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So you want to be in a rock band?: Beware of the media

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | February 4th, 2008

Considering the phenomenal number of cons in existence, it's no wonder that you often hear stories about musicians who have been eaten up and spat out by the industry.

I say, with regret, that these problems do not appear to be going away, but rather increasing in number, and the only advice that I can truly offer relating to this matter is to become uber-skeptical, and meticulous when reviewing terms for any opportunity that appears to offer “a chance to make your dreams come true” (This ain't DisneyWorld kids!)

The media and marketing hustle

Getting exposure is an absolute must for any rising band, but paying for press (which is always pricey) is counter-productive considering that most media outlets will offer you reviews, interviews and more, so long as you have your act together, and a good story to tell. But, for some reason, this seems to be a little known fact.

I single-handedly managed to obtain feature interviews, CD reviews and even magazine covers for my band ANTI-HERO without a spat of media training for over three years, and I never paid a cent. News outlets were happy, even excited to provide us with coverage because it gave them something topical that was “underground” and edgy which in turn encouraged readership.

The thing about this scam that I find most discerning is if you are paying a given press outlet to provide you with coverage, how can that outlet maintain an objective stance and if they do not, then essentially, you are paying people to be your fans?! I'd prefer the truth, be it good or bad, but perhaps that's just me.

Another mutation of this scam usually rears its ugly head through social networking sites like Myspace in which “marketing” companies contact artists offering exciting new ways in which they can increase their webpage visits, plays, and fan requests. Aside from the obvious fact that an artist could perform all of these functions independently with a bit of elbow grease, this is a scam (and a rather scary one at that) for a few reasons. First off, these companies demand payment by credit card, and access to your profile (including your email address, password, and pertinent information), so essentially you've just provided them with a means for identity theft. However, if their service legitimately does check out, and isn't just a means to steal your likeness, I still don't have good news. At best, these services work as 24-hour spammers sending out mass emails to random strangers who may or may not be interested in your music. Although your plays and visits may increase as a result, you'll likely piss off more people in the process because let's face it, everyone HATES being spammed.

And finally, the last variation of the “media” hustle comes in the form of radio or ‘zine requests for free CDs. This is a particular tricky one to detect, even to the trained eye, because it plays on the very fact that many warranted radio stations and/or ‘zines commonly request bands to provide complimentary copies of their albums for airplay or CD reviews respectively. So how do you tell the difference? Well, this one requires a bit of detective work.

Although bands commonly become “tickled pink” at the notion that a radio station wants to spin their disc or a ‘zine wants to provide them with free exposure, I cannot emphasis enough that it is absolutely essential to check out some background info on ANY media outlet prior to sending them anything for free. Firstly, you need to ensure that this so-called media outlet actually exists, because commonly in this instance, you are just receiving an email from some guy in the basement of an apartment whose managed to create quite a nice CD collection for himself by duping bands. Check for a website (and no Angelfire accounts do NOT count), call letters (if a radio station) and any business information you can find. Make sure that the name of the person who actually sent the message is listed on all of the company's promotional materials including their site because it's also possible that the media outlet in fact is real, but the person emailing you is using a company's name illegitimately.

Secondly, although this may seem like a no-brainer, check and see which genres and similar bands have been offered airplay/coverage by the outlet in the past, if you recognize none of the acts and/or your act does not seem to fit into the “sound” they are promoting, it's likely a waste of cash (you'd be surprised how fast postal bills can add up). Aside from squandering your dough on unnecessary mailing fees, your disc may actually end up becoming pirated on a mass scale to unguaranteed internet sites. I'm sure some of you are thinking, well that's not that bad - it's still relatively cheap exposure? Perhaps, but consider this, what if they decide (which they likely will) NOT to credit you as an artist, anyone could lay claim to your music, and because it's being transferred on the “internet black-market”, your claim is just as worthless as anyone else's.

Warning signs:
- They request an upfront fee for coverage, and/or even potential consideration for coverage
- You've never heard of past clientele or artists receiving airplay/writeups.
- Your music does not fit into their genre of focus
- Any credit card information, account identities and passwords are required for them to work on your behalf.
- They have no website, corporate information, or company letterhead.
- They are located at an international location at which you've never received any previous promotion
- The request for materials or offering of services appears to look like a form letter with no direct address to a specified recipient.
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