Don’t Fall For Music Industry Scams!
(Be Smart and Do Your Research!)
Scammers and con men are a part of every industry and the music business is no exception. As a matter of fact, there seem to be scores of unscrupulous individuals trying to take advantage of musicians’ lofty dreams. That being said, you have to approach all potential opportunities with cautious optimism. Even though the music industry is full of sharks, you will be offered legitimate opportunities as well, so try to avoid ruining a great opportunity due to an overly defensive attitude. Remember, save the hard-ass business tactics for when a contract is actually on the table or money is changing hands. Once a deal gets to that point, you can take it up a notch, but it’s important to learn all the details first.
I’m going to define some types of people and businesses that could potentially scam you out of some cash. However, it’s possible that many of these people and businesses could be completely legit too, so it’s up to you to do some detective work. Here we go…
Consultants are abundant in many industries. They are supposed to be experts in their field. In the music business, consultants are often ex-industry people (record company executives, A & R reps, producers, songwriters, managers, etc.) who have either had success in the business or claim to have had success at some point. So, if a consultant is asking you for a fee (monthly or lump sum) in order to bring your career to the next level, what should you do? You better do your homework before handing them a dime! First let’s classify “consultants” in three possible ways.
1) Totally full of it! – These people have never had any significant success in the music business, but they talk a good game. You’ll have to watch out for these hustlers. They’ll namedrop and talk your ear off. Don’t fall for it!
2) Ex-Bigwig – The music industry has changed so much in recent years that many previously important industry players have been made irrelevant due to the new generation, record company struggles, downsizing, different business models, etc. Many of these “consultants” try to dangle their former credits in hopes of luring in starry-eyed musicians. They will offer to “get you to the next level” for a fee, but you have to ask yourself some very important questions before you enter into any agreements with these people. Are their contacts still relevant or are they dated? When was their last significant credit – five, ten, twenty years ago? Are they just telling you what you want to hear? These types of “consultants” are the most dangerous of the three in my opinion because of their impressive resumes and ability to make artists feel “special”. If you don’t believe me, read this great article from the Huffington post about a man who got scammed in exactly this way.
3) The Legit Badass – These “consultants” actually have current connections, relevancy and they can help your career. They are the people everyone wants to work with, but unfortunately they are very rare. Also, they typically don’t advertise or namedrop as much, because they are already in-demand.
It seems like everyone and their brother is claiming to be a producer nowadays. This is probably the largest category of fakers out there and you really have to do your research in order to find out who is for real. Before you sign anything with a producer or pay them a dime, you must make sure they are legit and compliment your style of music. Producers can be categorized in four ways.
1) Totally full of it! – These people are pretty easily identifiable because their music will most likely sound like crap. That being said, they’ll be able to talk a really big game and namedrop more than you thought was humanly possible. Use your ears and instinct to stay away from these gargoyles.
2) Legit, but not that current – These producers had some success a while back, but they haven’t done anything commercially successful in a while. This doesn’t mean that they’re lacking in skills or musicality; in fact they might be a perfect fit for your music. It really just depends on your style and if you gel with their aesthetic. And the real question is…what are they offering you? If they are simply promising to make your track sound awesome in their own production style (which you’re already fond of), then by all means you may have found a good match. But if they are claiming to be able to shop your track successfully and make you famous, you have to ask yourself some important questions. Why haven’t they produced a popular song in a while? Do they still have those A-List connections? How hard will they really push your music?
3) Current and Talented, but not the right fit – These producers are successful but don’t share your genre and/or aesthetic. It’s important that you find a producer that matches your vision, vibe and market. Just because someone is talented and connected in one genre doesn’t mean that they can easily cross over to another. Sometimes a producer like this will take on your project for the right amount of money, but you should consider their motives carefully. Are they really going to help you shop your music or are they just after your cash? Also, will you be happy with the results? Will it still sound like you? You have to think about all the variables here.
4) Just Right – These producers are the perfect fit. They know how to enhance your sound while retaining the essence. They have the right connections and they believe in what you’re doing. If you hook up with one of these producers it could be a match made in Narnia! That being said, you still must do some detective work and use your instincts before plopping down your life savings. Be smart!
Some engineers with major album credits may also try to bring you into their studio for a high price. Remember that engineering (and owning a studio) is a very competitive business and they’re constantly hustling for gigs just like the rest of us. Choosing an engineer and a studio should depend upon how well they can make your track(s) sound. Only in very rare circumstances will an engineer or a studio actually shop your music. Most of the time they just get paid by the hour (or day) like everyone else. I’m not going to tell you to avoid paying top dollar for a good studio or engineer…that would be silly. Just be cautious if you are promised any actual career success due to their connections. If grandiose promises are made, do your homework and find out how many people actually got famous due to these “connections”. Get the facts!
A lot of people claim to have been managers for high profile artists. Many of these “managers” attribute the great success of these artists to their guidance and/or management. This is another shark filled category and you must find out who’s for real and who’s full of it. If one of these managers is offering to break you into the business for a fee, you need to take a step back and do some serious detective work. First of all, are they still working for these high-profile artists that they’re speaking of? If not, why did they part ways? Can you find any information online about the relationship between this manager and the artist? Can you find any horror stories or warnings in the musician forums or communities? Do Your Homework!
WEBSITES & SERVICES
Remember that there are no shortcuts for music industry success (unless you get incredibly lucky…LOL). When a website requests money in order to get your music to the right people, you should be skeptical. If it were that easy, everyone would be famous by now. Instead, most of these websites have created business models that profit from the eagerness of musicians to get discovered. It’s the same eagerness and passion that brings about 100,000 people to the American Idol auditions every year. It’s also why there are countless websites offering to get your music heard or placed after you sign up for their premium plan, etc. Musicians are constantly looking for their “big break” and opportunistic companies will always be there to pounce on an easy target. Now I’m not going to badmouth any specific websites and I’m sure that there are some good reasons for certain companies to ask for this kind of money, but be careful. Do some Internet research and see if a company is reputable before dropping your hard earned money. OK, that’s my rant…so I am going to break down a few typical online business models…
1) Get Discovered – There are many sites that claim to get your music to the “right people” or expose you to the “right market”. Some of these sites are free to use and therefore you have very little to lose. Unfortunately others offer premium memberships or submission fees which can cost quite a bit of money. Before you cough up your dough for a premium membership or purchase the opportunity to pitch your song to a record label, do your research! How many people have had success due to this site? Did they make more money than they spent? Note: You obviously can’t trust the success stories printed on these websites, you’ll have to do your own digging. So again, do some research and find out what experiences real musicians have had with their services. Don’t worry…I’ll get to some search methods later in this article.
2) Get Licensed – There are a lot of websites that claim to be linked to music supervisors and influential people in the TV, film and media industries. Most of these sites have a sample job listing area and are plastered with fantastic success stories in order to lure you in. Also, some of these sites have an impressive board of directors loaded with ex-music industry execs, so they seem more legit. Again, if these services are free of charge, you have very little to lose. Unfortunately most of these sites either demand a paid membership package or are priced by the submission (song, job, etc.). It’s vital that you do some research and find out what experiences real musicians have had with this website before plopping down your hard earned cash. Now let’s be clear…I’m not trying to bash every company that offers a paid service. Some of them are totally legit. I’m just telling you to be smart and do some detective work. In the case that you’re investigating a new website and there’s no info to be found, it’s really your call. If it’s relatively cheap, you might want to take the chance. Basically, just use your best judgment.
3) Get Gigs – Some websites claim to be able to get you performing gigs, composing gigs and more. They are supposedly connected with big companies and/or influential people. Again, if it’s free, go for it! You should always be trying to put yourself out there and you have nothing to lose. If they are asking for a fee, you should think it over very carefully. The truth is, every professional musician knows that you must make personal relationships in order to get the big gigs. This includes live performance, composition, licensing and more. We would all love to be able to get a big gig or a job from the comfort of our living room (without dealing with the people and the politics), but it’s very unlikely. Most of the time when a musician gets hired for a great gig/job, it’s either directly from a friend, a colleague or a referral. These golden connections (friends, colleagues, referrals) are due to you building your reputation as a great musician and a cool person. That will get you much further than any service in my opinion, but I don’t want to bash these websites entirely…I’m sure they have their place. Just be aware that most people in need of musicians don’t have to hire a service or a website to help them, because they have a solid list of contacts in front of them already. If you want to be on that list, go out and start making awesome connections. All you have to do is be great and cool (no problem)!
4) Contests – Music contests cover a wide range including songwriting, instrumental performance, producing, mixing, re-mixing, composing and much more. Some of these contests are great and some are not. Some are free to enter and some are quite expensive. Since there is usually a good amount of chatter about these contests on the forums, communities and message boards, you should do some thorough detective work. Again, if you’re entering a free contest there is very little to worry about except for the submission contract. You have to make sure to read the “terms or service” or contract/agreement before submitting any material. You could unknowingly be giving away certain rights or possibly even entering into a binding contract. I don’t want to make you paranoid here, but you must read the fine print. Also, some contests charge you per submission or per category, which can really add up quickly. Note: I’m not saying that you should avoid entering into a contest just because it’s expensive. The expensive contest might actually be the best one for you to enter, but you need to find out for sure.
OK, so hopefully I’ve succeeded in making you incredibly paranoid and distrustful towards every company, website and person related to the music industry…LOL. So, how do you find out the truth? It’s all about the Internet, so let’s start from the beginning.
1) Official Website – You can find out a lot about a person or a business when you look at their official website. Is it clean? Does it look like it was made in 1997? Are there any musical samples on the site? If so, does the music sound professionally produced and does it fit your aesthetic? Do you see any pictures, contact info, recent news, etc.? Essentially you want to ensure that the site looks professional, impressive and gels with what you are doing. In the case that you see a lot of success stories and customer praise written on the site, you can probably disregard that completely. After all, who would put a quote on their site like, “This Guy Sucks!” – Rolling Stone Magazine.
2) Web Search – Web searches are a musician’s best friend, especially when you are trying to dig up dirt on a company or an individual. The first thing you’ll want to do is a basic search with a name and some specific keywords. If you’re researching a business, it might look something like:
“My Music Masterclass”
“My Music Masterclass” music lessons
“My Music Masterclass” review
“My Music Masterclass” complaint
“My Music Masterclass” scam
“My Music Masterclass” article
“My Music Masterclass” rip off
“My Music Masterclass” ripoff
“mymusicmasterclass” music lessons
“mymusicmasterclass” rip off
Every one of these lines represents a separate web search. It’s important that you search multiple times with different keywords in order to get the results you need. You’ll notice that I put quotes around the website’s name, both with spaces and without. The quotes ensure that Google (or another search engine) will search for that exact phrase. You want to avoid getting results like:
“Dave brought his guitar to my studio to play some music. He really gave me a masterclass on rhythm playing”.
The reason I included the version with no spaces (mymusicmasterclass) is because Google will find URL links that people have posted, like:
“Have you seen this site, www.mymusicmasterclass.com? They’re totally legit!”
That’s a true statement by the way…LOL. Anyway, you want to do searches with both the spaces (My Music Masterclass) and without (mymusicmasterclass). It’s a lot of work, but if you get some different results, it’ll be worth it. Next, you’ll notice that I put a bunch of keywords after the quotes in hope of getting some relevant hits. Be creative with your keywords and think about how someone else would write about the site or company you are researching. If you’re worried that you might get ripped off, use words like “rip off”, “ripoff”, “complaint”, “scam”, “royalties”, etc. BTW, I spelled rip off (ripoff) in two ways on purpose. Remember, it’s the Internet and people spell things differently all the time. So be creative and go search crazy!
If you are researching a person, it might look something like this:
“Adam Small” music
“Adam Small” producer
“Adam Small” composer
“Adam Small” scam
“Adam Small” complaint
“Adam Small” success
Again, you’ll see that I used quotes around the name in order to search for the exact phrase. If you are not getting good results with the quotes, try it without them too. You have to be intelligent about your searches. For instance, what if this person (me) went by Adam M. Small? You would want to do a separate search for “Adam M. Small” too. Also, if he claimed to have produced Paul McCartney, do a search like:
“Adam Small” “Paul McCartney”
“Adam Small” producer “Paul McCartney”
“Adam Small” produced “Paul McCartney”
“Adam M. Small” producer “Paul McCartney”
You can obviously try this search with and without the quotes…there are a lot of options here. You get the idea, right?
3) Forums and Communities – Your initial searches (above) should give you some great info, but if you really want to dig up some dirt you’ll have to target the forums and communities. Musicians often post in these areas about positive and negative experiences they’ve had in the industry and this is a great way to find out what’s really going on. I’ve seen numerous people post threads about how they were scammed, how they received placements from a service and more. These discussions can be priceless and it’s important to find them! So a forum and community search might look like this:
“Adam Small” forum
“Adam Small” thread
“Adam Small” producer forum
“Adam Small” producer thread
“Adam Small” producer “Paul McCartney” thread
“Adam Small” producer “Paul McCartney” forum
“Adam Small” producer scam forum
“Adam Small” producer complaint thread
I don’t want to bore you with all of the possibilities here, but you get the idea. The words “forum” and “thread” will typically target forum search results. You can also use words like “discussion”, “conversation” or “community” instead. These words might give you different search results due to the architecture of the specific community you’re going after. Essentially, you just want to use words that are present in these areas. In forums, each topic is usually called a thread, which is why that’s a useful word to search for. So again, be creative and think outside the box!
4) Songwriting Credits – If someone is claiming to have written or co-written a famous song, you can usually find out if the info is true relatively easily. First, do a detailed web search using the techniques I showed above. If that doesn’t work, you may get lucky searching the ASCAP, BMI or SESAC databases available on their respective websites. You can search by song title, songwriter, publisher, etc. Note: there are other Performing Rights Organizations around the world, but ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are the big three in America.
So what did you find out? If you found something negative, that’s obviously a red flag. If you found nothing at all, that might be a red flag too. If you found out something positive, WooHoo! This isn’t a cut and dry science, but you have to understand how much information is available to you on the web. We live in an age where information and opinions are all around us, so we must tap into these resources and use them to our advantage.
So, be wary of “opportunities” that are too good to be true. Do your research and arm yourself with all the information you can get your hands on. If more musicians start catching on to these scammers, we can put them out of business or at least feed them to the dragons (of the House Targaryen of course)!
P.S. To learn the true secrets for music industry success, please sign up for my VIP Membership Club ($3500 a year) and recruit 28 of your friends for a 3% discount (kidding of course).