Vol 4, The VERY Grand Finale: Let Er Rip!

Inspiration, by its very nature, draws upon the influence of pre-existing factors: first comes an incident, person, place, concept or tangible item, then the emotion one attaches, and finally, the resulting artistic creation. When it comes to “studied” artforms such as music, most practitioners originally enter the craft by learning/mastering the works of others, before they begin to compose themselves. Accordingly, when the time for the latter endeavour comes around, the techniques and ideas of their idols with which they’ve become familiar inevitably end up entering into their own works; sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much. In other words, it goes without saying that every artist is influenced by someone.

All of this brings me to today’s topic at hand: that of “ripping off” the works of others. Following my longstanding tradition of ending each year with a controversial countdown, below I’ve compiled a list of what I feel are some of the hands down WORST rip-offs in contemporary popular music history.

But, before we get to the muckraking, I feel it’s necessary to point out the definitions of “homaging” and “sampling” to clarify that I’m NOT referring to either of these practises. Rather, my list overviews songs which have blatantly ripped off the material (ie: the song melody) of someone else’s in its near identical or precisely identical form, and attempted to pass it off as “original.”


Definition: the intentional AND importantly CREDITED borrowing and incorporation of lyrical, melodious or riff fragments from songs of artists who’ve greatly inspired you into one or several of your own works.

Aim: To give recognition, credence, “props” and/or thanks

Example: Veruca Salt’s bridge in “Save You” plays on the lyrics/melody/guitar work of Nirvana’s “Negative Creep”


Definition: typically involves looping a familiar/well-known rhythm/riff to act as the “backing track” for a new melody. May be intentional OR unintentional, credited OR uncredited. Primarily associated with rap and/or techno music.

Aim: varies, may be similar to what is intended to be accomplished through homaging, an attempt to rework a song with one’s own flavour (similar to doing a really different take on a cover tune like Chris Cornell’s cover of M.J.’s “Billie Jean”) OR an attempt to earn an easy hit single by capitalizing on an already popular tune and merely adding new lyrics and/or a slightly new vocal line. The latter aim is the MOST common. 

Example: Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” samples The Police’s “I’ll Be Watching You”

To play the devil’s advocate temporarily, I should mention it’s been argued that at this point in popular music history, virtually every tuneful/melodic chord pattern, annoyingly catchy percussion rhythm, and instantly memorable vocal hook has been pretty much done to death. Given all of this, some suggest that “true originality” is no longer possible.I have my own opinions on the matter, but I’ll let you all mull that one over for yourselves.

My theory is this: we have a limited number of major labels (and indie labels which are merely thinly veiled subsidiaries of majors) who run approximately 80% of the mainstream music marketplace. Said labels have limited songwriting teams working for the vast MAJORITY of ALL of their top-selling artists.

While on the surface, it appears there is a wide variety of different types of musicians/music styles being represented, when you have the SAME people pumping out tunes for everyone, it results in an extremely skewed creative playing table (musically, lyrically, and otherwise). Furthermore, considering the industry is obsessed with jumping on the “fad wagon” signing every band/act that looks or sounds remotely similar to whomever is currently topping the charts, it’s NOT difficult to see why so many songs/artists are becoming increasingly indistinguishable (in ALL regards).

Perhaps a business analogy would prove illustrative: when you have a single large media conglomerate that oversees the content of 100 daily newspapers, it’s NOT surprising to see that all of those newspapers will contain highly similar if NOT identical stories in them week-to-week irrespective of their location (barring extraordinary local “breaking news”) because it’s CHEAPER to merely replicate/rehash old content that you know sells than to either bring on new creative staff or allow your current staff to go out into the field, pitch their own stories and conduct hard journalism research.

It’s not, however, like this trend is all that new considering that for years during the beginnings of “rock’n’roll” (when it was still known as “rhythm and blues”), because of racial segregation and discriminatory legal and broadcast practises, white artists like Elvis got away scot-free ripping off the tunes of much MORE talented and rarely acknowledged African American players. What is new though is the rate of rip-off crossover between supposedly distinct “genres” and the instant popularity of “artists” who’d be NOTHING if it weren’t for clever marketing tactics which again merely rip-off what’s already worked in the past.

So…without further adieu and in no particular order, I welcome you all to listen to these tracks side-by-side and see if you can hear the undisputable “coincidences” (and I use that term loosely):

1) The Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky” Vs. Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”

2) Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” Vs. Aaron Lewis’ “Country Boy”

3) Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” Vs. Chad Kroeger’s (feat. Josey Scott) “Hero” (*as noted originally by Shirley Manson from Garbage)

4) Madonna’s “Express Yourself” Vs. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”

5) The Beatles” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” Vs. The Offspring’s “Why Don't You Get a Job?” (*pay particular attention to the choruses)

6) Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” Vs. U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

7) Tom Jones’ “Delilah” Vs. Fastball’s “The Way”

8) The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” Vs. George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (*VERY famous lawsuit!)

9) Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” Vs. The Black-Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?”

10) Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” Vs. The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” (*note The Beach Boys, at least, have admitted they are hugely influenced by Berry…perhaps because SEVERAL of their tunes have been accused of ripping his off)

11) Kelly Clarkson’s “Behind These Hazel Eyes” Vs. Fefe Dobson’s “Stuttering” (*no doubt they have the SAME songwriter)

12) Lillix’s “It’s About Time” Vs. Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” (*same note as for number 11)

13) Collective Soul’s “The World I Know” Vs. Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” (*most apparent when listening Sam Tsui’s cover of Christina Perri’s song as it’s in the SAME key as the original Collective Soul tune)

14) Joe Satriani’s “If I Could Fly” Vs. Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” (*Satriani did issue a lawsuit. The case was dismissed... I suspect some sort of pay-off to keep quiet was involved.)

15) Astrud Gilberto’s (feat. Gil Evans) “Maria Quiet” Vs. Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” (*being that the latter song contains one of the most well-known and widely regarded guitar opening riffs in rock history, this one will break your heart)

16) The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” Vs. Sublime’s “What I Got”

17) Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” Vs. Megadeth’s “Mechanix” (*Dave Mustaine was in Metallica at one point so it’s NOT really that surprising. Metallica too though have been accused of ripping off Excel and Iron Maiden, among others, which has caused some to question how they exactly justified being so up in arms about people "stealing their material" via Napster if in fact their "original music" regularly "steals" from others...but we won't go there.)

18) Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane” Vs. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” (*Verses ONLY)

19) The Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud” Vs. The Rubinoos “I Wanna be Your Boyfriend”

19) Muddy Waters’ “You Need Love” Vs. Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” (*the titles themselves are a pretty good giveaway)

20) Jethro Tull’s “We Used to Know” Vs. The Eagles’ “Hotel California” (Verses ONLY)

Here’s one hell of a WHOPPER:
21) The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” Vs. The Doors’ “Touch Me” Vs. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” Vs. Jet’s “Are You Gonna be My Girl?”

And finally, the top rip-off artist awards go to Britney Spears (well, at least her songwriters) and John Fogerty for successfully ripping off THEMSELVES:

22) Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” Vs. “Oops I Did it Again” (*as popularized by the comedy troupe SuperGirly)

23) CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” (written by Fogerty) Vs. John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down the Road” (*at least Fogerty got sued for his really lame attempt.)

Vol 4, Issue 10: Taking Centre Stage...Fright?

You know, I’ve been writing this column for hmm…let’s see about five years now, and it never once occurred to me to tackle this week’s subject at hand. It’s not that it hasn’t always been lurking on the periphery to a certain degree. Rather, I guess I just kinda took it for granted as something not really as relevant considering the “heavy-hitting” business-related material I typically discuss in this forum.

However, after contemplating both what I imparted and the responses I received in return at a special guest lecture I conducted last week among a group of young budding rock starlets, it dawned on me that this issue is absolutely one worthy of its moment on my personal soapbox, if only to provide reassurance to some of you out there.

And so without further adieu, this week, we shall discuss the phenomenon known as “stage fright”, the difference between “debilitating nervousness” versus “good nervousness” and finally, some tips for how you may combat your own case of “cold feet” and/or “sweats” when getting ready to rock. But first, as always, a personal story:

Long before I got into rock’n’roll, my dream was actually to become a broadway star – the next Sarah Brightman, in fact. Accordingly I went through classical and operatic vocal training for about 14 years.

Although I’ve always enjoy singing, performing, and speaking in front of audiences and never from an emotional perspective (even at the tender age of four) FELT anxious before stepping on stage, I used to be plagued with something I like to refer to as the “jitters”.

Basically what would happen is anytime I prepared to sing solo in front of a crowd, the moment I uttered my initial note, my legs would start to shake so violently that it sounded as though I was putting on a ridiculously over the top vibrato technique. No matter how hard I tried, I had no control over it and I got so self-conscious that I began to deliberately wear floor length dresses to all of my vocal recitals so that my leg shaking could not be detected by spectators.

This was something that actually plagued me for several years, but I couldn’t figure out the cause because as I said I didn’t FEEL nervous. It wasn’t until I formed my first rock band at 15 that it eventually went away.

But as we know, history sometimes likes to make a habit of repeating itself. And so, ten years later – last summer – and the first time I had performed solo in a REALLY long time, my jitters came back with a vengeance. Not only were my legs going haywire, but I found myself completely overwhelmed by the experience of being so tiny and alone up there on this massive stage relying on only myself to produce sound (and therefore knowing I was the only one to blame if that sound sucked!), playing to a crowd of over 500,000 at a major US festival. 

Now, before I go any further, let me just state for the record that harbouring a little bit of pre-show nervousness, in my view, is actually a GOOD thing as it means you’re invested in what you’re doing and you’re putting your heart into it. In sum, you’re nervous because you want things to go well. For that matter, I’ve yet to meet a professional who doesn’t claim that they still experience anticipation and anxiety before doing their thang. On the other side of the equation however is what I was experiencing (ie: debilitating nervousness): something that was affecting my performance detrimentally and therefore something I needed to understand so that I could resolve it.

After thinking long and hard about what was similar between my vocal recitals and last year’s festival experience and comparing how I felt before jumping on stage with my bands to both of the aforementioned scenarios, I quickly figured out what was missing and therefore what was bringing on the jitters: it was all about the approach.

With both of my bands, before officially plugging in, we always gave ourselves positive peptalks, did band cheers, and went out there with an attitude to have fun. 

Realizing that the live show medium is really more about entertaining people, than hitting every nice with perfect precision (if they wanted that, they could go listen to the recording), even if we screwed up parts or re-sang the same lyrics, if we delivered a show that got the crowd pumping, we weren’t too hard on ourselves afterward as we fulfilled the goal we set out to accomplish. Moreover, as you’ll learn once you get out there and touring, even when you commit what seem like glaring errors live onstage, if you treat them with professionalism in that you “just rock past ‘em”, to be honest, the vast majority of people won’t even notice. 

The point is this: because my classical training was so much about indoctrinating me with the concept that I was to sing every single note exactly how it was written on the page, I felt I had to perform perfectly or I’d be failing to live up to the “Conservatory” standard. This mentality carried over to my first few solo performances because it was established as the initial guideline for how I was to perform when I was all by myself on stage.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against classical training – in fact I owe a great deal of credence to it for allowing me to develop the abilities I have today – however, the way in which it was at least taught to me created a situation where I developed a nervous reaction that served to affect my performances in a very negative way. The resolution? Quite simply, I had to learn to overcome my classical “perfectionist” mentality and to take on the positive approach I did when I was with my former bands.

You may think it’s cheesy, but I tell ya it works. Each time before I step on stage, I take a moment to find a quiet corner, close my eyes, and have a brief moment of zen with myself. I ask for confidence to go out there and do the best that I can.

Performance anxiety can also in part be conquered by making sure that you’re ready, by investing in practising (yes I know it gets boring sometimes, but it’s necessary), and finally, by realizing that with everything in this business, the best laid plans don’t always work out. In other words and in complete contrast to the above stories, I’ve been completely exhilarated to jump on stage, and 100% confident I was gonna rock it, and then what happens? Well, I find out the soundman didn’t properly ground the electrical equipment and so every time I strum my guitar and sing simultaneously, I get slightly electrocuted….I wish I was joking.

Let me leave it at this: we all have wicked shows, and we all suck really bad sometimes – sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes there’s something freaky out there in the air. As a musician, you need to learn how to deal with all of the above – not just deal with it, but deal with it like a professional.

Vol 4, Issue 9: Risk Management

The other day, I received two proposals from individuals “generously” offering to take over the reins of my career. No doubt my recent invitation to attend the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards as a honourary guest artist had something to do with it. Although I’ve made it abundantly clear to my fellow players as well as several management firms that have approached me in the past that I’m confident in my abilities to navigate my professional aspirations and indeed have had success via the D.I.Y. approach, I was willing to, at least, hear them out. While I relay to you these experiences, I ask you, my budding professional artists, to reflect on why I had issues with BOTH proposals (gotta make sure you’ve learned something thus far!):

Proposal numero uno came in the form of a simple email and let me be clear, I mean SIMPLE. I received no personal introduction nor cover letter catered to my specific needs as an artist, but rather an attached text-only word document which consisted of no more than the individual stating his name, his age (not sure that’s entirely relevant, but okay…), the fact he’s worked on and off within the music/modeling biz for approximately 20 years, and three different service options he was willing to provide. Without getting into nitty gritty detail, the service options included:

a) Management: the lowest fee option, in which he got “final say over everything” (his own words). This agreement would be legally binding.

b) Exclusive Booking Agent: “all gigs and all event coordinators or bar owners interested must go through [him].” Again, legally binding.


c) Freelance Non-Contractual Promoter: the highest fee option, in which you could continue to book your own gigs, but he would assumingly be able to get you bigger opportunities as well.

In addition to the above overview, it is important to make mention of a few interesting points of discussion in regard to his proposal. First off, he made the bold claim that, “many bars/clubs won’t hire a band that isn’t with a licensed Agent.” Considering my and many others successes as self-represented D.I.Y.-ers, I don’t feel it’s even necessary to point out the inaccuracy of that statement

Secondly, he made mention of the fact that apparently most of the acts he contacts elect option b (yes, believe it or not, he has acts he represents). 

Thirdly, he NEVER outlined exactly what his fees are, and failed to list any referrals, recommendations, or past clientele. 

His terms of agreement were not outlined (ie: the length of time for which the contract is legally binding would have been nice), nor was there any mention of an escape clause defining the agreement termination process in the event you or he was dissatisfied with the relationship and wished to end the contract prior to the completion of its term. FINALLY, and the point to which I’d like you to draw your attention most closely, irrespective of the option you selected, ALL monies were to be paid to him directly, and it was then HIS responsibility to pay you the lump sum after his percentage had been subtracted. If you don’t have a million red flags a-flying at this current moment given my last utterance, you should NOT be considering working in this business professionally. I mean that seriously.

The latter proposal fell much more into the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” category in that the party responsible for it at least attempted to metaphorically “wine and dine me” for a couple of weeks. We conversed extensively via email and over the phone prior to the development of any formal proposal. I tell you sincerely, it appeared as though they truly understood my ambitions and were willing to assist me in getting to exactly where I needed to go. They further made it a repeated point to make clear that they are a small but efficiently run organization that RARELY takes on new talents, no doubt as a means of drawing a parallel between their business tactics and my D.I.Y. ethos, and well, a little ego-stroking (ie: I should be SOOOO honoured that they’d consider me!) never hurts either considering most artists are pretty insecure given the exorbitant amount of competition.

Okay, so why did I go into suspicious mode when I received their proposition? Well, similarly to my previously outlined “friend”, there was no escape clause, no provided testimonials, no detailed timelines of when I could anticipate certain tasks being executed, nor were there any “legal” assurances that in fact they would fulfill the agreed upon expectations (to a better extent than I could myself) outside of their word. Yes, while this may have been a legal document, don’t kid yourself – the headache and money involved to take such scammers to court if they fail to live up to their outlined contractual obligations is far more than the average musician is able to even process, let alone deal with.

My biggest issue, however, with this second attempt pertained to its multiple demands for upfront money ON TOP of commissions to be earned on a per-gig basis. Not only was a flat fee of a cool $1600 (USD) to be paid PER YEAR (with a caveat that I should be “well positioned” to likely but NOT definitely have to pay it again in the future) in order for their services (booking, publicity, promotions) to be executed, but further, they expected me to shell out an additional 100 smackers (USD) just to have my bio and photo added to their website. I mean, I don’t know about you but if they’re supposedly “representing” me, shouldn’t that last bit at least be included?

Logically, yes people deserve compensation for their work. However, tell me would a smart consumer purchase an expensive vehicle, without conducting a test drive first? Likewise, would a well-versed businessperson overhaul their entire factory with new equipment without any warranty guarantees? I think we both know the answer to said queries.

While I’ve written extensively on the importance of protecting oneself from shady promoters and venue owners, I haven’t touched upon the topic of what a legit management proposal should overview, at great length. In sum, I hope you’ve gathered from this storytelling session that it is in your best interest to NEVER agree to an exclusive terminally-binding contract from anyone offering to manage your career that demands more than a straight up commission-based percentage of between 10-15% per booked opportunity. Two, NEVER allow said individuals to “manage” your finances. Finally, like anything else in this biz, do your research, ask for referrals, get to know exactly who you’re working with before you cross any “t”s or dot any “i”s.

Vol 4, Issue 8: Not so "Super"Sonic

For quite some time, I’ve reserved my judgment. But, when a service is purported by businesspersons as an “industry standard” and implemented whenever possible, YET that very SAME service has been called out for its illegitimacy by artists, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to dig a little deeper.

Let it be known, I have been a user of this yet-to-be-named corporation for several years – probably since I’d say around 2003 - with varying results. While it has allowed me the opportunity to achieve performance slots at industry bigwig opportunities: CMW, NXNE, The Real Radio Show and MEANYFest NYC, it has likewise landed me in falsely advertised “big break” situations that were neither worth my time nor the money I had to spend just to be considered…and trust me, it didn’t come cheap.   

It wasn’t until last summer, however, when I applied for a so-called “New Music Fest” hosted in the Northern Ontario region that I truly began to get suspicious. After being granted the “amazing” experience of playing to an empty room, restricted to the front left corner of the stage, while changeovers took place behind me and the sound tech was more interested in the bar’s offerings than doing his job, saying I was miffed is a gratuitous understatement. Don’t be so quick to jump to the conclusion that this pathetic performance circumstance was accountable to any faults of my own though; a great number of the other acts (several of whom have prominent indie followings in the area) echoed similar stories directly to me.

Now it’s not in my nature to be presumptuous, but when a festival is detailed as an opportunity for “exposure” for “aspiring artists”, I find it interesting that its promoter would host a concert with major headliners (which ended up being sold-out, by the way) just down the street, simultaneously. Equally interesting is the fact that the submission fees for said opportunity were fairly costly, and undoubtedly the aforementioned established bands had hefty riders. You put two and two together. 

Suffice it to say, after this experience, I started to get a lot more selective with the opportunities I chose to apply to. Moreover (and more importantly), I began to pay serious attention to the reviews left by other artists regarding various gigs.

From learning that festival rosters are frequently completed PRIOR to submissions being closed, to reading of several cases in which artists’ submission statuses have been changed to “not selected” for given opportunities despite NO evidence of changes in their views or audio streams, I realized quickly that I was not the only one taken in and for obvious reasons:

Its easy-to-access platform to which you can direct interested parties for a one-stop shop regarding information on your act (including your biographical history, audio/video samples, set list, stage plot, rider, tour dates, press quotes, promo photos) makes Sonicbids, the service in question, a simple, professional and well-organized tool for gig submissions. Additionally, its electronic nature saves bundles in terms of printing and postal expenses, and can aid in social networking. Finally, with a claimed “19,000 promoters and 270,000 emerging bands using the service, not to mention 71,000 gigs successfully booked last year alone,” it’s got a rep and it sounds impressive. What the above stats do NOT disclose however will equally warm the cockles of one’s heart…that is, if you’re a businessperson.

In 2009, Sonicbids shared $3 million dollars earned from submission fees with music promoters. As per Sonicbids’ “Promoter Terms of Service,” in order to list a gig opportunity, one is required to pay a one time set-up fee of $50, agree to “accept/review” electronic press kit submissions (EPKs), “promote” his/her gig listing, and provide Sonicbids with a copy of their venue contract/licensing agreement to ensure the legitimacy of their event. Further, promoters who host CD comp opportunities are required to provide a copy of the comp once it is released, licensors must notify Sonicbids of songs placements, and those hosting prize pack giveaways are to confirm their goods were distributed to their winners.

Promoters are able to easily recoup the aforementioned one-time charge by having NO restrictions placed on them in terms of what they wish to charge interested artists. While there is an increasing move toward providing more “Musicians’ Friend No Cost Listings”, in my experience, eligibility for these free submissions is often restricted to US residents, and the average going rate for submissions to major events (the ones that artists more than likely created their accounts in order to have access to) is between $10 and $50.   

In terms of payment, Sonicbids processes all submission fees (and covers additional expenses created by the use of their technology), and takes a varying percentage of EACH fee, before paying out its promoters. Promoters can also earn additional funds via “The Sonicbids Affiliate Program” by driving traffic to the site, thereby potentially increasing artist signups.

Okay, okay, so all of this sounds well and good, and fairly policed correct? WRONG! Here’s where all of YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION. There is NO requirement on the part of promoters to provide Sonicbids with proof of a formal business license, references regarding their business history, or membership in an accredited business association like the Better Business Bureau. Moreover, you do NOT even have to have any past experience successfully working in the music industry – literally ANYONE can sign up. So long as you pay your fee and “appear” to abide by the terms of service (easily accomplished if you select a single Sonicbids artist per gig and provide them with a somewhat decent experience), you’re good to go, as they say.

In contrast, on the artist side of things, it’s first off interesting to note that I was NOT able to find record of how much money was paid out to selected artists last year; I have a sneaking suspicion it doesn’t rank in the millions. Secondly, not only do artists have to pay PER the vast majority of submission opportunities (which as one may deduce from the above discussion adds up pretty quickly on your credit card bill), but further have to remit REPEATED fees between $6-$11 monthly or $50-$100 annually depending upon their EPK preferences. It’s also worth mentioning that gig submissions are ONLY eligible for refunds if they go into “overdue” status (ie: the promoter has failed to review the artists’ EPK before the notification date). I’ve heard through the grapevine that this is typically a tight window, moreover, that many promoters will update statuses to “not selected” on non-viewed EPKS simply to avoid having to pay back the fees.

The biggest issue I have with this entire process/system/site comes down to the fact that it markets itself and its opportunities as “reputable”, and is increasingly becoming the exclusive means through which artists can submit to certain opportunities. Submission payments are justified as part of a “filtering process” that supposedly determines which artists are truly serious about their careers. Outside of Sonicbids, another common excuse is that said fees cover the “administrative” costs associated with handling each press kit. To these statements I can only inquire, since when did having money to burn become synonymous with having talent and drive? Further, if one’s employed as an entertainment director, unless it’s a non-for-profit opportunity, wouldn’t he/she already be earning a salary to do just that (ie: direct the entertainment for their events)?

(As a side note, while I highly recommend reading the reviews posted below ALL gig opportunities BEFORE submitting to anything, this in itself is NOT a failsafe method. Existing users of Sonicbids will note that often said reviews are in stark contrast to each other, which begs the further question as to whether those espousing positive comments were somehow already affiliated with the promoter of the event.) 

All above quoted statistical and business history data regarding Sonicbids was derived directly from its official website and/or an interview conducted by Heather McDonald of About.com with Sonicbids Artist Relations Manager, Lou Paniccia.

Vol 4, Issue 7: Let's Talk Some Legal Shall We?

A few months ago, a close girlfriend of mine was offered a potentially career-changing opening slot for a major label artist in the GTA. Ambitious and actively seeking her “big break” like most serious indie talents, her and her band accepted the gig without hesitation…much to her later dismay.

Days before the “big gig”, the show’s promoter, realizing the band’s talent (and therefore also the potential cash-grab of the situation), contacted my girlfriend and began making extremely unreasonable demands on the act, including but not limited to a substantial cut of their merchandise sales, in order for them to remain a part of the show. Regretfully, but sticking to their guns (something for which I commend them), they had to pull out last minute; of course, their fans demanded an explanation…here’s where things become of personal interest to all of you:

When my girlfriend attempted to publicly disclose EXACTLY what had occurred (no more, no less) between her and the promoter of said event, the promoter began to aggressively message her and her band insisting that she had committed the crime of slander and that she was to remove ALL-related postings immediately, otherwise he would slap a lawsuit on their ass, thereby blacklisting them from ever having another equally potentially career-changing opportunity in the future.

This, sadly my friends is NOT the first NOR will it be the last of these sorts of situations because as soon as you start talking legal “mumbo-jumbo” with artistic-types, well it pretty much scares the shit out of most of us; accordingly, we’ll comply.

The aforementioned TRUE story highlights the centrality of two essentials one needs to wrap their mind around if he/she truly wishes to pursue “professional musicianship”:

1)      The importance of paper documentation for EVERYTHING

2)      The ongoing need for unionism

Let’s start with number one. In the world of business, irrespective of the industry in which you’re engaged, an agreement between parties has little to no likelihood of holding up should a situation merit legal intervention, unless it is in some kind of hardcopy format which reflects the agreed upon terms, affected timeline, and signatures of the involved individuals along with those of an objective witness. Now, I’m NOT saying you’ve gotta become a candidate for law school in order to rock out with the world’s finest, but you DO need to learn a thing or two about contract reading AND contract writing.

Many an artist, including one of my personal favs Aerosmith, has lost ownership over their own material (and accordingly have to PAY royalties in order to perform certain songs live) from being naïve and not crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s properly. Likewise, many an artist (myself included in my early days) has been granted so-called “amazing” performance opportunities with supposedly lucrative pay only to promote their asses off, show up with shitloads of fan in tote, do their thing, and have the promoter “mysteriously” take off in the middle of their set with all of the door cover charge cash stuffed in his/her pant pockets.

While the art of writing loophole-free contracts can be developed and improved upon over time (of course through trial and error), I am a firm believer that certain things should be left up to those who specialize in a given field. Without a solid foundation of not only the politics and business side of the music industry, but as well all of the legislation that could be potentially involved in a given matter, you likely will miss something. Lucky for you, back in the mid-1800s as the world was becoming increasingly industrialized, factory work prevailed, and instances of worker exploitation and maltreatment, not to mention a lack thereof of any safety or health protocols (all in the name of advancing profits) abounded, workers came together to form what would later develop into trade unions.

Not merely reserved for your parents and grandparents, or those involved in construction, plumbing and the like, professional entertainers of all sorts (from musicians to actors to even foley artists) have at their disposal their VERY OWN UNIONS which seek to serve the needs and protect the interests of their membership. Among one of the MANY perks that the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (our local affiliate being The London Musicians’ Association), the AFM for short, offers its membership is access to court approved touring contracts, free legal council AND emergency financial support should a “unfair treatment” scenario arise.

Considering that regular annual membership dues are nominal in comparison to hiring a personal entertainment attorney, becoming an AFM-er, if you’re ready to take your gig on the road, is really in your best interest and is something I’m not only recommending to you, but also strongly suggested to my friend (the one whose story I opened this piece with) after hearing of her all-too-common sad tale.  

The thing is, however, that unions are only able to maintain collective bargaining power and effectiveness in the marketplace if they continue to maintain/generate membership. Sadly, the young aspiring musician demographic, while growing, continues to rank low in terms of representation among AFM-ers. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell don’t want to even conceive of how much worse this industry could potentially get without the existence of our union (read as: it’s already cutthroat!). In other words, here’s a lesson in protecting your ass and your future: join the AFM.

Other benefits of AFM membership include its pension program, booking referral service, specialized insurance options, and immigrations assistance in regard to touring foreign markets. For more information, check out the AFM’s official website at www.afm.org or the official website of our London chapter at www.londonmusicians.com

Vol 4, Issue 6: Taking Care of Business AND Yourself!

It’s a mere two days before one of the potentially biggest shows of your entire career: a live performance and radio interview in Times Square, New York City. Your non-refundable flight is scheduled to leave early the next day in the AM. You wake up and your back is completely out of whack. It hurts to move your arm and shoulder (naturally the side with which you strum the guitar). It hurts to move your neck in every direction, other than keeping it stationary to the right side (which makes singing or any bodily motion, as you can imagine, quite difficult). Your chiropractic office is closed and there are no emergency clinics in the area that can deal with your situation. If you snake out of this opportunity, you know you’ll likely never get another one comparable…in other words, “the show”, as they say, “must go on.”

This, my friends, happened to me and can entirely be attributed to an injury I incurred several years ago, during my band days, from trying to carry five guitars simultaneously (we were in a rush!): a combined weight which exceeds my total body mass. Need I also mention, I’m only 26!

So what’s the lesson here? As a creator – an artist of anything – your health is vital as it affects not only your performance, but also your inspiration, motivation, attitude, and overall demeanour. Therefore, I’d like to impart onto you the necessity of taking care of yourself, while taking care of business.

Now, it goes without saying that professional musicianship and healthy living don’t exactly form what one would term the most “natural” of marriages. While the promotion of excesses in stimulation (both sexually and substance-assisted) is something that goes hand-in-hand with the r’n’r image (for better or for worse), life on the road, further, isn’t particularly conducive to optimal functioning.

For starters, especially if you’re touring the States as I primarily do, trying to find inexpensive places to eat that offer nutritious food options…well good luck. Because, in my experience, the typical musician is not that well-equipped navigationally-speaking, time is not a luxury that is on your side when you’re commuting from gig to gig. What this means is that if you find an opportunity to gorge on gas station energy bars and Red Bulls, you’ll likely take it.

The second major health dilemma that the touring artist encounters (ie: lack of sleep) is directly associated with the craft in which we engage. I don’t know how many of you have attended live shows and then attempted to go to bed directly afterwards, but trying to combat the ringing in your ears, not to mention the adrenaline that’s pumping through your veins is no easy feat. Just imagine how much more amplified (pardon the pun) these effects are when you are the one onstage.

Finally, the real killer…stress. From dealing with asshole promoters that try to screw you over, to last minute gig changes, to technical difficulties (which seem to abound!), honestly when you weigh the 45 minutes of euphoria you experience on stage against all of the shit you had to go through in order to get there, it’s doesn’t always seem worthwhile.

It doesn’t take a health expert to tell ya that when you combine the above three factors you end up in a situation where your immune system is weakened creating the perfect opportunity for the common cold (or worse, such as in my case) to take over. While I’ve seen many an instrumentalist “just rock past it”, it’s quite difficult to not sound like a drowning cat when you’re hacking up phlegm and can’t breathe out of your nose. Irrespective of your weapon of choice, I think the vast majority of you’d agree that when you’re feeling unwell, your ideal destination consists of a warm bed, with both Kleenex and a puke bucket on-hand, and a strict IV of chicken noodle soup and Gingerale, as opposed to a smelly touring van. The point?

Life on the road is hard and contrary to popular belief UNglamourous – there’s no need for sugar-coating -- but you can make it harder or easier on yourself by simply knowing what you’re getting into, and preparing accordingly in advance. 

If you don’t wish to find yourself with a bad case of the sniffles or having to face the reality that you’ve got a show you must play and you’re currently less than 100% mobile, I recommend you take to heart the following suggestions: 

1)                          Don’t overexert yourself EVER! I don’t care if you’re in a rush. If experience tells me anything, it’s that gigs NEVER start on time, nor do soundchecks. I was told by my chiropractor that had I not started getting adjusted when I did that by the time I was 40, I would have been in a wheelchair. Not cool or very “r’n’r” is it?

2)                          Pack nutritious snacks whenever possible, and avoid sugary and highly caffeinated drinks at all costs. Water, surprise surprise, can be quite the thirst quencher and there’s nothing like a piece of mango, or pineapple to give you that extra energy kick you need (without the risk of addiction or crashing!)

3)                          Save your partying for when you’re at home. I know many a musician that likes to celebrate their gig successes by getting trashed directly after. However, considering that there is usually little downtime from show to show, this means you end up in situations where you either have people driving while at least partially intoxicated (VERY illegal and VERY dangerous) or people playing while trying to kick an ugly hangover. Further, alcohol and other “substances” don’t tend to bring out the best or most sound judgement in people. When you’re crammed in a limited area for long stretches on the road, the last thing you need is an excuse to get into a fight.
4)                          Take shifts driving so that everyone gets a chance for some shut-eye. Further, spread out your gigs and always give yourself extra time (particularly if you’re crossing the border) so you’re never in a rush.

5)                          Get contracts (backed by the musician’s union to ensure legal protection) for EVERYTHING. You can never be TOO prepared as they say.

6)                          Plot out your directions well in advance and gain familiarity with your route (check for construction and possible weather threats that may require a change in plans as well); even better, get yourself a GPS.

7)                          Learn how to cope with adversity. Meditate. Deep breathe. Scream if you have to! Just find some way to deal with it all that doesn’t hurt yourself, your band’s reputation, or others.

8)                          Don’t pick up random groupies. No, this isn’t your mother speaking, but let’s be real people, sexually transmitted diseases are widespread (including many that have permanent or terminal effects). Moreover, finding out you’ve got a kid from some one night stand is so passé. Finally, it’s frankly dangerous. Being in a foreign locale with a lot of expensive gear on ya makes you an easy mark. There’s nothing wrong with meeting new people, and engaging with your fans, but put some limitations on things - keep your equipment in your pants.