Protect Yourself: A Cautionary Guide to Handling Your Music Promotion
Schuyler Gallagher on October 31, 2017
Working on music as well as your music promotion takes time and energy. How do you stay cautious and make sure you don't get taken advantage of?
For any musician, getting your music heard and appreciated can be a real boost to your confidence. For some, just the act of getting time to sit and jot down some lyrics or practice an instrument can be hard work. Getting constructive criticism and even better, positive feedback, is always appreciated. Similar to actors, musicians just starting out learn early they may have to make sacrifices and compromises. Learning how to protect yourself early on will pay off in the long run. The reality is, much like in the film industry, there are unsavory people out there. The scary thing is that they often come in different forms, (appearing enthusiastic about your music and eager to help) and usually prey on the young, hungry, and naive. At one point or another, there are promises of getting signed to a label, or non-exclusive agreement type documents. You’ll be told you’ll get your own photo shoot, a music video done, and the business end handling the music promotion – for a price. For any person who knows what hard work, ambition, dedication to their craft and wanting either fame or money feels like this could be the answer to their prayers.
If the talent scout, or label consultant offering you music promotion is the real deal, they will offer constructive criticism along with the positive feedback, not just soft terms that most people want to hear and most definitely will not ask you for money. They will avoid ambiguity in their words and respect your wishes and intentions during any forms of communication (of course, probably being via email or Skype, maybe even text). When it comes to building potential business relationships, it’s all about gut feelings and vibes. Stay away from flaky responses that come from flaky people. If it takes a manager of a label or somebody in a similar position too long to respond to your email or phone call, that says a lot about their lack of professionalism. Sure, they might be busy, but they should communicate through email, because they value you. They should also have awareness of how they’re going to be perceived. It’s not only about you, their prospective new artist. You will be able to see a company or personal assistant’s true colors. In today’s digital age, where most exchanges and interaction takes place more through email, texting, and Skype, and less on the phone and postal mail, the sense of immediacy is there. Again, it’s important to heed first impressions. Of course, there can be a few exceptions – maybe there was a family emergency; maybe there was an unexpected work-related issue; maybe the person was just on vacation, hence the delayed response. Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to ask questions.
The model for music promotion is changing. We are now at a place where the anonymity of the digital age works in the favor of shady so-called ‘industry figures’. You may be bold, brave, ambitious and hungry for fame and fortune. You may even think you’re too smart for unsavory music biz types. Then again, unfortunately, there are people whose companies and labels are one-sided, meaning their ‘services’ are nothing more than an endless series of empty promises and praise via one sided phone calls and email messages with little to no actual constructive support. The truth is, today, the internet casts an astonishingly wide net, used for an innumerable number of reasons. Bedroom musicians no longer have to leave the house to go to a big studio to create music, which was a standard part of being a recording artist until fairly recently. Now, the internet provides basically anything and everything at your fingertips, which is a boon to musicians trying to establish themselves through the media. The fact is, you can spend money for services that guarantee they will produce and market your material by music industry professionals. While there may be some legitimate, reputable help out there, there are also just as many, if not more, greedy people who are more inclined to scam you.
Being a new artist isn’t completely helpless and there are people you can trust. Being smart and applying common sense, just like in all other aspects of life, will hopefully make things more clear while you cautiously trudge ahead. If you’re approached by a label or talent scout, try to learn more about them by visiting their website and social media links. Read testimonials if they have any. Read up anywhere you can about people’s experiences with them. Check out the Better Business Bureau to see if they are a real business and if other people have had prior legal issues. What type of credentials and reputation do they seem to have? It’s all about research. Absolutely do not hesitate to question anything. It’s about protecting yourself. Another way you can ensure your safety is to consider middleman services, such as Dittomusic.com, where you can pay a reasonable fee to get your music distributed to various sources, such as iTunes, HMV, Amazon, Spotify, and more. Another site you can use (for free, if you like, but you can also pay) is Submithub.com, where you can submit music to blogs for exposure, and labels. Regularly posting material on your website and various social media platforms are another good way to develop your profile and get your music heard. Be optimistic no matter what. Be the rare percent of artists who keep striving, and pursue your goals.
The biggest piece of advice is, no matter what, always copyright all of your work. Never let anybody else take that power from you, regardless of what they claim they can do and how their company will handle the business side. It is your intellectual property. Own your copyrights and stay on top of any other important legal documents. You don’t necessarily need a lawyer to check these, but it can help you in some situations. Avoid people and companies whose claims seem too good to be true. Check their roster, communicate with the other artists if you can. Ask them how the label is treating them. Early on within a business relationship, it’s too soon to tell where you stand with the representation or executive recruiter, but simply ask yourself if you think this person is capable of respecting you and treating you fairly. Are they willing to invest in you, or take you for a ride and leave you on the side? Ask them how much of the royalties and rights you are getting in your deal. The good news is that music promotion can be done in the comfort of your own home, if you’re willing to put in a bit of work. It can be using a free marketing app like Crowdfire that can help generate interest through the social media platforms you’ve already been posting on. The good news is it’s not all doom and gloom. It just helps to keep your head up and your eyes open. Think for a moment what type of artist you are. Maybe you’re in a traditional 4 piece band and you play live gigs, which happens to be one method of organic music promotion. You can potentially attract the right promoter in person. Maybe you’re an electronic musician. It’s non-linear and subjective to all types of artists. Bottom line? It pays to be smart.
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