DMV Music Alliance

A computer, computer mouse, book, and phone are secured by a large chain.

Don’t Get Scammed

Over the course of a few meetings with artists, managers, and a few different kinds of organizations, it becomes clear that the majority of scams target the independent musician.  In 2021, Tunecore published Music Industry Scams: Everything You Need To Know penned by author, manager, and consultant Mark Tavern which covers the topic from a number of angles that essentially include recurring themes such as empty promises, poor contracts, and pay to play.

A computer, computer mouse, book, and phone are secured by a large chain.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Empty promises include people who claim to be able to guarantee a certain kind of result in the world of sales or marketing. The best that can be promised is to perform the same level of work that has yielded the kinds of results achieved in the past.

Poor contracts really encompass any business relationship where one party is being disproportionately leveraged over the other. Better agreements mean there is value and risk being shared by all parties.

Pay to play is a business practice that charges artists up front for a number of services that artists feel should contain shared value and/or risk, or in which they feel artists should pay for at all. Some of these include paid placement in a blog or podcast, “buy ons” with touring artists, and to many I’ve spoken with it even includes being asked to sell presale tickets. 

Before we spend too much time in any of these areas, perhaps the single biggest piece of advice before engaging in business with anyone is to perform your own due diligence.

Is this someone I get along with? Is this someone I would anticipate enjoying working with more than once? Can this individual or company perform the roles(s) or task(s) I require for the success of this venture? What has been their success in the past? Are there any references I could speak with about previous customer experiences with the company? How is compensation determined and what forms of payment are accepted? How is payment accepted and what is the frequency of those payments?

Tip of the iceberg stuff here, but if the people you are contacting are afraid to answer these questions or unable to discuss the logistics of how the business is performed, these are serious red flags. You don’t have to trust your gut when there are red flags, but they can help reinforce the good decision you’re about to make.

Another red flag is often about making timely decisions. Quite often, when someone is trying to rush you into a decision instead of giving you time to perform due diligence, that too is a red flag. An email chain, or even a phone call or a handshake could legally be considered contracts; however, especially with written contract agreements, it is especially important that time be allotted for due diligence to include legal counsel if necessary (and it almost always is with a formal written contract). 

Perhaps a bit more of a beast to discuss is the concepts around pay to play. In my own experience, I was often asked by a promoter to commit to a certain number of ticket sales before being compensated for my ticket sales. I understood these costs to be associated with the promoter’s risk with the venue in hosting and promoting the event. I remember overhearing another band arguing with the promoter on the day of the event describing these practices as pay to play. This always surprised me because I always felt the arrangement was clearly stated in advance and that I had sufficient time to perform the task I had agreed to. I also had the opportunity for compensation, which is typically not something I’ve identified in most pay to play situations.

I recognize that it is true how actively the creative industry is marketed to. There is always something to spend money on that may or may not improve your craft in one aspect or another. However, artists need to be able to identify when there is a business opportunity present or if it is just a pay to play kind of offering. If it feels like a pay to play kind of offering, it may very well fall into the expense category of paid/placed marketing, and is an option for those who budget in that area. It may not be intended as a sleight of any kind; it may just not be the right kind of opportunity for you.

Every business has expenses, and to my knowledge there are no cookie cutter solutions or shortcuts to achieving any successful business. The creative industry must accept that there are costs to any and every stage of the creative process. Sometimes you work with the tools you have available and sometimes you pay for the tools you need in order to serve the business model you’ve implemented.

For example, if I get paid after 15 tickets are sold and I sell 100 tickets, did I make money? How much can I make per show this way? How many shows per year can I achieve this result? Is that a sufficient annual income for me? What about if I sold merch to all 100 of those attendees, would it be a worthwhile show then? What if those 100 attendees were the perfect audience for my sponsor to get in front of? Would it be a worthwhile show then? Will there be local, regional or national press around the event? Would it be worthwhile then?

While the scams that artists face regularly appear to be more readily observant, there are some scams that industry providers and adjacent services face.

Maria Roberts of Blank Tape Studios described an instance where the studio was the recipient of a scam that, had they participated in, would have made them responsible for the loss of thousands of dollars by asking them to commit to paying for aspects of the production other than the agreed upon studio time.

Metal Chris of recently shared how some teenagers created a fake music journalistic website in order to gain attendance to major local festivals.

The DMV Music Alliance hopes that you’ll keep the principles of due diligence in mind when deciding who to partner with to amplify your artistry, and we’re researching more about what scams might impact the artists and industry providers throughout the DMV creative community. 

Do you have a story to share? Or, a warning to give? We’d love to hear from you.

Daniel Warren Hill is an American Musician, Media Developer, and Entrepreneur. He is best known as the frontman for Washington DC area Alternative Rock band YellowTieGuy; owner of music news and entertainment outlet Alchemical Records; and co-founder of the diverse and inclusive musician empowerment organization, Capitol Groove Collective. Daniel’s life-long vision has been to set an example of how to achieve creative, financial, and spiritual success by tapping into the value of your own creative outlets and artistic endeavors.

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