Something that you need to be aware of in the music industry is peoples incredible ability to disappear. I know it sounds corny and even a little USSR-like but when it comes down to it, people ghosting you is a serious issue that you’re going to have to face if you want to progress in a concrete way in this industry. I wanted to talk about a few reasons as to why this happens and what you can do in order to protect yourself from people who have a tendency to disappear and to make sure that you don’t inadvertently get involved with one of these people. While the majority of the flaky types that I will be talking about in this piece are the record labels that so many artists have sworn off of I think that there are also important things to be aware of for booking agents, managers and anyone else who can have a significant amount of power over your band. It’s not always easy to deal with, but getting out ahead of it will always be worth it.
First of all – why do some people choose to disappear and screw your band over? This is one of the most important bits to understand. When it comes down to it a lot of this happens because people are asking for money up front and then not helping out down the line. Other times, frequently in the case of a label, it comes time for them to invest a little bit more into the band and once more they find that they haven’t gotten quite the money they thought they were going to this quarter so they just straight up ignore the artist and hope they go away. Of course this gets frustrating because if , for example, a label has the exclusive rights to your record you can’t exactly print more. This also gets frustrating when they will talk to you about other stuff but not your issue in question. Other times people think that they simply can’t take your project any further and don’t want to be mean. I’ve written about this before – people in the industry don’t like saying no and this leads to a lot of wasted time and frustration.
I think one of the key things to work into any contract in order to make sure that you can always have an out is term limits. This is especially good for record labels and booking agents. If they want exclusive right over product or shows you want to be able to have a fixed point when you can get out of those agreements without it hurting you. It also gives them an incentive to work hard for you to keep the relationship going. That being said – if you have no limits then it rapidly becomes a ethical question and if you step out of line then it’s not hard for a industry figure with the right set of connections to slam you with a breach of contract and a lawsuit that will leave you up to your ears in legal fees. If the person you are working with is reputable then they won’t have an issue with putting down a term. If they don’t want to put down a term then they are essentially banking on your hard work and hoping to fuck you over in the future.
One of the other easy ways to make sure that people disappearing on you isn’t going to ruin you is to be sure of when they are going into breach of contract. There are a lot of things tied into disappearing that can be listed as breach of contract. For managers and agents this takes the form in some clause about the person in question having to work ‘to the best of their abilities’ for labels this often takes the form of late royalty payments or inability to provide new product. Frequently artists end up caught up not realizing that the people holding them back have been in breach of contract for years. Of course, the people behind these contracts usually know this, they also know that the artist will rarely check and frequently doesn’t have the background that they need in order to be able to figure out the simple realities of the business and why they could be making quite a bit more money than they presently are stuck with.
The best way of course to evade any of these unfortunate realities is regular communication. I’ve emphasized this before – but people usually don’t disappear on their friends. If you can remain a close contact for folks then you are going to routinely find that they are less likely to disappear on you. In fact in some cases they might even feel that you disappeared on them, and if you go back in the messages exchanged between the two of you it may be easy to see why they think that’s the case. The music industry isn’t exactly a kind place and you need to remember the significance of staying in peoples faces and reminding them time and time again why you got involved together in the first place. Again – some people are simply there to take your money, but you need to be able to look past them. Scams are sometimes hard to read, and sometimes the scammer thinks they have your best interests at heart – which is why you need to stay in touch.
When it comes down to it there isn’t that much you can do about people flaking on you. There are countless stories about tours being canned because a band member couldn’t get their shit together or an agent decided to dip out at exactly the wrong moment. These things drive folks like me up the fucking wall because all that we really want is to be able to help everyone make money. People who disappear don’t have the long term vision of this whole thing their heads and thus will never get to grow up alongside everyone else for the biggest piece of the pie possible. As is we need to all embrace where we are and try to have a longer time horizon in order to coordinate on a future for our music that remains fresh and innovative.
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