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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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:
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
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:
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.
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.