What You Need to Know About Pay-to-Play

8th June 2015 4 comments

The concept of pay-to-play has seemingly reached epidemic proportions. Let’s recap the past week in music, shall we?

~ Hype Machine announced it has stopped working with music blogs who feature paying clients.

~ A film company in the UK was trying to get artists and labels to pay £10,000 to place a song in their film

~ As we reported last week, Spike Lee fired Chiraq music supervisor DJ Slugo for charging artists to submit music for consideration in the film.

~Now, friend and Chicago music industry colleague Marcello Siggers has shared yet another example of pay-to-play scumbaggery. Marcello received an email from someone who is, at a quick glance, trying to present themselves as Atlantic Records (or at least someone affiliated with Atlantic Records). The email appears to be on Atlantic Records letterhead and promises artists face time with Atlantic Records A&R reps…for a price. Yes, for the bargain price of $300, artists can have a phone call with an alleged A&R rep from Atlantic, play all of their records for the A&R rep, and get advice on the direction of their career. For $400 Skype, in-office, or in-studio meetings are available. If you read the email carefully you’ll notice a few indicators that this is an absolute scam.

1) The grammar is abysmal. “Interested in getting your music hear one on one with A&Rs?“We are now scheduling appointments for independent artist“, Skype is misspelled and in lowercase letters, and PayPal is in lowercase letters. Little things like this are usually a good indication that it’s a less-than savory organization. Sure, everyone can be the victim of auto-correct but several simple typos and grammatical errors in a so-called professional correspondence is not something a major label, artist manager, or consultant with high quality standards would settle for.

2) It’s presented with a huge Atlantic Records logo, mention of Atlantic Records A&R representatives, and promises of advice from people who would seem to be able to advise young artists. Take a look at the email address, though. It’s not something like info@atlantic.com, artists@atlanticrecords.com, or contact@warnermusicgroup.com (none of those are real Atlantic Records email addresses, incidentally). It’s a Gmail address. Yes, Gmail. A major record label is not going to be sending official correspondence from a Gmail account. Ever.

3) They’re asking for payment via PayPal. Major label stores don’t even use PayPal, opting for simple credit card transactions via their own individual stores. IF they did take PayPal payments, payments would be routed through official label accounts and email addresses, not Gmail.

4) This may be the most important point of all and one that should be a relief to artists, as disheartening as it may be. No, I repeat, NO legitimate label rep, manager, agent, or producer will charge artists. They will spend money on them, try to charm them, and do all they can to convince them that they can provide the services to take their career to the next level. The aforementioned people have the potential to make a lot of money off of artists and they know this. If a record label is interested in an artist, they’ll spend money on meals, airfare, and hotels, among other things. If a manager wants to represent an artist, they’ll often invest money in instruments and studio time, some even fund early tours knowing that ultimately their commission will be a nice amount if the work is put forth. They will not ask an artist to send a PayPal payment to a random Gmail address.

There are plenty of events which do cost money and do present opportunities to network with a plethora of people in all facets of the industry, however these are all very well-known, well publicized, and backed by heavyweights. The Grammys, Billboard, Midem, South by Southwest, and The Future of Music Coalition are just a few of the groups which host professional events on a regular basis. Some of them cost money, some don’t, but they’re all very well-organized and their legitimacy can easily be verified.

As frustrating as it is for artists to fight for their chance to be heard, they need to understand that they and they alone are perpetuating this behavior. Whether it’s a band about to record their first demo or one nervous that the album they just spent thousands of dollars recording won’t be heard, artists who fall into the trap of pay-to-play give people a reason to continue the behavior. It may not seem like it but artists have complete control over this situation and if they simply stop paying these people, most of whom can’t follow through on anything they’re promising, they’ll stop trying to extort money from artists. There will always be people who prey on the dreamers but investing money in solid marketing, engaging with fans via social media, and working to build viable connections within the industry will provide far more lasting career opportunities than a Skype session with questionable ‘industry’ folk.

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