There are tons of legitimate music services, but the scammers are out there, too. Use these four questions to evaluate any service you’re thinking of using and avoid getting suckered into something you’ll regret.
With software and technology dominating the world, there are more and more services, websites, and products today all claiming to help you create music, book gigs, get discovered, and get your music licensed, promoted, and noticed. Never in history has music been this open and global, but because the music market has been decentralized, it has attracted some unscrupulous and incompetent players who prey on musicians’ hopes and dreams of success.
We musicians need to protect our pocketbooks and the rights to our music, and if you want to make money with music you should focus on not only generating revenue but on cutting expenses. Since paid services can add up, you should evaluate whether any service you’re considering (or currently using) is worth the price. In addition, you need to understand what — if any — rights you’re giving up when you sign on. This is especially true for so-called “free” services which may require you to agree to give up exclusive or non-exclusive rights in exchange for the service.
To help you evaluate new or unknown services to make sure they’re legitimate and worth your time and money, ask yourself these four questions. If a product or service doesn’t pass all four, be wary.
1. Did you search the company’s name and “scam” in a search engine?
This is a great trick and it just takes just a couple minutes. Head to your favorite search engine and type in the service’s name and then the keyword “scam” right after it to see what pops up. And don’t stick with just the first page, go many pages in. In just a few minutes you can find out what the world is saying about it and its service. Any service, website, or product with significant customer issues or inherent problems can usually be found if you look for it.
For example, we once heard about a (now defunct) service that charged money to get music in front of new audiences using social media sites to generate likes and fans. A simple search revealed a musician suspected it was fake and submitted a track of junk white noise to see what would happen. Sure enough, the same number of fans “liked” the track as if it were a song, indicating something was up. Turns out the service had fake social media accounts and the likes were nothing more than a series of bots that liked whatever track was fed to them. Another hint was that there were no details provided about the fans who liked the tracks, so even if the fans were real, the musician didn’t get any new data or an actual boost in fans out of it.
2. Is the front page aimed at fans or musicians?
Some sites promise to get your music in front of their music-listening fans and audiences if you pay them. However, many of these services don’t have the reach or power they claim. One telltale sign is if a service’s front page is written with you, the musician, in mind, rather than addressing the music fans it purportedly services. You should be instantly skeptical about any site that uses most of its front page real estate to sell you — the musician — on how it can get your music heard.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to sites that directly perform musician services such as CD production, merch, or distribution. But when a music site, blog or streaming radio service makes this claim and uses the front page to advertise to you that they can get you tons of fans if you pay them, it may not be a legit music site where actual music listeners truly hang out and discover music. In fact, a lot of popular music-discovery sites bury the link about where and how to submit music (if they provide one at all) to minimize the chances their listeners will be put off by indications the service is a “pay-to-play” operation.
3. Is there a buzz?
Legit services, sites, and products are ones that receive a lot of third party mentions, reviews, and conversations online. Once again, you’ll want to use your favorite search engine and scroll beyond the first page to see what people are actually saying about them. See if it’s discussed on reputable music sites, online magazines, forums, and more. Then ask your own musician network and friends. If a new service is getting a lot of positive attention from both the web and your friends, then it’s more likely to be legitimate.
4. Are they a good and fair business partner?
If a service has passed the first three test questions, then it’s time to evaluate exactly what it’s selling. To do this, ask these questions to determine if it’s legit:
- Do they charge relatively the same as other services and competitors?
- What cut do they take?
- What are their terms and conditions?
- Do they take your rights or own your song/sound recording?
- If they’re free, how do they make their money? Are they a non-profit?
- Is it just too good to be true?
All of these details affect how much money you keep after they’re paid for their services and the kind of business you can do with them. Make sure the user agreement doesn’t require you to release any music rights you’re not comfortable giving up.
Finally, if you’re about to sign with a label, publicity service, attorney, accountant, or other representation service — or make a significant investment in such a service — go one step further than just asking questions. Talk to some of the service’s existing or previous customers to see if they are happy. We’ve heard more than one artist who was glad they took this step before paying a significant amount of money for something that looked like a good deal. Taking the time to make a couple of phone calls is worth it when there’s hundreds or thousands of dollars on the line.
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
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