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So you want to be in a rock band?: A record deal doesn't mean you've made it in the ‘biz'

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | January 28th, 2008

Believe it or not, despite all of the scams I've outlined over the past couple of weeks, the entertainment biz actually has a number of agencies including The Better Business Bureau, and American Federation of Musicians (AFM) working to protect the needs and rights of talent by legitimizing business ethics and standards that all registered professional entertainment companies are required to adhere to.

Despite these agencies “fighting the good fight” on our behalves, entertainment biz scammers, especially bogus record labels and booking agents, continue to prosper by placing calls for new talent in what appear to be legitimate means of advertising, like well-respected local newspapers or industry websites. If you pursue one of these listings further, without offering very detailed information about your act, the record label or booking agency will immediately be intrigued by your band, and want to engage in business negotiations. Usually, no audition is required, and representation can start immediately…well, after a hefty cash deposit, which is justified as signifying your commitment to your band.

The company in this situation is able to get off the hook of offering any financial support for your band because, remember, you came to them. This means that you need them more than they need you and also, because this is a simple money grab, these so-called record labels are not desperate. If you are not willing to hand over the moula, someone else will (they'll tell you that you obviously aren't very serious about pursuing your career, and to contact them if you change your mind).

I urge you to be especially wary of any overseas booking agencies wanting to initiate a European tour for your band in which all they require to demonstrate your commitment, again is a “little” cash, and of course copies of your passports.

This scam works on the myth that record deals equals salvation, and from my rather dissatisfying experiences with them, I can tell you for a fact that this is anything BUT the truth.

To avoid becoming another artist wallowing in debt from this mistake, here are a few things you should know about REAL record deals:

1) There will never be an expectation on behalf of the artist to pay upfront money for representation (except in the slight case in which you need to get new CDs pressed depicting the label's logo). If any money exchange is to be had, the record label should be paying you.

2) Contracts, paperwork, all of that legal mumbo-jumbo that you hate is a must. Get their promises and responsibilities outlined in writing and get it all legally reviewed.

3) Record labels do not advertise or openly seek new talent through this means as it would welcome far too many amateurs. If there is a label that you are sincerely interested in (again, please do your research first before contacting anyone), their website will likely have information regarding their demo Submission policies. Follow these policies. Sending unsolicited material to companies who do not accept it, will only wind up with your unopened package arriving back in your hands (even if your envelope is really exciting!)

4) Record labels, booking agents, managers etc work on a commission basis wherein if you do not get paid, neither do they. The standard going rate is between 10-to-20 per cent of your sales, plus payment.

5) Any decent record label, booking agent, or manager prior to signing any act will require an in-person audition, and a business meeting (lawyers present), to ensure that you are able to deliver on-stage (they don't want to put their name behind a band that doesn't have their shit together), and to make certain that you are all on the same page.

If you happen to find yourself in a situation in which you are randomly approached by a label outside of one of these ads, to smoke out any potential rats, make sure you ask the following questions:

- Do you have a website?
- How long have you been in business?
- Do you have client references?
- How many people do you represent?
- What types of opportunities do you offer? What are your commission rates?
- Are you registered with the Better Business Bureau or any other consumer protection agencies?

On the flip side of things, if you happen to fall victim to one of these shady dealings (hopefully not after reading this article), both the Artists' Legal Advice Services (416-367-2527) and Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services (1-800-889-9768) can offer you advice, and even pro-bono court representation to right the wrongs committed against you.
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