5 Music Industry Schemes That Still Exploit Artists

Music Industry Schemes

Let me start by saying that this article is going to piss a lot of people off.  If you’re one of the millions (yes millions) of independent artists/producers out there trying to make something of yourself, you’re going to love what I’m about to tell you.  If you’re one of the shady opportunists still trying to “hustle” your way into a quick buck, you’re going to hate me. I must be totally unapologetic about this.  I don’t care either.

Why Do Schemes Exist?

Let’s start by examining why these schemes work.  Artists by nature are not good business people, that’s why they get business managers and lawyers to manage the non-creative side of their career for them.  However, its not very realistic for most independent artists to have those types of resources available.  For that reason, schemers know they can exploit your hopes and dreams for their own profits.

Ultimately, the cons exist because artists keep falling for it.  Artists keep falling for it because the schemes are strategically built upon foundations that tap into the EMOTIONAL sensory stimuli for every person in the world that wants to be a star.  What I mean by that, is they deceive you with false promises that will satisfy your emotional cravings.

The Problem With Unsigned Artists

Here’s the most common problems with most (not all) unsigned artists:

•    They fail to realize that there are costs associated with every service.
•    They fail to accept that there are NO shortcuts to fame and fortune.
•    They think their talent is at a higher level than what it actually is.
•    They think people will help them for free.
•    They are easily manipulated & deceived.
•    They make critical decisions based off their emotions and “energy” instead of facts, data, & logical reasoning.

 

In fact, there are many more that I could list, but these are the main problems that I have seen throughout my years of experience in the biz, not only as an artist myself but also as a producer, songwriter, engineer, and digital marketer.

Now that we know why the schemes exist, let’s take a look at a few of them shall we?

The Classic: Pay to Perform

Music Industry Schemes

Before I even get to why this company is so scummy, I want to point out the word SPONSORED at the top of their AD.  Yes, this is in fact an AD.  I did not ask for this to be a part of my timeline, but because Facebook targeted advertising allows them to geo-target my location and interests, they have successfully appeared in my timeline.  What’s even more disgusting, is that it works.  Look at the likes and comments.

So lets get into the nuts and bolts of the pay to perform scam.  Ah, a classic, and one of my personal favorites.  The old “perform for celebrity judges!” trick.  Or even worse “A&R JOE BLOW FROM SONY WILL BE IN THE BUILDING.”

What they don’t tell you, is that these A&R’s are paid to be there.  Yes, 99% of these folks are only there because they are getting paid.  Guess what?  Your performance fee is paying their salary.  Even if they did like you, these aren’t people that have any real decision making power.  The only way to grab the attention of real decision makers is to create a legit online buzz organically through creative grassroots digital marketing efforts.

Now the real part I love is that they don’t tell you up-front that there are submission fees and costs associated with performing.  From the outside looking in, it sounds real exciting doesn’t it?  But, here’s the reality folks.

 

Music Industry Schemes

Yep, there you have it. The other thing I forgot to mention is that these showcases often pack the performance schedule with 20+ artists or more to maximize the submission fee profits.  That means, you could end up going on stage to perform at 2am when everyone has already left.   Don’t let this happen to you.

Pay to Open Up for a Major Artist

Music Industry Schemes

This scheme has been around for quite some time.  The danger with this one is that there appears to be legitimacy attached to it because you’re getting the opportunity to open for a major artist.

I decided to include this company, Artist Auditions, into the article after a close and very smart friend of mine asked what I thought of it.  The premise is that you straight up pay them a fee of anywhere from $1,000 – $3,000, in exchange for stage time as an opener for a major artist.

There are so many things wrong with this scenario that I can’t even think of where to begin.  I’ve been booked to open for major acts before, and I have GOTTEN PAID for those shows, not the opposite.  Please understand that most of the audience is there to see the headliner, not you.  Besides that, chances are that they will be too drunk to even remember who you were.

Music Industry Schemes

Sean Healy Presents is another company running a similar operation.  They actually have one of my favorite artists, Eric Bellinger, listed on their homepage.  I doubt he knows that he’s even on their homepage, but I’m sure he’d be pissed if he knew. This is their desperate attempt to associate with legitimacy, but all they are delivering is a false promise.

I have a friend who actually did use their service and paid $1,500 cash to open for a major artist.  Not only did he end up getting way less stage time than he was promised, but he was forced to perform when it was super early and most of the full audience wasn’t even there yet.  Imagine why so many artists are frustrated and discouraged, because they’re paying almost 2k to perform for a damn near empty room.

The Ex Big-Wig

Music Industry Schemes

For sake of not bashing anyone’s personal brand, I’ve decided to be a good sport and blur out this guy’s name and picture.  Also because my network is decently vast and chances are that someone knows him.  But for the purpose of spreading knowledge, I’ve included a screenshot of the landing page on his website.  Yes, this is a real life example.

The premise here is that he will use his connects from past relationships to get you a meeting with a major record label executive.  Gosh, where do I begin.  I’m not discrediting his career.  If you do some basic research, you can see that he’s had success wearing various hats in the music industry.  What I want you to focus on though, is the use of very specific language.  If you read through the verbiage, the word “hire” is the key.

Sadly though, you’ll be paying a lot of money for zero to little R.O.I (return on investment).  What will happen is he will evaluate what type of an artist you are, pretend like he’s interested in your music, might even ask for a press kit, etc.  Then he will ask you what your budget is.  Budget with regard to, how much are you prepared to pay for a meeting just to have some label A&R with no real decision making power tell you that your songs are “cool” but you need more development?

The truth is that nobody ever gets signed from these “meetings.”  There’s no such thing as getting “discovered” or “put on.”  The only artists who get noticed are the ones who aren’t looking for a short cut.  The ones who aren’t paying for fake views and fake followers.  The ones who are creating substantial content and backing it up with the right marketing strategy.

Music Industry Schemes

Produkt is a friend of mine.  He’s a hip-hop artist from the Bronx (repping my hood!)  He’s an example of an artist who gets it.  His music is meaningful, videos are super high quality, and the overall marketing strategy is really focused on inspiring people through his music.  He’s passionate about his message and it definitely resonates with his audience.  Browse through his social profiles and check out his music to get a better understanding of what I’m talking about.  I bet if I asked him how he got to where he’s at, he wouldn’t say because of a “meeting” that he had to pay for.

The Online Service

Music Industry Schemes

This one is probably the most complicated of the bunch.  Music X-Ray is a platform that promises you “placements” of your music in feature films, TV commercials, and other licensing opportunities.  They require you to fill out a profile, and then register and submit your music to “A&R’s” or a “music supervisor” who will review your music and decide if it can be placed or not.
The first thing you should ALWAYS do if you’re considering one of these services is search the company’s name in Google followed by the word “scam.”

Here’s what I found for Music X-Ray:

Music Industry Schemes

Well it seems the proof is in the pudding for this one.  There happens to be thousands of complaints about them online.  What I can tell you from my experience after being in the music game for almost 10 years, is I have never heard of a truly valid success story coming from one of these platforms.  Nobody has ever gotten a groundbreaking placement or publishing deal, etc.  My final word of advice is to steer clear of Music X-Ray, along with any other similar services like them.

The Pay for Feedback

Music Industry Schemes

This is a new phenomenon that is really mind blowing. Meet Blazetrak, a service that allows you to submit your music for a fee of course, and then a music industry professional will send you a personal video that gives you feedback on your song.  What a concept.  Here’s what’s wrong with it.

Independent artists should be getting feedback primarily from their FANS, not these folks who don’t care about you!  A busy producer who is getting paid to give you feedback is not going to be the answer to your prayers.  He/she is likely going to give you some VERY generic pointers and keep it moving.  Transaction complete.

If you want real feedback you should be collecting data behind your music. There’s tons of things you can do:

•    Send a Mailchimp survey to your email list.
•    Create a questionnaire with Survey Monkey or Google Forms
•    Invite your fans to the studio for a listening/feedback session
•    Check your YouTube analytics to see which videos are getting the best engagement.

Here’s a snapshot of my actual YouTube Analytics:

Music Industry Schemes

The analytics above are reporting the average view duration for all of my YouTube videos in 2015.  On average, my videos are viewed for 1:27.  However, my music video for Terrible Truth outperformed all of the other videos by almost double the amount of time.  So the insight is that people are more engaged with my original music videos than videos of my cover performances.  Looks like I’ll need to make more original music videos soon!

The point is that you should be using data and measurable stats to determine how to plan your career.  Taking opinionated advice from someone who probably doesn’t care about you is not the way to go.  Oh and remember, you had to pay for that advice too.

Conclusion

Listen folks.  If you’ve read this far, I hope you learned something.  There are no shortcuts.  You can’t pay your way to success. Build genuine relationships with people.  Attract influencers organically.  Keep making great music.  Continue to develop your craft.  This is really what it takes if you want to make something happen.

I’m tired of seeing people getting used and abused.  The reason I published this article is to educate the independent artist community on what is happening out there.  There are very smart people that get manipulated all the time.  It happens every day.  These schemes are very strategic in how they present themselves with temptation of your emotions.  Don’t let it be you.  Be realistic, be honest, do your research, and use common sense.  If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

 

Gaetano is a NYC based Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Guitarist that has worked with some of the biggest names in music. After releasing 2 EPs and producing records for major artists, Gaetano has been documenting his music industry experiences via his blog.

To get in touch with Gaetano, follow him on Instagram: @official_gaetano.

 

 

20 Responses

  1. Troglite

    I’m glad this article was written. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. For a very long time niw, I have felt that the industry actively promotes the myth that artists are plucked from obscurity to become stars thanks to some benevolent music industry executive. These stories are obviously designed to play on the heart in order to draw in new listeners. But, I truly believe that this bullshit is also promoted in order to convince musicians they are at the mercy of what the all powerful music industry decides. This discourages musicians from taking the actions that could lead to independent success and of course, independent success also lends leverage in any negotiations that may occur

    Reply
    • Gaetano

      @troglite – Thanks for reading! Yeah, I totally agree. It sucks that musicians are at the mercy of these “industry” tactics. I had to write about it because it was really bugging me for a long time, and I’ve seen WAY too many people get taken advantage of.

      Reply
      • Jane

        Yes, very much agree too. Say you’ve made a recording & are getting major label interest, just make sure (as simplistic as this sounds) get legal advice. If someone major wants to sign you or is seemingly interested in licensing your recording, get cash up front. Don’t buy this ‘we like your stuff, but have no cash’ crap.

        Of course a smaller label may not have much financially to offer but an advance of some sort is an act of good faith. It’s very easy for a label just to sit on your stuff. Lastly, just be careful of how any contract is worded.

        Reply
  2. Jr

    Thank you for writing this!

    I am shocked that you have so few comments, I guess you need to be more controversial in your headlines and perhaps mention Spotify to get any reaction. This is actually rather telling of the business today as well. This makes sense = no interest.

    This is a great start on the road to what I have been calling music middleware. The growth sector in music is all these scam and scam like services that promise to do a lot and deliver nothing. In truth many of the technology offerings are solid, but they are not tools that really apply to the selling of music.

    I work with a a wide assortment of musicians from those that can sell out a premium tour and headline EDC to some just starting out and I will make this a required reading of all who hit me up for advice.

    Reply
  3. Lanear

    @Gaetano Enjoyed the post! Good info for all to beware of. How do you feel about TAXI? They’ve been around for some time. Seems like a similar model to MusicXRay. I’ve read a lot of back and forth about it online.

    Reply
  4. Versus

    Yes, it’s true.
    This is the old scam of “selling the dream”.
    It happens in other industries as well which trade on the dreams of the young (or not so young) and naive, like modeling and acting.

    There’s lots of other types of exploitation, of course, like ad-funded piracy sites, offers to use your music in a visual medium for “exposure” instead of pay, promoter scams, etc. etc.

    Reply
  5. indie dude

    I’ve been saying for years..there’s the music business (record companies etc.) and then there’s “the music business” which is touched on here…you can throw songwriting contests in here as well as a company mentioned in the comments above…reverbnation too..but there’s SO much more…I recently saw a music supervisor charging to review songs..(ugh) – I’ve been making music for about 25 years with some success and have watched “the music business” grow and evolve..back in the day I was wary of a lot what was mentioned in the article but if I was coming up today I might fall prey..there’s just so much of this going on and the internet makes the dream seem so much closer…these people should go out and get real jobs like most of us musicians have too..it’s pretty horrible..I know I couldn’t look myself in the mirror If I ran or even worked for one of these companies..

    Reply
    • jay

      I had a music placement agent try and re-register my songs with p.r.o.’s listing herself as a writer with slightly altered titles.

      Reply
  6. Saint Bernard

    Several points i want to make here about this article

    1. Your authenticity. I checked your website and there are no mentions of the “biggest names in music” that you mention here. That is totally fabricated and i’ve struggled to take you seriously because of that.

    2. This website digital music news actively promotes things like Sonic Bids and the other schill who writes on here Ari – ‘bitter failed musician’ Herstad actively promotes track smarts where you pay to have people review your music. He earns money promoting them.

    You seem like a nice enough guy so please don’t waste your time writing articles on here like the other washed up musicians do. It’s so easy to lay into websites for click bait. It’s REAL easy to get something printed on this website because it has no journalistic integrity. Ari has amassed an audience of a few hundred other failed musicians who can read his blog and point the blame at someone else but themselves, but they won’t buy his music because it’s unlistenable. You will not build a fanbase this way.

    Your music is at least 100x better than Ari’s limp dick offering. But you don’t want to be washed up mid 30s function fodder like he is. Save yourself. And stop laying into companies for the sake of clicks. While i agree with some points, negativity just breeds negativity.

    Reply
    • John

      Name calling, ALL CAPS, emotion filled insults – These are all the warning signs of a person standing in a weak position. Good article Gaetano.

      Reply
  7. Electronica2015

    In the film world there are legit professionals who will read your screenplay and provide you with coverage, a detailed report of several pages of diagnostics and analysis that is usually tremendously helpful since they can see things you can’t and they know what the studios are looking for, what they are currently buying. Shame that there isn’t a comparable type of legit feedback available in the music world, would love for someone to review my tracks before I release them to the public. I’m not saying that my tracks suck but if they do I’d rather know it before I release them than after.

    Reply
  8. Amy Knox

    There is no substitute for hard work, Jasper Sawyer is one of my favorite artists and he is slowly rising, funding everything on his own. Shortcuts in the music industry and in life generally are always the longest way.

    Reply
  9. Princess

    I hate schemes like this! I’m a musician myself and have fallen victim to some of these. Jasper Sawyer is another example of an Indie artist doing it the hard way and he is slowly rising so it can be done. Macklemore is one of the greatest examples of how you have to grind for the long haul to make something happen.

    Reply
  10. John

    I personally see nothing wrong with paying 15-25 bucks for a personal feedback, review or submission to or from an industry veteran. Pay your producer 20 bucks less and Voila!

    Reply
  11. Shay Leonia

    So happy to see you out these thieves! Too many people fall for this crap and it’s insulting when we get approached by these scam artists. Thank you, G!

    Reply
  12. Matthew Montfort

    This is how I feel about Sonicbids. I call them Sonicscams because they allow concert presenters to charge you for checking out your demo. I have a database of over 4000 concert presenters, and unfortunately, quite a few of them have gravitated to using Sonicbids to raise money from their booking process. This even includes city sponsored events, most likely due to budget cutbacks. I always write to presenters and complain when they use Sonicbids. I tell them that we don’t participate in pay-to-play schemes. It is very important that other artists and agents also write to presenters asking them stop using Sonicbids.

    Reply
  13. dreaadoe

    All i can say is thank you someone finally giving me the truth im not going say i having been scammed by most of those people but its really hard to tell real from fake i just keep having faith in God and my music that one day my dream will come true.

    Reply
  14. FP

    The first thing I tell developing artists is to hire an attorney. Not a friend or relative that has a law degree; a real entertainment attorney. It’s not cheap, but if an artist is serious about their career the cost is nothing compared to what they have to lose.

    Secondly, there are no shortcuts. If you want to be successful, it takes hard work & dedication. Having a job as a CPA by day and being an artist by night generally will not work out. It can happen, but the odds are stacked in the wrong direction. Even the most talented artists limit their potential if they don’t totally immerse themselves in their craft.

    Talent is paramount. Just because someone wants to be a star doesn’t mean they have the chops to make it happen. Artists should NEVER let someone tell them how great they are & then talk them into paying to get you heard. If the artist doesn’t understand how record companies operate or how publishing works, they’ll get screwed every time. Guaranteed.

    If an artist can find someone to teach them how the most important facets of the industry work, do it. Not someone that’ll promise to get them signed or put them on shows; just someone that’ll help them understand the inner workings of the industry. There have been unscrupulous people taking advantage of artists since humans stopped banging on logs, so the more the artist knows about the business end the more protected they’ll be.

    Reply
  15. P.

    I’ve always said that independent artists are the biggest hoes in the music industry because there are thousands of desperate artists out hoping to achieve the dream so these companies prey on that.

    I’ve feel for the pay for perform before and I promise I would never do it again. I paid for my artist to open up for an artist at the time who had a hot song out. I had to work so I didn’t get a chance to go to the actual show but I secured one of the 4 slots for the show (my artist had a hot song on the radio at the time). My artist tells me the next day that not only did he NOT perform BUT she took off with the door money so the big name artist didn’t perform either (the artist actually apologized to the crowd for the situation as well as 1/2 of the promo team who booked the show)

    Reply

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