Music Scams - some common ones to avoid

Music Scams - some common ones to avoid
by Sue Basko

Special Note: This post is about music scams.  Please keep in mind, there are many real, legitimate, worthwhile music businesses that do things like promotion and management or musicians and music acts.  There are many services that are well worth paying for, too.  You should always have the contract or agreement looked over by a lawyer.  And keep in mind that no service can take the place of talent, practice over years, lessons, good instruments, etc.  Only a marketable talent can be marketed.  
I see the contracts from these scams all the time, and lately, I am seeing many more of them. So I want to put the word out here to warn all of you. Please do not take this as legal advice.  

The MAIN piece of advice I can give you is DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING until you have it checked out by a lawyer who is experienced in music law.

This is not going to be comprehensive, but will just give you an idea of some of the music scams that are out there now.

LOCATION: Most music scams that I have seen are situated in Nashville, Tennessee, or someplace in California, usually in the Los Angeles area. But I have also seen scams coming from New York City, Texas, Georgia, Nevada, and other places. The scams can be anywhere or can just be on the internet.


MUSIC MANAGERS: A person flatters you and your music and offers to be your "manager," and then asks you to sign a contract. The contract either asks for money upfront, or gets you to sign over a percentage of your potential income. In most cases, these "managers" are nothing more than wannabes. You can end out in so much trouble if you sign such a contract! There are ways I can spot these fakes, usually in under a few minutes, and I do not want to give away the secrets for fear they will get smarter.

Of course, not all manager contracts are scams, but a very significant portion of them are. The worst contract I saw had terms where the musicians were signing over all their property and other businesses, as well as the property and businesses of the spouses. Other management contracts do not allow the musician an "out," and the contract keeps renewing itself. I have also seen management contracts that are totally vague on what the manager is going to do. One particular kind of manager contract is nothing more than a front for a showcase, recording studio, production company, or advertising company of some sort. Many of these will "feel out" how much money you have or might spend, and gauge the contract accordingly.  (Keep in mind, there are management and promotion services that are well worth paying for, IF the services are good and IF you are a good, marketable talent. 

The main defense against such a scam is DO NOT sign the contract. Have any contract checked out first by a music lawyer.

SONGWRITER SHOWCASES: Big in Nashville, but also elsewhere. You think you are going to play a few songs at a club. But you get there and you are asked to either pay money or sign a contract, which they may call a "release." You went all the way there to play, so you think you must sign. You are signing a contract, usually giving up ownership of your songs.

There are also such showcases connected up with managers, who mainly act as fronts to funnel the musicians into the showcases, for which you pay a hefty fee.

Showcases usually claim to be bringing you in front of music industry professionals. With some showcases, this is true. You need to weigh the cost of attending the showcase up against what it will actually offer. There are very sad stories about musicians paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees, travel and hotels, to play at a showcase in front of a handful of assistants to bookers at local clubs. Do you need this?

If you are out there in the public eye making music, playing shows, and promoting yourself, you will probably be heard and seen -- if you are doing so in a major city. Also, the internet is a great tool for being seen by anyone anywhere.

RADIO PROMO: This comes mostly out of Nashville, but also other locations. The idea here is that you pay to have "radio placement." Somehow, the placement is only on stations connected to them, and only they have all these marvelous numbers to show your song climbing the (imaginary) charts. To top it off, they hold an awards ceremony, and lo and behold, you win an award. And so does everyone else that paid for lots of promo.

GETTING "SIGNED": Anyone can "get signed." What are you signing and with whom? These scams have a lot of variation. If anyone wants to "sign" you, get it checked out before signing!
Many such things involve either you paying money to use a certain recording studio or producer, or you signing over the rights to your music.

MUSIC COMPOSITION CONTRACTS: Someone offers you a contract to compose music for a film or video, or for something else. The dollar amount sounds decent. However, the contract has so many loopholes, and you will never actually be paid for your work.

MUSIC PLACEMENT OR LICENSING SCAMS: There a gezillion of these right now. The problem is the middleman - the service or person finding placement for the song on a TV show, commercial, or in a film. This can be a legitimate business. But there are plenty of rip-offs where they pay you a flat, non-negotiated, uniform standard fee for use of your song -- while at the same time, they are negotiating with the show producer to be paid big bucks. I have seen it where the music licensing "expert" pays $150 to all composers -- and is being paid $1500 or $2000 or more per song. A genuine music placement person will take a percentage of the licensing fee, so that you are getting a fair percentage of the money.

There are many more scams out there, but these are the main ones I have been seeing lately. Beware!