By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (www.WendyDay.com) 3/2013
As many of you know by now, this industry is a very difficult one in which to maneuver unless you are inside the inner circle. There is a large circle of people who do business together, and getting into that inner circle is never easy. It’s even gotten harder as the music industry is making less and less money these days.
The cool thing about Hip Hop is that we have never waited for an invitation, and we don’t care if you like us, we just bulldoze our way into situations and make the best of it. We don’t knock and wait for an answer, we kick in the door! Part of that, though, is knowing how, when, and where—and what, to kick in.
An even larger part of stepping into the inner circle is making moves utilizing relationships and connections. If you are missing a key aspect, you need to be able to pick up the phone and call someone legitimate who has that access or knows someone else that they can call to gain access. That access allows you entry (kicking in the door) to the industry, and achieving success will keep you there.
But surrounding you, every step of the way, are usually bullshit people who claim to have access and connections, but don’t. At best, they can get a meeting or a call returned, but they can’t close the deal.
Let me be real frank here: if you are the type of person that people do not like, or if you have any asshole tendencies (including an over inflated ego), you should NOT be on the front lines. Find someone in your camp who is a people person and can kiss a little bit of ass to get what is needed. It’s not a problem if you are not that person, as long as you don’t try to be something you are not. People see right through the bullshit in this industry very quickly, and we all talk to each other (in fact, male or female, we are little gossiping broads in this industry, so expect bad stuff to spread faster than a forest fire).
The hardest aspect for you to overcome, if you are NOT in that inner circle, is knowing who is legitimate, whom to trust, and to whom to turn when you need something accomplished. This industry is ripe with sharks, snakes, scam artists, and idiots. And all of them have one goal—to separate you from your money, especially if it appears as though you have a lot of it.
In the music industry, there are a LARGE handful of clueless, inept people who suck at what they do, but they will happily charge you money to help you. You will lose money and time if you work with them. You will also lose credibility with the legitimate people if you work with them. Inevitably, I get people who come to me asking me to undo something stupid that another “consultant” did to mess up their project. It is ten times harder to clean up someone else’s mistake than it is to start a project from scratch, so expect to be turned down by the legit folks, if your project is already a shambles. I know I won’t touch it.
Oddly, the clueless people who suck at working other people’s projects, seem to be masters of their own self-promotion. Not only are they NOT too busy to send out a ridiculous number of email blasts talking about their “success” on a project (I especially LOVE the ones that come through talking about the meetings they’ve had that didn’t lead to anything, but they sure have pictures of themselves with famous artists and CEOs who would never take their calls again), but they think that doing a little bit of work is the same as finishing a project from A to Z, and they pump that up publicly.
I guess it’s like a little kid learning the alphabet, where they feel that if they can recite the first four letters of the alphabet, it gives them the right to claim they know the entire alphabet. And then they go brag about it. As time passes and you no longer hear anything about their projects, or the artists they’ve worked, or their artists have gone on to find legit people to lead them to success, you soon see who is full of crap. Time exposes it all.
In 2008, I spent a year undoing incredible damage that one of these “master self-promoters” had done to an artist’s career. And he is still out there claiming to have built success for this artist, when all that was accomplished was a big mess for 4 other industry professionals to have to sort out and clean up. Every time I received an email blast from that idiot talking about what a great job he did building this artist, I cringed and rolled my eyes in disbelief. It’s hard for me to decipher if he really felt that something positive was accomplished, or if the goal was just to claim success to get checks from other artists who don’t know any better. Either way, it’s a loss for whomever hires this person. That person has never had any real success or built a successful artist, but plenty of folks still hire him today. He’s even tried to hire me to help him get one of his clients a deal and then dogged me to anyone who’d listen when I passed on that losing opportunity.
On a similar note, there’s an artist out there (many actually) who has built some limited success on taking others’ music and selling it as his own. Of course, in this industry, exposure comes very quickly—you get about a 2 or 3 year run before everyone finds out what a fraud you are. This artist recently got signed and then dropped from a label when it was discovered that he has limited fans but bodacious self-promotion. Why is it that other industries have Better Business Bureaus, Consumer Report Agencies, and Ralph Nader type whistle blowers to expose the frauds, but in the music industry we shrug off the frauds who are jerking people out of millions of dollars every year? I hear folks compare the music industry to the streets and the drug game regularly, but if that were true, we’d have no scams because the consequences of ripping someone off would be very, very high.
There’s an artist in Indiana, whose parents were bilked out of a quarter million dollars that they invested into their son’s career (the Feds got involved in this one). A few guys out of Chicago with no traceable track record of success took these people for a financial ride, promising to help their son accomplish his dream of being a superstar producer. When I asked the parents what made them trust these fraudulent guys (a Google search turned up NO information on them), they pointed out that these guys who were claiming to be music industry executives always showed up to their home in a limousine, so they assumed they were successful. Classic. That’s worthy of dumping a quarter million dollars into a slick talking charlatan? Because they pulled up in a limo. Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope Records (one of the most successful labels on the planet) probably wouldn’t even pull up in a limo for a meeting in Indiana.
I remember meeting with a charismatic “producer” when I lived in NY. He flew in from out of town. He constantly cited God for his success and even closed our meeting with “may God bless you!” He had a beat CD of incredible music that he claimed was his own. What I did not know at the time was that this beat CD contained beats of not his own work, but the production of 3 or 4 other producers from his hometown. Although I never did business with him, that “producer” went on to get a publishing deal for his production even though it was not his music. He never became a “super producer” because the real producers back home caught on to what he was doing. Two of those producers who got jerked by this bullshit artist have gone on to become platinum producers in this industry, and the bullshit producer was exposed for being the sham that he is. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!! I hope God “blesses” him properly.
A guy out of South Carolina is currently going around offering artists meetings with major label A&Rs for a few thousand dollars. He pays the label folks some of the money just to take the meetings, but he’s been bilking huge amounts of money out of clueless artists who think a meeting with a major label might lead to a record deal (it never does). I’ve seen artists lose tens of thousands of dollars with this scam. I heard this con man has even served prison time for this same fraud years ago, but he’s back out and at it again. Crazy!!
The most elaborate scam I ever heard was an indie label in Atlanta that paid some guy over a million dollars to get them a deal. He produced a contract from a major label for a multi-million dollar deal, but the contract was forged and he disappeared as soon as the fee from the indie label was in his bank account. The indie label was afraid to press charges because they didn’t want the public embarrassment nor did they want their introduction into the music business to be one where everyone knew they got swindled.
Some of the less reputable radio promoters have jerked artists out of tens of thousands of dollars to secure radio spins that they say will lead to them getting signed to a record deal. It never does, and no one wins but the radio promoter. They hit a quick 20 or 30 grand lick and disappear after telling the artist that the record didn’t react or didn’t research well at radio and to come back with another record and some more money. Or they just stop answering their phones.
And lastly, I will mention all of the talent shows and contests that charge desperate artists a couple hundred dollars to compete while offering a prize that has little value (a record deal that never leads to anything or a cash prize that is a small percentage of what the contest earns). Most of these shows don’t charge artists outright, they force them to sell 10 or 20 tickets for $30 each. This fills the audience with other artists and their families and friends which then has the artists performing in front of no one who can help their career. I’ve seen some showcases promise A&R judges will be there, but since artists never get signed from these types of events, I can only assume the label reps get paid to be there.
All this to say, when you do other people dirty—intentionally, or through inexperience and ignorance, there is a price to pay. This industry is built on connections and relationships. Once you burn them out, there’s nowhere else for you to go, but down. And it happens very, very quickly. And I am happily spreading the word. On the flip side, this is 2013 and enough information exists for artists about how the music industry really works. It’s not a secret. If your lack of research and desperation leads you down a road to get jerked, there aren’t many folks who will feel sorry for you. If it seems too easy, or too good to be true, it probably is. Want a record deal? Build a regional buzz for yourself.