot easier for the legit companies to find you.

Get it in Writing

So many of the things I’ve examined could have been avoided if the musician had taken the time to get a promise or an offer down in writing. That’s what an entertainment law attorney is there for, to help you protect your best interests. So, find a reputable attorney by asking other musicians and band members who they use. Never sign any contracts without first having an attorney look at them.
There are no shortcuts to success, and there are no formulas for success either. There are, however, a lot of exploiters out there waiting for opportunities to cash in on unsuspecting musicians. To beat the odds, you need to be dedicated, talented, and streetwise. You need to ask questions and even question the answers if you’re not satisfied with them.

Possible Internet Scams

Now that the technology of streaming music content and downloadable music opportunities have collided head-on with the plethora of Internet companies eager to exploit any music content the careful musician should be on the lookout for a new generation of exploiters offering deals to good too be true. Watch out for scam A&R Rep websites who are cruising the Internet looking for naive bands and solo artists to lure into their phony record label deals.

To avoid exploiters, you need to be an active participant in building your career, on and offline, and you need to stop thinking there are shortcuts to success. There aren’t any.

What is more troubling to me these days concerning Internet scams, is this: 10 years ago or so people like me and other knowledgeable veterans of the music business wars started websites, and more recently Blogs that were dedicated to helping musicians understand how the music industry works and what they, as artists and bands, should do to get their careers up and running, while learning the ins and outs of this unique business.

That’s all well and good. However, now after a decade or more of these legitimate sites, we now are faced with a different kind of ‘content pirate’, younger people who have decided to copy and paste legitimate articles by these music biz professionals, and just steal that content, put their names on the articles, and start their own very questionable sites. I will not mention by name any of these unscrupulous sites or people who steal outright the knowledge and wisdom of legitimate professionals. I want nothing to do with them.

So how can you tell if a website or Blog is run by a legitimate person?

Well, take the time to Google their names. Track them through and/or track down through references these people who are credited as the author of whatever information they claim to be an expert on. That is always a good idea anyway. In the music business you should demand to know the credentials of everyone you choose to work with, and as the old saying goes “give credit where credit is due”.

Copyright 2010 Christopher Knab All Rights Reserved
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  1. That you for all that fantastic advise and taking the time to post it for us..

  2. Wow…this post tingled my toes. I’m so full of admiration and respect for firefighters in general and now you in particular Stewart. Thank you for sharing.
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