Child Singer Scams

Child Singer Scams
by Sue Basko, esq.

Today, there are many ambitious children (and/or their ambitious parents) wanting to be famous singers and/or songwriters. They've seen the TV character Hannah Montana and her real life counterpart, Miley Cyrus, or Taylor Swift, or the Jonas Brothers -- and they imagine themselves with that kind of fame. For every dream, there is a scam just looking for suckers.

EMAIL (the names of the people and websites have been removed)

Today I was contacted by someone from --- (a website using “casting” in its name) claiming that she saw my daughter's video on --- (a website / Facebook selling Skype acting “lessons” to children) and YouTube and that she works with --- (a website claiming to be of a supposedly famous music producer), someone by the name of R------ who is interested in producing and writing original songs for my daughter, who is unsigned. She talked to me at length today about his interests and told me there is an upfront fee of $5000 (deposit 1k included in that price) for the investment on our part. She claims it is to pay the song writers, recording studios, personnel, etc and that he would cover all other out of pocket expenses if we paid the 5k. Sounds really fishy. Have you heard of them and are they legit or a scam?

There are a gezillion studios that will record you singing a song for $5000. Of course, most will do this for far less than $5,000. The twist here is that this producer is supposedly famous and supposedly has great hit-making credentials and supposedly has listened to this child sing online and wants to record her so she can be famous, if the parents fork over $5,000.

REALITY CHECK #1: The websites give no addresses or phone numbers. They don't even list a last name for R---, the supposed producer. There is no way to check them out, check out their company, check him out, etc. How do you know this is not just a con artist waiting for you to pay your downpayment of $1,000, never to heard from again?

A base level thing I look at in websites, to judge the professionalism of those involved, is to simply READ the website. These two websites were loaded with misspellings, poor grammar, and misuse of words. They seem to be written by someone that flunked out of 4th grade. Okay, so R--- is so famous, but cannot do basic writing and cannot pay a public relations person to write for him? Use your sense. If it looks stupid, it IS stupid. One of the hallmarks of scam emails and scam websites is that they are so often written this way.

REALITY CHECK #2: One of the websites says it is of a talent agency. It does not give its location or phone number. Talent agencies are licensed and are usually only allowed to operate within the state of licensure. When we check the state registry where this family lives, there is no license for this talent agency. It is just a fake.

REALITY CHECK #3: Although R--- claims by implication (photos, songs playing, video montages that juxtapose a photo of him with a photo of a famous singer) that he has important credentials, none of this pans out when you check it out against other sources. He's the only one that knows he's famous. He's the only one that knows he has recorded with famous people. He's the only one that knows he has won awards.

REALITY CHECK #4: All of his credits are very vague. If he said "I was the Chief Engineer on (name of album or song) recorded by (name of singer) in (year) -- you could check that out.

REALITY CHECK #5: It is very easy to make any level of singer sound kind of okay for a pop song sound. You just add a lot of reverb, overdubs, autotune, put in a lot of backing vocals. I personally can do this using ProTools or Garage Band. It does not take a recording genius and it does not cost $5,000.

REALITY CHECK #6: A recorded song is a beginning. What are you going to do with it? How are you going to market it? Ark Entertainment, a company that sells such recording services to parents for their tweens, recorded Rebecca Black singing "Friday." She and the song became famous because it was touted as "the worst song in the world." A lot of money was made by people checking it out to see just how bad it was. Rebecca Black now has a starring role in a (very terrible) Katy Perry music video.
So much money was made that Rebecca Black's mother is now fighting over it with Ark.

What shall the next young girl singer do? Claim that her song is even worse than "Friday"?

What I am getting at is that any level of singer can record a pop song, but the song cannot make money without marketing.

And a child cannot be a star unless they:
a) live in or near Los Angeles to be a pop singer, or Nashville to be a country music singer;
b) have natural charisma;
c) can perform in person to put on shows;
d) have a repertoire of songs;
e) have at least one parent willing and able to spend full-time on making the child a star;
f) have plenty of cash to spend on this goal.

REALITY CHECK #7: In the situation above, the girl had pretty looks with average presence and skills and the voice of a 12 year old beginning to play guitar and sing. In other words, she was average, a beginner, a typical 12 year old with a budding interest in playing music. If she works on her skills and develops over time, she might one day be ready to perform for an audience. My advice was for her to take singing lessons and guitar lessons and practice really hard for a few years, then try playing some local open mics that allow kids, and in a few years, see if she is ready to record. Then, the family can find a recording studio and producer that match the kind of music the girl likes to make, at a price they can afford.

Young fame that is earned is for those truly talented beyond the ordinary. The story is that Justin Timberlake sang in perfect harmony and danced to the radio at 2 and a half years old. Taylor Swift began writing songs at age 12 and developed a huge Youtube following. Miley Cyrus began her professional career at age 9 and began heavily auditioning at age 11, to win the Disney role of "Hannah Montana" at age twelve. Her career is full-time hard work. Part of the reason she was picked by Disney is because her father agreed to play her father on the show, and thus, be present to oversee her on a regular basis.

IS your child really star material? If you appear to have money to spend, many people will tell you that your child is star material. Flattery is an easy way to your checkbook. The idea behind every scam or con is that you are being offered something a little too good to be true.

These "child star" scams have been going around for decades - for modeling, acting, and singing. They start when you get an email or letter stating that your baby has been referred for being beautiful and could be a model. Today with the internet, it is easier than ever to find and contact scam prey. You have been chosen, you are so lucky, you have such talent, you must agree and pay us quickly before we give this chance to someone else.

WHAT TYPE OF SCAM? The scenario above could be simply a flatter-fame scam, where the parents are being sold a fantasy, and where the recording studio exists, the parents pay their money, and the child records a song.

OR -- it could be a situation where it is a total a scam, the parents pay their money and the studio and producer do not even exist and "someone" runs off with $5,000, or at least with the $1000 deposit.

That's how this one sounded like it would go down. The producer did not have a last name, there were no addresses or phone numbers. Only a sucker would send off $1000 to something like this.

SINGER-PRODUCER SCAMS FOR ADULTS: Maybe these are scams. Or maybe it is just marketing. But this is how it goes: A singer or rock band has some music up online. They are contacted by a person saying that a famous producer wants to work with them, record their music: It is the chance of a lifetime. You will go on to fame if he records you. You will be signed with whatever record label you want if he produces your music. It won't be cheap, but it will be worth it.

My advice on picking a studio:

1) Have a music lawyer check out any such deal and any contract.

2) Work with a producer/ studio whose work you know and love. If you are not familiar with any producers and do not have sounds you like and sounds you do not like, you are really not ready to record.

3) To get ready to record, listen to a lot of music. When you hear sounds you like, try to look up the credits to find out where it was recorded and who worked as the engineer, producer, and mixer. Go to the websites of different recording studios and listen to their music samples. What do you like or not like?

4) Look into local studios, wherever you live. There may be a wonderful place close to home.

5) Record at home. You can do this with a computer or basic equipment. Or make singing videos with a little video camera. Practice, practice, practice. This will get you ready for a studio.