It’s Called the Music Business for a Reason by Ally Burnett
“But I’m an ARTIST! Focusing on the ‘business’ will make me less of one.”
I have met far more than one person in this industry that holds this belief. While I understand that everyone has their own way of working, knowing the ins and outs of doing business proves to be extremely helpful in the long run. How many musicians do you know that have entered into a bad contract? Are stuck with a manager from hell that gets paid for doing nothing? That signed the first crappy record deal they were offered and can’t get out of it? Had those people taken the time to do just a little research, they might have been able to make better and more informed decisions. This industry can be a really rough place if you aren’t surrounded by people that know what they’re doing and it’s often hard for some to know who they can really trust. While there are some (hard) lessons you will learn only from experience, I’d like to give you some advice I think might help.
Find a good lawyer/attorney and don’t sign anything until they review it.
Make sure they specialize in entertainment. This is particularly important because a truly good lawyer will prevent you from ever signing into something that will hurt you. Every entertainment lawyer is different and none of them come cheap, but I can guarantee you the right one is worth every penny. Plus, they allow you to remain “the artist” and keep your professional relationships pleasant by handling things like negotiations.
SERIOUSLY, DON’T SIGN ANYTHING YOUR LAWYER HASN’T APPROVED
You may think you’ve read enough contracts to understand the gist of the legal jargon within said contracts by now, but you should still never sign into anything without the approval of a lawyer. Ignoring this advice is how bands end up with terrible deals that lock them in for too long and don’t do anything for them. It’s how managers can still take your money even after you part ways and how companies will try to cheat you out of time, money and your rights. Five years from now when you’re still tied to a label that hasn’t even released your music, you’ll wish you would’ve hired that lawyer.
ABC: Always Be cautious
This piece of advice may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how hard a concept it is for some people to grasp. There are so many scammers in this industry just ready to pounce on anyone naive enough to fall victim to their schemes. If something seems too good to be true, proceed with caution or not at all. Let me tell you a story.
I recently received an email from what I can only assume is a “management” company (they don’t even specifically list their job title on their website) stating that one of their “scouts” had expressed interest in me and asking if I would be available to for a call. I responded with the times I would be available for a call, and they decided to reply with an email telling me what they do. The email was obviously copy/pasted after my name and rattled off details that signaled big red flags to me. They claimed they wanted me to work with their production team and cut a single, that they would pay a percentage and I would “only have to pay blahblah”. At this point, it was entirely obvious to me that the person emailing me had clearly NEVER EVEN LISTENED TO MY MUSIC, let alone taken the time to do any research. Had they done so, the email wouldn’t have been completely impersonal. I replied asking them a couple of questions and politely explained that I’m very cautious about who I work with and what deals I enter into. The biggest red flag that they were just trying to get traffic to a studio? I never received the phone call or a reply via email. It became very clear to me that they were merely trying to get people in to record at the studio they work with.
Stuff like this happens more often than it should. Keep caution in mind when it comes to working with new people. Do you research and do your best to work with people that someone else you know can vouch for.
Know A Little Bit About Everything You Do
It’s impossible to know everything, sure, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn a little bit about everything you do. Know who presses your merch, know how much it costs, know who the promoter for every show is, know where the spare van keys are, know how much our producer is charging you, know how much you’re spending and how much you’re making. I’m not saying you have to take on every task yourself, but you should know how to just in case you have to someday. This is especially important for solo artists. Being self reliant is a beautiful thing when you’re an independent artist. Knowing what you’re doing can also save you from making uninformed decisions that end up being disastrous. And for everything you really can’t do for yourself….
Hire A Professional
Sure, it’s nice to save money on photo shoots by setting up a tripod with your point and shoot camera and snapping some pics of you or your band but….really? You know that saying “It takes money to make money”? Well, it’s kind of true. Let me put it to you this way: imagine that you work for a record label, management company or PR firm. Now, imagine that you’re looking over two press kits. One has professional pictures and professionally produced/mixed/mastered and pressed CDs. The other has low quality, self shot images and a burned disc of some demos that were recorded at home. You really want to like the second one, but the poor quality of the recording makes it hard to tell whether the song is actually good or not. You choose the first press kit, because it’s clear to you that the band takes what they do seriously enough to invest in their career. If you’re not willing to invest in your career, why should anyone else be willing to? Sure there are still people out there listening to demos that sound awful and finding the potential in them, or relying on how a band or artist performs live, but it’s a bit more courteous to present your music as best you can so as not to waste your time or anyone else’s. Give your good product some good packaging!
Knowing the business aspects of music can really help you with your career. There are quite a few independent artists out there that make it without the help of a label because they learned how to take things on and do things for themselves. Being independently successful is a beautiful thing. Don’t be afraid to take on the “business” in “music business”!