One of the weirdly frustrating things about the music industry is the prevalence of crazy people out there. I know that seems unsurprising at first glance, of course tons of people want to get involved in the music industry and odds are a lot of them are going to be crazy, but as luck would have it there’s far more people who are crazy and demented than you could possibly imagine. This happens for a wide variety of reasons, but events like the Grammy’s seem to bring out a wide variety of them. I wanted to take a minute and look at why certain people are crazies and what you can do in order to avoid these people and not end up wasting your time and money. I know that you might end up sounding callous and like you no longer care about the underground, but most of the crazy people in the industry are kind of scam artists and you need to be able to move past their bullshit and into a bolder potential future.
What you have to realize is that a lot of these people are artists themselves, in fact they are failed artists. Something you quickly realize as you go through the music industry and people try to network with you is that most bands are godawful jokes with band members who don’t seem to understand this. Most bands aren’t worth listening to, but that doesn’t stop people in them from wanting to push them. When their bands inevitably fail then they try and take their relatively limited knowledge of ‘the industry’ to make themselves some money. A lot of these people will constantly try and remind you about all the ‘major industry figures’ they know. Those people are probably just referencing the time they bumped into someone from Atlantic at a party. If you don’t see them actually hobnobbing with these sorts of people then odds are they are a bunch of nobodies. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and you need to be able to see past that.
A really great indicator of the relative craziness of a person comes when you realize that you can’t pin down what they do. They will claim to be able to make ‘great deals’ and ‘really develop independent artists’ but if they can’t show clear examples of how they have done any of these things well… it’s probably best to just take your business elsewhere. A lot of people will claim to have large rosters, but frequently those rosters are just people they spoke to a few times or folks who they have had very minor dealings with in the past. Maybe they helped them get a deal on shirts or something. While I don’t want to diminish tactics like that realize that to a crazy person something like helping a big band get a cheap shirt design can be the equivalent to ‘coordinating their merch line’ and while there is something to be said for upselling yourself the music industry seems to have an ongoing problem with scam artists who don’t understand the inherent problems of the genre.
When folks are vague about their roster this doesn’t help instill confidence either. This manifests itself in several ways. I certainly have bands who would probably describe themselves as my clients who I barely have any relationship with but who I maybe give advice to on the phone for money every one in a while. The same goes with certain people I consult for. These aren’t necessarily clients in my general roster but bands I have a relationship with. So there is a certain degree of vagueness to my work. That being said – I definitely do have a core roster of acts I am connected with that I can rattle off and who will openly admit association with me. I know this can be tricky in an industry that often intentionally avoids contracts, but sometimes you need to put your foot down and figure out what you can get out of this person and if they legitimately are the real deal and not just another one of those weird LA pretenders.
Something else that crazy people in the music industry do is to ask for money up front. Now again – there is nothing wrong with that, but if you see the inherent vagueness of what they are doing already then maybe just tossing money at them right away isn’t the greatest idea. This is one of those things that isn’t a killer in and of itself but certainly something that should throw up a red flag or two. It also depends on how much money and where you are placed in the scene. If your band is actively looking for someone to pay to give them advice then maybe it won’t be a bad thing, but if it’s a person who is trying to convince you to spend money on them then you are going to start running into walls left and right. There’s a certain degree of used car salesmanship in this industry – something that I know I take part in regularly, for better or for worse – but I also try and make a point of making actual progress for the artists. It’s a trick game to play, but one where being hoary and long in the tooth will only help.
At the end of the day – you probably are going get pulled into more than a few scams. You’re probably going to make mistakes and have many regrets. There is a certain nihilism to this whole thing that you need to embrace. Every day on Facebook I see adverts for things that are probably scams, but I no longer have the time or energy to tell people that. I no longer have the time or energy to tell people how they are fucking up and instead I just get sad. There are bands I work with that sign deals I explicitly tell them not to sign and there are bands I work with that keep making the same mistakes. For those bands I wish they could just read an article like this one and realize that fundamentally – it’s going to be okay, just be a little more streetwise.