Vol 2, Issue 9: Music Industry Scams, Pt II: Getting Screwed in Places You`d Least Expect!

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. Irrespective of efforts made on the behalf of industry professionals “in the know” to educate up and comers, artists continue to make easy prey and likely targets for those callous enough to want to feed off of those who truly cannot afford to lose what scarce resources they possess. 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!) Continuing on from last week’s rant regarding the numerous ways in which musicians are being swindled, here’s an overview of some of the latest emerging scam artist tactics that are even more cleverly disguised that those previously discussed:

The Media & 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 for FREE, 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’m not quite sure who proposed the rather absurd idea that an indie band could only get coverage if they either a) hired a licensed publicist or b) paid news outlets directly, but suffice it to say that it couldn’t be any further from the truth.

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 who's 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 cd 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 blackmarket”, your claim is just as worthless as anyone else’s.

If your name is not attached to what you do (and you’re in it for commercial success), you won’t be attaining much fame, now will you? As a side note, a great way to mitigate unwanted high cost bills relating to sending out press materials is to create an online secret press page (more on this in a later edition).

Warning Signs: Beware of any media outlet or marketing company requesting your material or offering their promotional services if they possesses any of the following characteristics:
1) They request an upfront fee for coverage, and/or even potential consideration for coverage
2) You’ve never heard of past clientele or artists receiving airplay/writeups.
3) Your music does not fit into their genre of focus
4) Any credit card information, account identities and passwords are required for them to work on your behalf.
5) They have no website, corporate information, or company letterhead.
6) They are located at an international location at which you’ve never received any previous promotion
7) The request for materials or offering of services appears to look like a form letter with no direct address to a specified recipient.

Overseas Album Distribution Offers
If you’ve decided to go it alone like many indie bands these days, this opportunity will likely come a-knocking at your door. Because greater cd distribution (in theory) means greater potential for exposure and profit margin, receiving a retail distribution offering from an overseas company seems like an offer you cannot refuse. These scams typically involve the request of a bulk number of discs (sold at a wholesale discounted rate) in exchange for upfront cash. These overseas retailers offer visibility in their small chain of stores, and guarantee sales. Unlike authentic independent retailers who usually take the albums of unsigned acts on consignment, this deal is extra tempting because it has the allure of offering upfront money.

At this point, I hope you’re starting to see the pattern – any kind of business deal (especially in the music industry) in which there is an offering of upfront money should make you run screaming (well, maybe not screaming, but run) in the opposite direction. Regardless of how talented and amazing your act may be, no business (that is worth working with) will ever offer you upfront cash without enforcing some sort of collateral so that the onus for sales/partnership is equally on you.

Embracing the best elements (note the sarcasm) of fellow ploys, this alteration on the 419 scam is not only a money laundering endeavour, but also because no contractual agreement is devised in these offers, your cds (at least some cheap copies) will likely end up again being sold on the streets. Additionally troublesome is the fact that if no sale terms are agreed upon, this retailer could, in theory, charge as much or as little for your disc in his/her shop(s) without entitling you to any royalty share of the sales. By the time you’ve realized that the cheque issued to you was either fraudulent or part of a money laundering scheme, you’ve already sent off your cds, and there is no way you’ll be getting them back. The cash provided to you is completely worthless, and you’ve just lost a whole bunch of inventory that was expensive to manufacture in the first place.

Warning Signs: To avoid finding yourself in this sticky situation, ensure that you
1) NEVER give anyone your music without a contract outlining the terms of sale, length of sale terms, commissions to be paid, and obligations of the involved parties.
2) If payment is to be provided upfront for your goods, request a certified cheque or certified money order (this means that the money physically has to be in the merchant’s account at the time the cheque/money order was processed) and do NOT send any of your product until the cheque/money order has been approved by your financial institution (I recommend waiting at least 1-2 weeks).

Seeking New Talent

Believe it or not, despite all of the scams I’ve outlined, the entertainment biz actually has a number of agencies including The Better Business Bureau, AMIS, and 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. Irrespective of 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, meaning 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 their mind).

I urge you to especially beware 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 (sound familiar?)

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

Warning Signs: 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. Standard going rate is between 10 – 20% of your sales + payment.
5) Any decent record label, booking agent, or manager prior to signing any act will require an IN-PERSON AUDITION + 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:
1) Do you have a website?
2) How long have you been in business?
3) Do you have client references?
4) How many people do you represent?
5) What types of opportunities do you offer? What are your commission rates?
6) Are you registered with the Better Business Bureau or any other consumer protection agencies?

*On the other 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) & 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.*

The Party Favour
Much to my chagrin, I recently discovered that this was in fact a scam through an online forum while doing research for this piece. Admittedly, another one, for which I was almost taken, “the party favour” offers your band what seems, at first, a simple request on the behalf of a devout fan.

Initiating his/her correspondence with abundant flattery, the party favour scammer begins by requesting the services of your act as paid special guest performers at an upcoming large catered affair for his/her significant other as you are their all-time favourite band. So far, so good, but wait, they’re from the UK and you’re stuck here in London, Ontario – you think to yourself, they must have made a mistake. Continuing with correspondence, you offer clarification on your location to ensure that they know you are not, in fact, from London, England.

The scammer responds by stating that (s)he is indeed aware of your international location, but not to worry, (s)he will make all of the necessary arrangements for your (and your equipment’s) safe arrival and departure, accommodations and food will be provided, and you will be sent a cash advance to cover your expenses upon confirmation. Wow, sounds like a pretty sweet deal? You get to travel to another country, free of charge, just to play a quick set at a fan’s birthday bash. I hope you’re thinking at this point that there must be a catch, because there most certainly is.

Not to imply that your band may not be worth all of this trouble, but we’re talking a pretty good chunk of change here, and I’d have to wonder, if the party planner is as wealthy as (s)he appears to be, why wouldn’t (s)he just hire a professional DJ or entertainment troupe from his/her district or for that matter take his/her spouse out to a major concert event and get backstage passes? I know, I know, you’re their FAVOURITE act, but if that’s so, then why is this the FIRST time you’ve ever been contacted by this person – they have no record of previously buying merchandise from you, nor have you ever played or promoted your act in their area. It’s possible that they discovered you online, but to say that you are their favourite act without ever having seen you perform previously, seems a little strange to me – what if, for that matter, you’re a really shitty live act (let’s face it, producers do a lot more than they are given credit for) or worse yet, as there is no previously established relationship, couldn’t you pretty much just take the money from the cash advance and run? Granted people are generally more trustworthy than they should be, but when it comes to cash, I doubt someone would be stupid enough to invest that much money without some sort of guarantee.

So what’s the catch? Well 1) if they are making all of the travel arrangements, they will require copies of all of your band members’ IDs (I hope the identity theft lightbulb just went off in your head) 2) The cash advance that you will be sent will mysteriously be made out for more than your agreed upon fee and the party planner will insist to make it your duty to cash the credit note at your bank (you just gave him your account information unknowingly), and to reimburse the over-drafted amount to another previously unmentioned individual who is taking part in the party preparations (you just completed a money laundering transaction for the party planner, good for you!)

Aside from the fact that you could end up being indicted for participating in a federal offense, you also just gave away your identity. At this point, the party scammer could create a series of fake IDs based on your details and continue to commit criminal acts, or if you really get off the hook, (s)he could proclaim your death! Oh, what fun!

Warning Signs: To avoid ending up crying at someone else’s party, I suggest you avoid any party favour invites that resemble the following:
1) The party planner is from a far-off location and remarkably, all of your expenses are being offered to be paid for upfront.
2) You nor have any of your band mates previously been contacted by this individual. Most devout fans that want you to make special appearances at their personal engagements will speak to you quite regularly, and establish a relationship with your band as a loyal fan.
3) You cannot book any of your own travel arrangements
4) The promised bank note or cheque arrives made out to you in excess of the agreed upon fee for your services. IMMEDIATELY, return this money and do not try to cash it. In the best case scenario of this scam, the bank note is fraudulent and the money doesn’t actually exist. Because it takes banks about a week to process international money orders and because you are already an established regular banker, you will be granted the sum before the pending transaction has been authorized based on your credit. About a week later, the bank will notice that the credit note was denied, and in that case, you will not only be responsible for repaying back all of the money + a fee for the “bounced” transaction, additionally, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do to the local authorities as to why a fraudulent bank note was in your possession.

The Fan Swag Grab
I’m especially fond of this particular tactic (more sarcasm) in which a supposed young child makes a request on behalf of their dying and/or disabled parent for either a free copy of your act’s album or complimentary merchandise because it is the only thing that will apparently ease their parent’s aliment. Don’t get me wrong, I value my band’s fans a great deal, and go to great efforts to ensure that they are happy and satisfied with our products, but at the same time, if I honoured every request for free merchandise, I’d be so far indebt that my band would NO longer be able to produce any new swag, thereby defeating the purpose of having merch at all.

Merch, for bands, is our lifeblood – aside from its obvious promotional value, the profits generated from it are used to provide bands with essentials that they cannot afford to lose including food, travel, and recording money. If bands give everything away for free, they can, as it were, no longer exist.

As I do not feel it is fair to treat one fan more favourably than another (not to mention this will likely result in your act LOSING fans), in this instance, I really must promote an “all or none” mentality.

Regarding the kid, and his/her sick parent - After almost falling for this ploy in which I decided, prior to sending anything, to check out the customs laws pertaining to the destination territory, I discovered that the request (in my case for t-shirts) was actually an illegal dealing in which, if I were to send the merchandise, I could end up implicated in a crime! Now I know this seems a little far fetched, but I advise you, if you ever receive a request for free merch from a supposed fan to research the mailing/custom laws regarding the territory to which they expect you to send the package (this information can easily be obtained through your national post office's website).

If, as it was in my case, the destination address has a long list of items that are NOT legally allowed to be imported into the country through personal mail such as cds, and t-shirts, I would hope at this point the little red flag in your head has come out to slap you in the face.

On the plus side of things, the rationale as to why these importing/exporting laws were developed in the first place was to diminish the amount of illegally mass-produced products being sold on the blackmarket. Remember, all it takes is one copy of your album, and/or t-shirt in their possession to use as a “model”, and then these con artists have the ability to produce as many blackmarket copies as they want depriving you of any potential profits.

The success of this scam is dependent upon the fact that most of us (at least those of us with half a heart) will feel pathos for this child and his/her ill parent, and so, without question, we will send our products for free. I get that – hell – I almost fell for it too! But I urge you to be wary when it comes to peculiar requests such as these, as the likelihood of them being sincere is unfortunately not in your favour.

Warning Signs: If you receive an urgent request for free merchandise from a so-called “loyal” fan, your suspicious should become aroused if you notice any of the following details:
1) You’ve never directly met this person and/or played or received promotion in their territory (How would they have heard of you?)
2) If the letter is not directed personally to either your band’s name, management company, and/or name of your band leader (It’s likely a mass emailed form letter)
3) If the letter contains a sympathy provoking story that explains your merchandise is somehow essential to the success of their “dying” and/or “sick” relative
4) Most obviously, the very fact that a so-called loyal fan is not willing to pay for your merchandise should be a cause of your immediate concern. Would you ever demand free merchandise from one of your favourite artists? I know I wouldn’t – I’m proud to support them!

One Final Note on Scam-Related Incidences
Although the following anecdote outlines a situation which would not be considered a scam, it is still something to which I would like to draw your attention. Most bands, like my own, scour the internet looking for hundreds of various websites on which we can create bandpages and hopefully gain new fans. Usually these websites have terms of service agreements which you are required to read prior to initiating membership. Because these terms of service tend to be lengthy and composed of unintelligible legal jargon, the whole reading process is generally skipped, as we assume there is nothing these websites can really do with any of our personal information or band-related materials. WRONG!

Upon initiation of these memberships, you are legally bound to these terms of service, regardless of whether you’ve read them or not, and unfortunately I am ashamed to disclose a situation in which this came back to bite me in the ass.

Seeing as I have literally signed my band up on hundreds of sites without having any problems in the past, I assumed stupidly that all of these terms of service agreements must be pretty standard and nothing harmful towards my band could occur as the result of any acceptance of membership. Well, early last year, it came to my attention that one of these websites (which is associated with a well-known Canadian newspaper) used my band’s likeness in a large promotional print ad campaign in order to promote their services, WITHOUT our permission and WITHOUT crediting us as the artist depicted or our photographer.

Now yes, this could be considered free promotion, but because our band name was not even listed in the caption, I’m sure many people got the impression that it was just a bought stock photo illustrating a fictional band. We got absolutely nothing out of this ad, while the company had much to gain.

After bringing this matter to the attention of the editor of the website (and newspaper), I was informed that the website’s terms of service agreement detailed that the music and/or likeness of any artist members could be used at the sole discretion of the company for any promotional purposes, at any time, without crediting the original source. I continued to pursue this matter as far as I could, but because I signed the user agreement, it was assumed that I read it, and any resulting consequences that arose due to my lack of reading were my fault entirely. Evidently, there was nothing I could do about it, and this was a situation in which I sadly had to admit defeat - just a little “food for thought” for the next time you sign up on a site like Garageband or Mp3.com.

In conclusion, I hope I have not dampened your spirits too much by relaying the music industry’s unprecedented number of scams, but on the other hand, I hope that I’ve gotten your attention, and have demonstrated just how dirty this business can be. I cannot stress it enough – this is not a place for little fish as you are greatly outnumbered by sharks.

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/