Sound Advice – Legal Advice for Musicians

MUSIC BUSINESS SCAMS (and how to avoid them).

As if it weren’t hard enough to try to make a buck from your music, there are many costly traps set for the unwary. Because the music business is so competitive, with thousands of bands desperately fighting for the same gigs, record contracts and other opportunities, many unscrupulous people and companies prey on musicians. These scumbags typically make a lot of promises they cannot deliver and will tempt musicians with visions of getting the “big” break you need – for a price. Here’s a brief list of just some of the scams to identify and avoid:

1. Promotional compilations: Basically, for a fee, a company will put your song(s) on a CD that they promise to send to every influential radio station and record label executive in the galaxy. While there are reputable companies that put these compilations together, this deal is generally worthless. First off, unsolicited recording submissions do not get heard by most A & R people and they will not take the time to wade through an entire CD of bands they have never heard of. Secondly, to get radio play on most commercial stations, you or, more likely, your record company will have to PAY a radio promotions firm to get added to their playlist. It may also be difficult to confirm that the compilation CDs are even produced and distributed. If you are tempted by such an offer, first check the company out. Ask them for referrals from other artists who have used their services and contact them. Above all, do not sign over any other rights than the limited use on the CD for a limited time.

2. Paid Showcases: Now and again bands pay for the “privilege” of performing a brief set for “A & R reps” from “major labels.” In exchange for a hefty payment, the attendees are offered unbiased evaluations of their performances and possible recording contracts. The sets are usually performed off-hours at a local venue and the credentials of the A & R reps in attendance are very suspicious. Overall, you should never have to pay for showcasing. Only deal with A & R reps or label executives that contact you or your management directly. If they are that interested in you, often they will pay for the costs of setting up a showcase gig – NOT the other way around.

3. Free Demo Recordings: Ok, so maybe a friend has a studio or a production company, and they offer to help you by recording a demo for you for free and you, the broke, starving musician, agree to the deal. However, these deals are rarely simple and problems can arise when your friendly producer suddenly expects half of the value of the eventual record deal you get, or holds your “free” master recordings hostage if you don’t pay them back for the their time and materials. The other danger of these deals is if your producer has obtained the rights to market your demo recordings, you might be obligated to any deals that the producer finds for you. If you are approached about any “free” recording opportunities, be sure to record in writing all the details in advance. Ideally, you will retain all the rights to the sound recordings and the right to approve deals. Consider working out a reasonable “buy out” clause, paying for the reasonable costs of the recordings, if the relationship goes sour.

4. Unpaid Film Exposure: Musicians are often offered deals to use their songs and recordings in independent films / videos that do not pay anything but that will give them lots of “exposure.” Not all of these deals suck, and you might get some exposure but, by and large, someone is looking to get you to give it up for free. The companies always tell you that they have no cash but sometimes, there is money available in the budget for music, so always try to push for some kind of up-front payment. In all likelihood, there will be no profits on the back end, so don’t buy any lines about them paying you from the profits after the film is released. If you want the exposure, or want to just help out friends, have a written agreement stating that you keep all your copyrights and severely limiting the user’s ability to profit from your music without paying you, especially if the film is ever released on DVD. At the very least, insist on proper credits in the film, including your copyright, contact and publishing information.

5. Giving Up Songwriter Publishing Interests: Some recording or other deals ask that songwriters give up some or all of their rights to their songs. Outside of some major label deals, this is usually negotiable. Publishing rights are one of the most important sources of income in the music business and it is CRUCIAL to understand what you are being asked to give up. Song publishing income can be more lucrative than royalties from the sales of sound recordings or downloads. The bottom line is, always try to keep your publishing! Send your questions to: pvshaver@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: The advice and opinions offered in this column are meant to be educational only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Neither the attorney nor Crave Magazine accepts any responsibility for any reader’s reliance on the contents of this article.

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