One of the most important jobs we do at the studios, one we only get paid for in love from the artists who use us, is to impart the knowledge we’ve gained over the last 42 years. Whilst most customers have a great experience being a musician, enjoying playing gigs, recording, making videos and appearing on TV and Radio, there is a dark underside to the business. The business attracts all manner of dodgy individuals, who understand only too well that many artists are desperate for success and this lays them open to all manner of exploitation. Some of this exploitation is financial, some is far, far darker. How can anyone tell? The sorry tale of Harvey Weinstein demonstrates that this can happen at all levels and even well known stars are not immune. Bands such as the Beatles, The Happy Mondays and The Bay City Rollers show that even household names can get caught out and find themselves with contracts that they wished they hadn’t signed. Whilst there is enough to discuss there to fill a thick book, todays article is aimed at artists just starting out and we give a few pointers for warning signs. Understanding the industry is key, if you consider music to be your livlihood. What I find most upsetting is that many artists, lumbered with bad deals say “We were so desperate to be successful, we’d have signed anything”. They don’t realise that they could have had the fame and the money they earned, if they’d just taken a few sensible steps. The most alarming stories are of artists who have been snared by highly dodgy individuals, who have no interest in their career and are sexual predators. There are all manner of seedy schemes they use, from promising attractive young artists work in music video’s which are often just a part of a pattern of grooming, to secure video footage for less palatable purposes, to luring artists to seedy flats, purporting to be recording studios. In this day and age, where there is amazing software that can be used to record at home, it can be quite hard spotting these ruses. Our advice is to do your homework, before you get involved.
It is all too common for such individuals to concoct stories, based at best on half truths, that are used to snare unsuspecting and vulnerable young people. These predators talk a good game and will often mention their glittering track record of successes, chart hits, world tours and other trappings of success. Of course a successful manager/label etc will have all of this. They will have the gold discs to prove it on the wall of their offices and they will have a legion of mentions for their work.
So lets go through the process, what should you do if you are approached by someone who makes bold claims and wants to represent you or sign you? If they are not someone who you know, or have been introduced to by people you trust implicitly, here are a few pointers.
- Initial introduction. If someone asks for a “get to know you” meeting, there are a few basic rules before you meet. We’d always advise that you ask who they are, who they’ve worked with, what their track record is and who they are connected to. Once you have this information, do a few ‘due diligence’ checks. We’d suggest the following. View their Linkdin profile. See if they actually have any endorsements from artists or credible industry figures in the field they operate. See who they are connected to. A quick word to all artists. If you work with someone and they do a good job, please endorse them on Linkdin, as it helps the next artist to know they are kosher. If they get glowing endorsements, it is often worth just checking out the person who has endorsed them as well. It is not unkown for such individuals to operate in networks. Doing ten minutes of checks should give an idea of how genuine they are. Check out any business Twitter/Facebook/Instagram pages they may have. If they are locked, this is a warning sign. Why would a successful company or business hide itself? if they claim “30 years worth of experience” but their Twitter feed is only six months old, that would raise a red flag, why have they only just discovered Twitter etc. Have a look at their followers. If none are relevant to the business and appear to be ‘follow back’ accounts or paid for contacts, then that should also raise a warning flag. A genuine business would not need such followers. If you know the area the individual resides in, put the name and area into a google search. If they claim that they have worked with major acts, google that as well. See what comes up. If all of this produces the picture of a genuine individual with a music industry track record, then you should proceed. If there are warning flags, I’d personally leave it there. Never have an initial meeting on your own. Get someone to accompany you and meet in a neutral venue in a public place. Never meet alone in a flat or house, you are putting yourself at risk. If you do this, make 100% sure that friends/family are all aware of the meeting and make sure that the person you are meeting is aware that your location is known. Ask in advance how long the meeting will be. Make arrangements for someone to call you around the time that the meeting is over, so that you can check in. If someone is genuine, they won’t even notice. We would only ever meet someone in a private place if we were 100% convinced that they were genuine.
- Signing agreements and contracts. Never sign anything without a lawyer, engaged by you, present. Under no circumstances use a lawyer suggested by the person you are meeting. You must be 100% sure that your lawyer is working for you and only you. Music law is complicated and you will need a specialist. It is an expensive business, but is the best insurance you can possibly have. If they can’t accompany you, get the contracts for them to review and only sign when they are happy.
- If you have a bad experience with an individual. If all is not as it should be, do not let things escalate, get out as soon as possible. Follow your gut instincts, if something doesn’t feel right, then it is probably not right. Bad mouthing people on social media etc is a dangerous path, so be careful in what you say, but there are many Facebook groups for artists and you can say “Has anyone come across XXXX XXXXXXXX” and see what people say. Ask people to DM you if it seems they have information. If someone has broken the law, report them to the Police. Always do some research and see if anyone else has had the same problems. Be warned, some of these individuals are nasty,vindictive individuals who may subsequently Troll or harass you. If this happens, do not mess around, call the Police
- Historical problems. Just suppose that ten years ago you had a bad experience and you’ve put it behind you. Then you hear that the person has been accused, or you notice a post on Facebook. If the story rings a bell, please consider contacting the authorities. The police will check the stories for consistency. If a case is with the Police, do not contact the victim directly, although if you can contact their lawyers which may be an alternative if you are worried about the Police. As an industry, we need to rid ourselves of such people and it can only happen if brave people come forward. If it is someone asking a question of Facebook and you feel comfortable, ping them and say “I had a problem with that individual too”. If you feel comfortable going to the Police, then ask if they have. If they have, then ask for the details of the investigation and file this in any report. Don’t share details and write down exactly what happened, before you discuss it. That way, you can have something to refer the police to, which has not been influenced by the other persons story.
One question I have been asked, which is a genuine problem is whether to go with a manager or label with no track record. Not having a string of successful artists etc, does not mean they are the wrong person. Ask them what they bring to the party. If you just need someone to arrange a few gigs and hawk some recordings, then this could be a good arrangement. Make sure that if you sign something, you understand the exit clause and you don’t give away anything after the deal has lapsed, unless this is clearly stated and mutually agreeable. It is not uncommon to have a “sell on clause”. If the manager gets you a deal and has done a lot of work, they should get reasonably remunerated for their work. Their role should be clear. If they say they will get you gigs and they don’t, then that should be the end of the contract. If they say that if they get you a record deal, they want 5-10% of the advance, have the lawyers ensure that this is only applicable if it is from their work. If they get a gig, bring down A&R scouts and set up all of the meetings, then it is reasonable. If they do nothing for six months and a label hears your music on Youtube and gets in touch independently, it isn’t. You will have to make a judgement call on this, but so long as the exit path is clear and they bring something to the party you can’t don yourself, don’t be worried. If they are unknown in the industry, getting a finders fee and a major signing is a feather in their cap so they should be realistic about their role.
Author: Roger Tichborne
Roger founded Mill Hill Music Complex in 1979 and was a founder member of the Music Managers Forum. He is also a performing and recording artist.