I’m a Top Industry Attorney. And These Are Your Realistic Chances of Success

The following comes from top music industry attorney Ken Hertz, who spoke on an artist branding panel at NARM in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Hertz, a senior partner at Beverly Hills-based Hertz and Lichtenstein LLP, has an artist clientele that includes will.i.am, Will Smith, Enrique Iglesias, and Britney Spears.

“I think the reality is the following: 99.9-some odd percent of every kid in the world that wants to have a recording career won’t have one.

Won’t even meet someone like the people on this panel.  And of the people that do meet someone and really get a shot, some fraction of a percent will have any chance of having a career.

“So the truth of the matter is that when you do the math, it is really like winning the lottery to have a successful career.”

Meaning, the people that get records out – well over 95 percent of them never make a living ―”

Audience member: “But no one told Bruno Mars that.”

Hertz: “No, but here’s the thing.  We all know the truth.  You don’t have a chance of succeeding unless you believe in you ―”

Another audience member: “Thank you!”

Hertz: “Right, you don’t.  So you have to have unbridled confidence even to have a chance to succeed.  And nevertheless, when you do the math, the reality is you won’t.  I’m lucky, I always say this, I’m terribly lucky, my kids have no talent.  So I didn’t have to worry about them going into the entertainment business.

But, that said, the fact is that the people on this panel don’t play the lottery for a living.  We work for the lottery.  And the reason that people play the lottery is because it’s easier to understand the prize than to understand the odds.

“But given the choice, you’d rather own the lottery than play the lottery for a living.”

I sell yachts to the lottery winners, that’s what I do for a living.  And so it’s very easy for me not to worry about what the odds are, because by the time they get to me they’ve already been vetted so many times and in so many ways.  By the time I get a look at them and decide whether it’s a good use of my

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time or not they’ve already got a story to tell.

And so the pitch has to include the story.  You have got to gift wrap this pitch for the people you are doing this for because they have a choice.  She only has so many hours to listen to this stuff, I only have so many hours in a day to listen to stuff.  In order for me to listen to something that you have, versus what you have, versus what you have, I have to decide that it’s worth the time.  Or, I have to be an idiot who just listens to the first thing that I’m handed, and hopes that I’m going to get through the pile by the end of the day (and I won’t).

So, my suggestion is if you’ve got a good social media story to tell, then that’s the story you should be telling.  If you’ve got an artist with a voice that’s unlike any other, then play the music.  Or, go out and find the money to produce a video that can have a viral success so that people will stumble onto it.

Half-a-million hits is not a big number anymore.  It’s an impressive number because it means half-a-million times, somebody clicked on it.  But it is not a big number, and the tide is rising, and it’s much harder to rise above the din.  And the din is getting larger all the time.

“There are 8 million bands on MySpace.  And MySpace isn’t important anymore.”

Don’t tell Justin Timberlake I said that.”


27 Responses

  1. WILL

    As difficult as it is to stomach and he sounds a touch smug, he’s on the ball. And he touches a nerve about his kids not having the talent to pursue a music/artistic career (talent?). I sure as hell will ensure my future kids will get their educations and have options. Should they want to pursue the dream then fine so long as there’s a solid fall back plan. Me, I screwed up somewhat and understand first hand the pitfalls.

    Essentially what he’s saying has always been the case but it’s just so much more saturated today than the 70’s, 80’s 90’s.

  2. @SheerZed

    C-3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.
    Han Solo: Never tell me the odds.

  3. @RhumRouge

    This is sobering advice from someone who really knows.

  4. Visitor

    “I sell yachts to the lottery winners, that’s what I do for a living. ”

    This cynical view — all too common — makes this business suck.

    then become a boat or real estate broker, which is what you sound like. Also, the quote is odd: Arent’ you repping talent? Then why are you selling them things? sounds like conflict of interest.

    What a music lawyer can do which is dignified and meaningful is to resolve problems, assist creatives and forge policies for the future. Selling yachts to your clients? C’mon.

    • Reality Check

      Read the article. He is not being cynical, at least not the way you are implying. He is an attorney for artists who have already made it huge and he caters to their “needs.” His clients problems are more like “Should I sell perfume with my name on it?” or “Should I get into movie acting?”

  5. Rapture...

    I agree with what he’s saying if the way you’re looking to go is old school method of asking for hand outs & ups. You’re better off on your own or forming your own team who regularly works toward your success.

    All of the clients this guy named are dated they’ve been around a long time and they we’re ushered in via the old methods. The old methods; that this clearly older Gentleman is clearly aware of, or might be an expert in.

    He says things like Viral video etc and it’s completely evident he has no clue about online marketing he’s just throwing terms around.

    His whole entire spiel was very unhelpful to hopeful artist, and I got the distinct feeling of snake oil sales men when reading what he said. I’d take what he says with a spoon of salt & find some reputable online music and marketing experts to guide you in the direction of how to gain exposure for your music & then how to capitalize off of your music, fame etc…

    Hope this helps someone,

    Best of luck to you all.

    • WhomEver

      You clearly don’t know anything about Ken Hertz…

  6. @alexjkirk

    Another warning to wannabes via the music industry.

  7. Quantum!

    If you are able to do all that he listed then you probably don’t need a record deal after all.

    These guys are lazy and want a present with a bow delivered to them, if your able to do this yourself you probably shouldn’t waste your time signing a deal at all.

    • Visitor

      They are not being lazy they are realistic. Read what he is saying again

  8. truth

    You’re kidding me, RIGHT?

    “every kid in the world that wants to have a recording career”

    Sorry, what’s a “recording career” again? Maybe that is the problem with this entire proclomation from the Mountains of Beverly Hills!

    Sorry! I don’t want a “recording career,” in fact I may never even try to sell a recording or put one in your hand!




  9. Yachts for Yutz

    “I’m lucky, I always say this, I’m terribly lucky, my kids have no talent. So I didn’t have to worry about them going into the entertainment business.”

    sloppy statement… what he probably meant to say is he’s glad his kids have no talent so they don’t go into the “arts”, as opposed to the “entertainment business” … which is what this sleazy salesman is in. some people happen to have talent, its a gift, and it comes from somewhere holy, and it inspires others, and they sometimes need help from lawyers.

  10. radio & records vet

    you all are seriously cynical and jaded.

    His point about yachts was not literal – it was a metaphor.

    If you determine success as achieving a certain high end lifestyle, you’ll fail 99.9% of the time, regardless of your desires.

    Pay attention to how the people perceive you. It’s about the story – not always about the music. Most of the world’s greatest music will never be heard. 2000 units sold is nothing … good for a local buzz MAYBE – but not much else. 1000 likes or friends on FB is nothing… good for a turnout of 10 at a local show.

    It all depends on what you’re looking to achieve.

    • Tarzan J Hedgepeth

      Success is definitely relative to the individual!

      But when that success that I seek is granted me, I will know it. There will be no doubt. Whatever form it is in, I will be rewarded.

      And I am already grateful for it! It is not easy to do, but if I focus on the reality instead of what seems to be reality at the present moment, then I will not wilt away – but I will grow, adapt, become stronger that I might blossom even in the rockiest and cold of conditions. I will be allowed to overcome because I choose to overcome! But also because I know that it is NOT OF MYSELF that I gain my success. I do my part, but the success that I seek is granted by God and all the people who allow me to BE a success in their eyes!

      It is this that people do not understand. Success belongs to those who claim it and own it. I do not own it presently, but I DO. I am evidence of the unseen. My heart listens and then conveys to me the message, “You are successful. Just learn to grow wherever you are at. You will slip up. It’s okay. Get back up. Don’t do anything stupid or overly drastic. Be creative. Don’t get sucked into chaos. Don’t just jump at opportunities for money – no, what you want is for people to be pleased with your music… so let that be your reward! And if that is what you seek, then that is what you will get.”

      Because everyone gets what they are seeking.. they just don’t usually realize it until after it has arrived. That little voice in their mind that said, “This is what is going to happen…” And they didn’t understand it or respond to it or ponder it even… these are the ones who fall by the wayside – leaving piles of dead bodies in the way for us to climb and hike over to finally get a high enough view to see what they weren’t seeing because they were traveling with their eyes closed and their ears shut! And when we see it, we shouldn’t faint — NO, we should strive for it… being careful that it is not a mirage that we are moving towards, but at the same time, but convincing ourselves that what is actually real is just a mirage!

      Yes, it is very real. Out of 7 billion people on this planet, the possibilities for attaining success are not so limited. There are 4.3 degrees of separation between each individual on this planet. It is a matter of understanding and humility and yet confidence and determination. It is a matter of strict and true desire and passion for one’s dream. Many will say they desire it, but what have they done besides tried to put on the shoes, got them on the wrong feet and never even got the velcro to work right…? And the reason they fail at the simplest things is because they CLOSE THEIR EYES and PRAY for it to happen for them when they aren’t willing to succeed at those things which they CAN control! But see… I OPEN my eyes, and PRAY as I work – because what glory is there for God if He is to give to someone who appears to be lazy in their desires? No, the glory is to God that He gives to those who work hard success – so that HIS LAW OF SUCCESS IS NOT DIMINISHED!

      Some may find themselves in the position of thinking they did it themself. Some may think they ARE sliced bread. That’s fine, they have their reward. Truly successful people know that we are nothing, no matter our talents and passions and desires, we are absolutely nothing without everyone else in the universe. The earth is a sphere, not a pyramid! Everyone is supporting eachother and most don’t even see it! And the sphere is put here by God, so most importantly, success IS HIS. Thank you so much. He gives me success and more and more. It never FEELS easy. It never SEEMS like it. OH, but it is so true despite my personal stupidity! And I am very happy that one so powerful has got my back! Talk about the most celebrated celebrity ever.

  11. half baked

    thank goodness we have this important lawyer to get to the REAL truth of the music business!!!!

  12. @madktc

    “it’s easier to understand the prize than to understand the odds.”

    This is the golden piece of advice that he’s passing onto musicians and aspiring artists. Make sure you parallel your music’s career with a real career in the entertainment industry. Look at the countless number of studio careers, long-term crew positions, even record labels that are/were launched out of musicans who were proactive about the industry they revered as an adolescent.

  13. @kgoldschmidtt

    Someone should publicly lay out the odds about higher ed.

  14. @janakyomoon

    For those aspiring artists who think there is a musical magic wand waiting to be waved – no one said it was easy!

  15. godvin the god

    he is absolutly correct. in fact, the lottery system that he talks about is not just in the music business, but is embedded in the system we are living in. i applaud his truthfulness. its very rare in the music and entertainment business to speak truth and honesty.

  16. RKS

    If you love music, then play it. I disagree with ‘making a living’ at it. There are hotel jobs, taverns, bars, restaurants, etc. who don’t know they need your music. You have to be persistent and enduring, in the meantime, learn your craft. If you are playing 21 to 25 hours a week and getting paid, be thankful you can play your music for a live audience. I don’t worry about my ‘recording’ career, I just love playing for people. I won’t deny its a ‘hard scrabble’ way to make a living, but do it for the intermittent glory. It CAN be found. And in an instant society, there is nothing instant about being a musician. Most first albums are ten to twelve years of work. Like lots of people who work for and ‘are’ super wealthy, they know nothing of the common man who can work the music angle for a living. I’ve been doing it for quite awhile, and it can be done, and most of the time, it is enough…

    • Yay

      I applaud you. This is a mature attitude and I’ll bet you have a ton of talent and you’ll be content at the end of the road. This lawyer takes the attitude that his clients are lotto winners… would lawyers for John Lennon, Bill Evans, Eminem talk of their clients as lottery winners? what a load of crap. People recognize talent and it tends to rise. Not always of course. But with persistence. Not all people recognize talent and think its all just about hype, apparently this lawyer here. This moses bringing down the ten commandments from the peak of beverly hills. Music is holy. Anyone choosing it as a career, as this poster above did, realizing the hardships and appreciating the payoff, is a real artist and is to be respected.