It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled – Mark Twain
Scammers and con artists 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’ and often times, unrealistic 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. Save the business tactics and negotiation for when a contract is actually on the table.
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, be careful. It is important to do your homework and talk to people who have used their services.
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 a little dangerous because of their impressive resumes and ability to make artists feel “special.”
There is also the consideration, if your motive is to produce your music old school, then these past established industry dinosaurs is just what you need. If George Martin was still alive, his techniques of recording and producing is a pattern that cannot be ignored.
Putting that aside, consultants who actually have current connections and relevancy can actually 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 scammers 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 anything, you must make sure they are legit and compliment your style of music.
Some of these producers are 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 style. 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 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?
Some are 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 money? Also, will you be happy with the results? Will it still sound like you? You have to think about all the variables here.
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. 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?
Regarding websites and services, remember that there are no shortcuts for music industry success (unless you get incredibly lucky). 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.
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.
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.
Some contributions of this post are credited to Adam Small, a fellow producer and consultant.