Over the years I have represented a number of bands and individuals trying to break into the music business. Most all of my clients now are established companies and artists but I am pretty sure that the beginners are still making the mistakes that they always did.
One such mistake is ignoring the advice of the professionals they are paying for advice. A songwriter client of mine turned down an opportunity to work with an established music publisher because his friends told him he was being “screwed” in the deal. The songwriter had an experienced music industry manager and an experienced music attorney (me) who were able to secure this opportunity for the writer. Very little money was going to change hands in the deal but for an unknown these days to even get a major independent publisher to pay for the demos and have their professional creative directors pitch the songs is rare. And the deal was for a reasonably short period of time. A great opportunity to launch a career. And in this case the only opportunity for this writer. In a slow music business economy I have seen established songwriters with prior hits take deals like this. But it just wasn’t good enough for my client . . . and his “friends”.
Did I mention that none of the friends were successful music industry songwriters? None had achieved any significant level of success in the music business. Why then would my client have taken the advice of their friends over that of a professional artist manager and a veteran entertainment attorney? I really don’t know the answer. But he was dropped by the manager shortly after that and to the best of my knowledge isn’t any farther along in his career than when I last talked to him. Hopefully he and his friends are doing well.
Sometimes it is family advice that kills the career of an aspiring artist or songwriter. Advice from family members who know nothing about the music business of course. I have seen it happen. And I am sure it is hard for the writer or artist to ignore the advice of those he or she loves. The damage is not the advice - it is taking the advice over those who know better. The poison might exist be cause the advice given is just plain wrong or ill advised. Or it might be because the relative wants to launch their own career as a music business mogul. Those of us in the business have seen the latter as have the general public when law suits are filed among the family. I don’t doubt that most parents who give advice to their children are doing it out of love. But that still doesn’t make it good advice.
Another situation that I found particularly heart breaking is the case of the artist who believed that he should hire an expensive producer to produce his first indie album solely because the producer used to be successful. I don’t believe that should be enough. I told them that I could get a producer for them in the same music genre for a third of the cost. A producer who was known as an up and coming producer/songwriter in the industry. A producer who had produced a top 5 project just the year before. And did I mention - for a third of the cost?
The artist did not even want to listen to the work of the newer producer. That would be fine if this had been all about the artist spending his own money for an album that he only wanted to have available to sell on his own website and at engagements. However, the artist had no money. The parents of the artist had no money. But they borrowed the money to pay the more expensive producer.
That artist and his parents certainly had the right to hire the producer of their choice. But in my opinion they certainly should not have made a decision of this magnitude without even investigating the options. Especially considering the financial impact on the parents. Fast forward just a few years. Last year the producer I recommended had 4 number one singles on the charts and is in demand as a producer. And his fees and royalties are now greater than the producer that my client hired.
As an end note, please know that I recognize and have worked with artists and writers whose friends and family know how to be supportive without endeavoring to be advisors about business specific matters of which they know nothing. Investigate your options if you have them. Many writers and artists do not choices. If your manager or other professional gives you advice you don’t have to take it - but in my opinion you really should give it some weight as you make your career decisions. Ultimately career decisions are yours (and should be). Try to be smart about it!