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So you want to be in a rock band?: How to spot a recording scam

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | December 3rd, 2007

The Internet makes scams a lot easier

The entertainment biz has never been at a shortage of talent-directed scams, and despite the wealth of literature out there detailing the typical con-artist approach, thousands, if not millions of would-be artists find themselves falling victim to these ploys all the time.

With an increasing allotment of the market focusing its attention on Internet promotional tactics, sucking artists into the “I'll make you famous” line has become easier than ever through the concoction of mass spam emails. Unfortunately due to the competitive nature of the music biz and the general naivety of artists, musicians have a tendency to fall into the category of easy and vulnerable prey (myself included), simply because of the wide-eyed rockstar dream that we've been hoping to fulfill ever since childhood. But avoiding these shady dealings proves more difficult than one would assume.

The more exposure an artist gains, the higher likelihood that they will become a target because their contact information will become increasingly easy to obtain. The scariest part about this situation is of course, that if an artist's popularity is increasing, they will likely assume that offers of representation (from labels, bookers, etc) will soon be on their way. And so, as one can imagine, when receiving a faux-offer, it is unlikely that his/her suspicion will become aroused.

To help you avoid falling into scammers' traps, I've compiled a list of some of the most popular ways in which artists have a and continue to be a taken advantage of, complete with “warning signs” that should immediately cause your red flags to rise.

The CD Compilation

Discovering new outlets for potential exposure (and new fan generation) is crucial to the career of any musician, but when it is at the cost of your own pocket-money accompanied by unlikely promises, this is a situation of which I'd advise you to steer clear.

Several companies constantly scour the net in search of hopeful musicians who are willing to supply a track for their CD compilation(s), which may or may not ever get produced. For a one-time fee, ranging anywhere from $50, to at times, $500, these companies will assure you that your song will receive priority placement on a comp disc that will be handed out to industry professionals at some of the top music conferences in the world including PopKomm, SXSE, and MIDEM.

What you don't know of course is that this very same email praising your unique artistic ability (flattery always works to assist in persuasion) in order to gain your confidence in their project has been sent to thousands of other musicians (sorry kids, you weren't specifically chosen for any particular reason, other than the fact that your email address was accessible and you looked like an easy target).

Additionally, for those of you who are unfamiliar with how music conferences such as PopKomm work, even if these CDs really do get created, the ability to get them into the hands of industry professionals is a stretch, to say the least. Usually, upon attending a major music conference, record execs and booking agents have already arranged a schedule in advance of acts that they plan to see perform, and the booths that are set up in the registration areas (where CDs and pamphlets are featured) are most often visited by fellow musicians NOT industry pros.

However, track requests are sometimes made on behalf of legitimate CD compilation manufacturers via email as well. So then, how do you tell the difference? Well, for starters, any company that wishes to legitimately feature you as an artist on a CD compilation will more than likely be looking to obtain a profit through its sales and therefore, as a featured artist you are entitled to a cut of these proceeds. If the CD compilation manufacturing company is the “real deal,” a royalty sharing agreement will be enclosed alongside the track request. If a royalty consent form is missing, this is likely another scam in which, once the manufacturer obtains a single copy of your song, they will continue to reproduce it for profit, without compensating you for your work.

Warning Signs: If you receive a track request for a compilation that includes any of the following features, DO NOT issue the manufacturer a copy of your song:

1) A request for upfront money in order to be a featured artist and/or to reserve a desirable track number.

2) Guaranteed exposure and/or recognition among industry professionals.

3) No licensing agreement or consent form is required.

4) No royalty fees will be issued to featured artists despite the fact that the CD will be sold for profit.

5) The CD will be given away free of charge (The exception to this rule is if the CD is created in conjunction with a charity in order to raise awareness. In this event, the CD will likely be given away for free in honour of a good cause and/or its supporters.)

More on scams next issue...
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