Music Business Scams
Scams, And How To Avoid Them
Music business scams seem to be everywhere in the music industry. When it comes to songwriting, well sometimes it feels like a thankless task. You rack your brains for days, sometimes weeks, sometimes years on end to come up with something new and original, a new hook that’s going to catapult you into the big league! Maybe a new and unusual chord progression or a knockout lyric that is irresistible.
Enter the music snake-oil salesperson. They dangle false opportunities to tempt you. They trade on your dreams and desires.
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In reality, most of us like to think we write good songs, but they’re probably not! We probably write average songs that are never going to make it into the big league. We write songs that our friends think are great because they’re our friends. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop writing. One of the biggest-selling songs of all time is still making lots of money for its writer. He never had any real success with any other song, so it’s worth plugging away. To write better songs, you need to keep writing songs. It’s called practice!
What was the song?
One of the greatest leaps forward for aspiring songwriters (as far as I’m concerned) is the advent of the World Wide Web. The window of opportunity has been thrown wide open to us as regards a global audience. It is now a matter of a few mouse clicks to set up a website and display your songwriting skills to an unlimited audience. The Indie music scene is growing at an astonishing rate and you can download some very good music FREE and legally.
Of course, there is a downside to this huge global village!
Music Snake-Oil Salespeople - SCAM MERCHANTS!
One of the biggest pitfalls for songwriters is the number of music business scams out there. It seems there are a great many talented people thinking up as many new ways to part us from our cash, as there are good songwriters. The really annoying thing is, most of these music industry scams are legal! Some are easily spotted and ignored by the great majority. Some are less obvious and lure many unsuspecting wannabes. And some are brilliantly executed and fool hundreds maybe thousands of people!
I hope to show here, how these scams work and what to look out for in the ‘music marketplace’.
Music Business Scams
It’s a fact that there are an awful lot of lyric writers out there looking for musical collaborators. There are many lyricists around that play no musical instruments at all, and are ever hopeful that somebody with a flair for a good tune is going to appear and magically transform their written word into the next big hit for Robbie Williams! The fact is, it’s not always easy for musicians to write music to somebody else’s lyrics. I know, I’ve tried! And trying to come up with something the lyricist is happy with is even harder! This is where the melody writer makes his/her appearance.
The melody writer pops up everywhere and offers to write a melody for your lyric for a fee. Here’s an example:
“Hi my name is Stefanovich and I will help you find the next hit tune!
With your wonderful lyrics, I will create for you a number-one hit melody! For a one-off fee of $25 I will transform your beautiful words into blah blah blah…”
So you send off your $25 and your lyric and you get back a melody. This could be a piano part or anything really? What you don’t know is, how many other lyricists are using this same melody. Does this melody actually fit the words of the song?
Usually, these people post up their message in a forum somewhere and the webmasters are onto it in a flash and remove the offending post. Sometimes they slip through and stay for a day or two before they are noticed. But either way, THIS IS OFTEN A SCAM.
If you are a lyricist in need of a collaborator, post on a reputable forum. There are plenty of forums around that can help you out. Some even have sections where you can register your requirements as a lyricist in need of a collaborator.
If you decide to collaborate with somebody, you should come to an agreement (preferably in writing) of any future use for your song and what percentage split of any profits. This is generally a 50/50 split. Scam or not, your inability to know that it is a unique melody should be warning enough. You should NEVER pay for a melody for this basis alone, never mind a hundred others.
Old-School Scam - The Compilation CD
There are companies (individuals) that make Compilation CDs for distribution to various labels and radio stations. What these companies (Individuals) do, is perfectly legal. Here’s how it works.
They trawl the boards of places like songplanet or soundclick and look for new or likely-looking songs that have been posted. They then send you an email saying that your song has been chosen to appear on a select compilation CD. Or something like that. Here is part of an email I received shortly after posting a song at soundclick. (I have changed the names for legal reasons)
“I noticed that you are an aspiring songwriter. My name is Bert Scam and I am the founder of Scam Music, a site geared toward the discovery and recognition of emerging and developing songwriting talent. We are currently welcoming submissions from solo acts or bands of any age group or music genre that would be interested in appearing on one of our 2004 Compilation CDs, which will be distributed to various record labels and radio stations nationwide.
If any of your songs are invited to appear, each CD would contain your contact information for listeners interested in getting more info on your music. ………”
It then goes on to give details of how to submit your song and the website address where you can check out the credibility of the proposition. So off you go and check it out and when you’ve read all the blurb, (Which all sounds very plausible) right at the very bottom of the page is the price! In this case, it was $50. This is just to cover the administration and production costs…
So you submit your best song, send off your $50 and wait. After a time you receive an email informing you that your song has been chosen to appear in the July issue (or April or whenever) of the CD. So you wait some more, and eventually, you receive a CD with your track on and a load of others.
I checked out the site of the above Bert Scam and discovered it had a forum, which I found a little surprising…
So I read a few of the posts wondering if they were genuine or not. The great majority of posters were seeking reassurance from each other that they were doing the right thing! I was again surprised to see how many had sent $50 to this guy! So I decided to contact a few of the posters to see if they were satisfied with the service they had received. This was typical of the replies I received. (And I did get quite a few replies)
“I’m very glad to hear from you. I am very unsatisfied. As an aspiring musician, when I received word that I would be involved in a compilation of the “cream of the crop” as they said, I was very excited. But when I received a burnt cd with a handmade cover, I was very upset. The whole thing is definitely a scam and if the entire purpose of this record was to be sent to “major labels” and radio stations that will never even listen to it then it was a huge waste of 50 dollars and then 10 dollars for an additional burnt cd.
I did have one email back giving a more positive response.
I can understand your skepticism, however, there’s no need for that – I sent off my $50 and got a receipt email…..about 4 months later, I got my CD, and my band was the 2nd track…so it was all good. My one criticism would be that the standard of the songs isn’t, in my opinion, all that high…however that’s a subjective argument.
So, basically, it isn’t a scam, and I’m waiting for any feedback I get from the distribution of this CD (the distribution is taking place from now till around December, so fingers crossed!).
I guess it depends on how you define “scam”, but I suspect there will be little response to this band’s hopes and dreams through this venture.
I have scoured the net for information on this type of offer and the conclusion is this.
Surely They Get Listened To By A&R People?
VIRTUALLY NOBODY LISTENS TO THESE CDs.
Top A&R people DO NOT accept unsolicited submissions.
Radio stations DO NOT listen to countless numbers of compilation CDs in the hope of finding a good song.
These CDs are NOT put together with the ‘Cream of the Crop’ songs. They contain the songs of every person that is prepared to pay $50. Regardless of the quality of the song!
Can you imagine Bert Scam turning down $50 because you’ve submitted a below-average song? The CDs are burnt, not pressed. You could do that yourself at home!
They are sent to A&R execs at top labels, and maybe a few radio stations. That fulfills the legal obligation of Bert Scam. You could do the same yourself! Perform a search for record labels in Google, and send your own stuff away, at least that way you know IF anybody listens to the CD, they are going to be listening to you!
Better still, do some research on how to submit your music! There is a world wide web full of good advice out there!
Online Music/Songwriting Contests
This is a very grey area. Music contests, song contests, songwriting competitions etc., by their very nature, have to generate money! If a cash prize is offered, then the money has to come from somewhere. This usually (But not always) comes from entrance fees and/or sponsorship.
It must be said that a lot of song contests are genuine and respected events that generate interest from the ‘business’. Some however are more dubious affairs that generate money for the organizers and do very little else in the way of forwarding the talent on show!
Bear in mind there are likely to be less obvious costs. For example, the rights you give away to the competition regarding your material.
If your sole intention in entering a song contest is to win a cash prize, then there is little reason to research the competition. But if you think your song is good enough to win? Then why not spend some time and find out what you are entering? If your song IS good enough to win, then it would make sense to enter a competition that could do your musical career some good!
What Makes A 'Good' Competition?
There are several things to consider here. The main ones for me would be,
Who is sponsoring this competition and why? Labels? Companies? Institutions? Celebrities? Nobody puts their name to half-assed projects that are going to fail or be derided or worse, ignored by the press. Sponsors put their names in competitions that will show them in a good light and are well respected by the business and the media. They will run a mile before sponsoring anything even remotely dubious.
Who is going to judge the competition? Are they qualified to judge? What are their credentials? Do the judges have an understanding of your genre of music? The judges of any competition should be named from the start. That gives any potential entrant a chance to find out about the validity of any judge! If there are different categories, are there different judges? Be very wary of competitions that state “Judges to be announced later”, or “Secret panel of judges”. This usually means they can’t find anybody to do it!
Now it may sound like an obvious thing to say, but look at the prizes on offer! The top prize should not just be a cheque for x amount of dollars, it should carry with it something that could help promote you as an artist or songwriter. Maybe some professional studio time with a top producer or some guaranteed radio play. If you want to progress in this business, then you need as much help as you can get! Having a cheque for $5000 would be very nice, but having a few tracks recorded with a top producer could be even more beneficial in the long run!
Who is covering this competition? If you win, who will know? Is it prestigious enough that anyone will care who wins? Are there any mentions of a particular contest in any of the music papers or online music sites? Again, it pays to do a little research. I guess if you’re reading this article, you’ll have internet access. Do some searches and get some information before you send any money.
Music Industry Scams Round Up
The whole purpose of this article is to make one thing perfectly clear. IF your music is good enough, people will be offering you money, not asking you for it!
Use your common sense to help avoid music business scams.
For example, if you are thinking of looking for a musical collaborator, you should come to a mutual agreement on terms. Look around music forums/bulletin boards/musicians social groups to see what others are doing. Ask questions! But don’t pay for melodies.
Compilation CDs, what’s the point? If you want to try this hit-and-miss approach, burn your own and send them off! Better still, join the ISA or Taxi. They give out up-to-the-minute information on who is looking for what in the music business. That way you’ll not only get a contact name and address, but you’ll also be able to target your specific genre of music to the people that are looking for it!
Competitions. Be very sure of your talent when entering a big competition. Some of the bigger ones attract a lot of entries from very talented people. I would advise starting out with local talent shows in your area! If you start winning these, then would be a good time to move up the ladder. But please take into consideration the points outlined above!
Lastly. I would like to point out that this is a business! That’s why it’s called the “Music Business”.
As such, you have to think and act like a business person if you want to succeed. People who enter into ANY business half-heartedly, invariably fail. Even those who are generally good business people sometimes fail. When, as an artist, you decide to enter the music business arena, then you have to become savvy with the rules of the game! Research is probably the most important tool you can have. The WWW is full of advice and guidance. Use it wisely!
The music business is a hard place to be. There are very few ‘Golden Opportunities’ and most musicians are destined to play the local pubs and clubs for as long as they can stand it! Some are quite happy to be local heroes with a good following. Others give up the ghost and get proper jobs!
I would like to personally thank the artists and songwriters that responded to my request for information.
I wish everyone on the long and rocky road to fame and glory, GOOD LUCK!
( A sturdy pair of walking boots and thick outer skin might come in handy as well…)
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