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What NOT To Pay for in Your Music Career

Avoiding Music Business Scams


It is astonishingly easy to get ripped off in the music industry. Music business scams abound, and people trying to break into the industry make ripe targets. Getting caught up in a music industry scam might not put the kibosh on your career forever, but it could set you back a serious amount of cash, thereby compromising your progress. You can avoid a lot of music business rip-offs simply by knowing what you should pay for and what you shouldn't. Here are a list of things that SHOULDN'T have you reaching for your wallet. (Note: make sure to read the fine print, because some of these situations can have gray areas.):

  1. To Access Music Industry Contact Details: Here's a promise: at some point in your music career, especially if you are a musician, someone is going to try to sell you a list of phone numbers and/or email addresses for labels, agents, managers, etc. Bad, bad idea.

    First of all, you have no way of knowing if the info is legit. Second, if that really is the private Blackberry number of head honcho X at label Y, just how thrilled do you think they're going to be to receive your call? Third, you have computer access, right? Spend a few hours with a list of your desired contacts and a search engine, and you're likely to track down the best way to reach that person yourself. Labels are hip to the fact that people want them to check out their demos, and to save themselves the trouble of fielding endless requests about how to send them, they generally make their desired methods of contact public information. Ditto for other music industry types, like managers and so on. If you can't find the info you need yourself, for free, then there is probably a reason.

    The gray area? There are a few industry guides published every year to which labels submit their contact information for this very purpose. These books can be handy to have, and you can relax knowing that (most) of the people listed in the book have opted in and specified their desired contact method. Still, most of the information you need is still available for free online.

  2. To Play a Show: OK, if you're still building an audience, you may not get paid a lot to play a show. You may not get paid at all. You may end up out of pocket when you figure in the expense of getting to the show. That's reality. But don't jack up your costs by paying some promoter or venue to let you take to the stage.

    You may be asked to pay a fee to play a "showcase" gig for "industry professionals." Occasionally these shows actually do put you in front of media and labels. Often, they don't. At the very least, you should weigh up these opportunities very, very carefully. I believe that there are many other free avenues you can take and that you should avoid these shows as a rule. Proceed with caution.

    The real gray area here is the tour buy-on.

  3. To Get a Track on a Comp: Buying your way onto a comp is a pretty common scenario, and it's not good. You should especially be wary of small companies with no track record who ask you to shell out to be on a CD they're putting out.

    There is very little gray area here. You may find yourself in a situation in which you are contributing to production costs of a comp as part of an agreement with fellow musicians that you all plan to self release, but other situations in which it makes sense to pay to get on a comp are few and far between.

  4. To Get Advice: This is a tricky, tricky one. I know that there are some legitimate music industry consultants out there that do charge for their services. I know some very smart, knowledgable people do music industry consultancy for a fee and give their clients great advice about how the industry works. The flipside of this is that there are many, many consultants out there who charge musicians an hourly rate for the privilege of receiving basic (at best) or bad (at worst) advice. This is not money well spent, and it could send you down the wrong road in terms of reaching your goal.

    Before you pay for the services of a music consultant, find out what you can about their background and their past clients. Beware of people who promise to make you a star in a very short period of time - in fact, beware anyone who guarantees they can make you a star, period. Look for someone who can motivate you while being realistic, and above all else, look for a good price. It would be silly to divert money from, say, promotion to paying for these services. A great thing to look for is a consultant who can offer you advice while doing something tangible for your career, like a manager or a PR person you can call on for advice. That way you're getting more bang for your buck as this person isn't merely supervising but is actually invested in your career.

    You should also know that one-size-fits-all solutions are difficult to come by in the music industry. For a consultant to be really effective at helping you, they will need to know a lot about your music, your background and your goals.

    Gray area? None. Do your homework - twice - before hiring a music industry consultant or paying for any kind of music advice. There is a wealth of free information and advice out there, and you can likely find the answers to your questions without opening your wallet.

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