Music Publishing and Licensing Blog

Evil vs Good new music industry

This article explores some of the bad, questionable and evil practices and elements of the music industry. As an active long-standing member since 2002 of the Just Plain Folks music organization, I and many JPF members have seen nearly every kind of music industry sharks and scams imaginable surface for “discussion” (i.e. blatant self-promotion and spam) on the JPF forums. But the large number of active, informed members have always been wise enough to expose the “fishy” smelling business offers and scammy side of the music industry practices.

In case you’re wondering how bad, ugly and evil things can get, let’s provide some quick definitions:
Scam or Scammy
A fraudulent business scheme; a swindle.
transitive verb – scammed, scam·ming, scams
To defraud; swindle.

1. of or resembling fish, especially in taste or odor
2. creating doubt or suspicion : questionable
Examples of Fishy
i. There’s something fishy about that guy.
ii. Something’s fishy about the way he’s acting.

Before moving on, I’ll qualify that this is not an exhaustive treatise on the subject of music business or industry scams, as time and space does not permit, but we’ll try to cover some of the most common scenarios to point some of the bad/evil practices involved. Keep in mind that some of the bad, ugly and scammy practices may appear “nice and legal” on the surface, but being legal doesn’t make them any correct, ethical or moral.

I’ll share a YouTube video which gives a sad but interesting overview of some of the worst (bad, fishy, scammy, evil) side of the music industry. Please watch it for a quick orientation to the rest of this article.

The title is: A Singer-Songwriter Meets A Suit which you can open from this link or view from the embed YouTube player below:

In the video, a female singer songwriter has an interview with a music industry publisher/record label “suit”. That’s the artists and songs acquisition executive, the music industry professional in the suit who’s job is to review and sign new talent and songs.

Common pitfalls and red flags to avoid

1. The first question is: “Have you brought me fully produced recordings of your song?” This in itself is not bad or evil, as it’s very common these days for songwriters, composers and artists to record and produce their own songs, be it for selling CDs and having “radio ready” recordings for promotion and sales purposes. However, in the video, as in real life, this question leads to the darker paths of the pitfalls and red flags to avoid. Lets watch the interview unfold.

2. “Are your songs radio-friendly, up-tempo positive?” Another leading question, as perhaps any record label may legitimately be seeking this kind of music for their upcoming projects. However, watch how the interview turns on this next stereotype question:

3. “Do the songs sound exactly like ALL other females that the other major labels currently have on their roster so that the audience can not even tell the difference?” So here’s the first red flag, in that the industry appears to be seeking music artist clones instead of authentic, original, fresh material. Again, in itself this is not illegal or immoral, but sign that nothing outside a certain perceived industry “box” will be considered, much less approved, regardless whether this is what fans and audiences are actually seeking. This is the first clue that something is “fishy”, or at least not normative to genuine, creative songwriting or composing practices. In other words, what’s wrong with pitching fresh, original material which doesn’t have to sound like everyone else in the same industry?

Bad, evil or just poor taste?

4. The next question asks our female singer-songwriter how old she is, implying that if she’s any older than about 17.5 years and has a boyfriend, they are absolutely not interested. What’s going on here, maybe a bit of age descrimination or the “suit” wants something more from the singer-songwriter artist? This is not to say that some youth-oriented labels can’t be legitimately interested in young songwriting or composing talent. Think of Emily Bear’s “Young Composers” award from ASCAP, but they are not a “suit” interviewing to sign a songwriting artist. See anything fishy with this yet? I’d say offensive in the best case scenario and borderline illegal in the worst!

Scam artists target your money!

5. The next question probes the potential success factor, and of course without having even heard the song yet. The question is: “Have you created a following for yourself that would guarantee at least 100,000 record sales?” Okay, fair enough. They don’t want to take you serious unless you already have enough fans to sell 100,000 record sales, but if you have that many, why would you need publisher or record deal when you already have full control of your music business? The songwriter politely replies: “Why would I be here if I had?” Good for her! She’s either not that greedy, or she’s smart enough to steer around a host of delightful pitfalls!

6. The suite replies: “The business is changing, we can no longer take risks”. Understandable in times when every business wants to reduce risks and maximize their profit potential. Again, nothing bad or wrong with this approach, but watch how this leads to the next “red flag” question which attempts to target the artist’s personal finances.

7. “Do your parents or some wealthy family member that you have convinced will make their money back have a million dollars to give us up front for promotion costs? This, of course, will be recoupable by us.” This obviously means the suit is digging for “gold” to be used within a contract worded to recoup any/all upfront promotion costs. Of course every new “act” will need some promotion budget, but the devil is in the details as to how it gets spent, recouped, accounted and what’s left over for the artists. There are books and articles written to expose this evil practice, mostly from the old music industry, but suffice it to say, run, don’t walk… when you see these kinds of red flags waving.

Sign over your songs for life?

8. Our songwriter friend declines (a simple NO will do!) but right away gets hit with the next loaded question: “While you are here, would you like to sign over all the worldwide rights to your songs for life even though we do NOT wish to sign you to a record deal or ever pitch them to any other artists?” Of course the label still hasn’t heard any of her songs, so the real question is: How badly do you want to get signed?

Think about it, is it worth it to get “signed” with a big name publisher or record label which gives them worldwide exlcusive rights for life when they don’t even plan to do anything with your music? Anything sound fishy or evil with this? I understand this has been an on-going practice since the beginnings of the modern recording industry. Wise up or hire an attorney to read these kinds of contracts BEFORE you sign anything.

Copyright theft scam revealed!

9. The suit’s next statement reveals why they want the songwriter to do this: “That way if you ever sleep with the correct person and get the song cut on your own, we will be able to collect most all of the money that is made before you ever see a dime.” How nice of the suit to explain how this kind of business deal works! Hmm… sounds like a great deal for the label, but sorry, really sucks for the songwriter doesn’t it?

10. Of course our smart Ms. Singer-Songwriter didn’t fall for it, she just says NO, and then she gets a free lesson from the suit’s next statement: “I must say that this label is going in another direction and our roster is full of too many new artists (right now) that we are very excited about. Many are the children of D-list celebrities or the runner-ups of reality show talent competitions or the son, daughter, niece, nephew of someone in our attorney’s office.”

Of course they probably won’t reveal any details, but probably a bit of due diligence (investigation) might confirm this. Again, this points to some elements of the music business where the quality of the song is often LESS important than the “contacts” they would bring to the table.

More attempts to trip you up

11. After a few further approach attempts (take my card, call me back later, etc.) the suit invites the songwriter to drop off a new demo, but not in MP3 format, only in packaged CD format. The suit says: “No MP3’s will be accepted because we like to know that you also paid your dues for fancy packaging before we throw it away.” Of course they won’t actually say this to you, but if that’s what they’re doing, you can kind of tell and it hurts just as much!

12. Our Ms. Songwriter heroin never gives up and ends with a strong comeback: “Would you like to actually hear one of my songs and tell me what you think? Maybe you will actually like them, and think I have potential to be considered for artist development.” Great attitude and shows how determined she is to seek genuine success!

The ALL or nothing scam revealed

13. Sadly this is the suit’s final reply: “I will not know my opinion on it if I am the first one that has heard it. What is artist development?” Well, that’s the end of this interview and obviously the suit doesn’t want to hear or discuss anything about artist development. In this scenario, his company’s business plan is to sign only successful artists with fully-produced songs, and with exclusive life-of-copyright terms which gets the artists to pay for all the production and promotion costs up front. Sounds like it would be cheaper to just publish and market the music yourself, maybe with a little help from your friends… but NOT the suit and his friends!

If you’ve already been through any of this in real life (been there, done that and bought the T-shirt), you already know how ugly the bad side of the music industry is. Welcome, you’re not alone!

If you’ve never been down this road, consider yourself blessed and/or smart enough to have avoided these kinds of traps and pitfalls. I would encourage you to move ahead with your finest material, manage your own publishing and license your music directly to the parties who will be genuinely interested in it. In other words, become your own best publisher and learn to license your music to the industry and other artists. That’s what the LicenseQuote music licensing solutions service is all about. Welcome to the GOOD new music industry!

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