There have always been people who promised to help musicians “get to the next level” for a fee. Sometimes they are legitimate. Sometimes they are not.
Recently I’ve become personally acquainted with a number of folks who offer valuable, specific services. I’ve also seen friends and readers “taken” by people who promised the moon but delivered almost nothing, or in some cases nothing at all.
In my continuing quest to help young musicians get the kind of help and guidance I needed when I was their age (and didn’t get, frankly), I’ve posted links to a lot of useful blogs and articles by providers that I have reason to trust on the discussion forum pages of the Creek Don’t Rise and School Of The Rock web sites. I’ve also made a point of not posting links to people who were only salesmen or promised far more than I think they can deliver.
For example, I post many links to blogs by the owners of a particular songwriter colloquium. For about the cost of an HBO subscription, they give you access to resources, and advice, and – when warranted – personal attention from professional songwriters. Even if you decide later that it’s not what you need, you are not out that much money and you haven’t signed away anything. One reason I tended to trust them before I even got to know them is that their blogs provide so much helpful, specific information for free that I can tell they’re “for real.”
There’s also a self-professed songwriting coach who spams me every few days claiming he will change my life, but whenever I click on what is supposed to be a free blog, there are six sentences summarizing the same advice he posted last time (and most of which has been around since the 1950s) and an offer to sell me something that will change my life and nobody else even knows about at an exclusive, limited-time-only price. I do not post links to his “blogs.”
Of course, I’ve also been spammed by folks who are just plain scammers, making promises they couldn’t deliver on if they wanted to, but the truth is, they don’t want to.
Dozens of kinds of services are available, of course. Performance coaching, song-plugging, radio promotion, promotional coaching, and many more kinds of services are offered by legitimate providers and by scammers alike. But it seems some days that the scammers significantly outnumber the legitimate providers. Certainly their spams do.
How can you tell the difference between legitimate people offering worthwhile services and outright scammers?
What Can You Learn From Them Before You Invest?
I like to look at the materials they offer free online in blogs or downloadable resources. If the materials are detailed and specific and cover a range of related topics, there’s a real chance that their authors know what they’re talking about. If the materials are just a vague rehash of generic content you’ve seen a dozen other places, or if they’re all just thinly-disguised sales pitches for their materials, don’t bother.
What Exactly Are They Selling You?
Where the rubber really meets the road, however, is when they tell you what you’re going to get for your investment. Examples:
Real voice teacher: I’m going to give you tips and exercises that should help you control pitch better in your upper register.
Fake voice teacher: I’m going to make you sing like Mariah Carey.
Real Studio Engineer: I’ll give you 7 hours a day of studio time on five consecutive days each plus an hour of setup time each day. Overdubbing and comps as time permits. On the sixth day, I’ll record a stereo mix with efx of whatever is reasonably ready, and also make all of the original multichannel recordings available without efx in OMF or ProTools format on DVRs.
Fake record company: I will do magical things with knobs and buttons. Plus I have secret connections in the music industry that I will exploit to get your songs on the radio somewhere. We are your “one-stop rich-and-famous shop.” How good did you say your credit rating was again?
Hopefully you get the idea.
What About References?
You might also check the client list to see how the service provider has contributed to their past success. In some cases, the provider is contractually restricted from sharing that information because the client’s manager wants to make it seem that their client achieved greatness all on his or her own. But if the person really has “the goods,” at least some of those connections will eventually come to light.
Conversely, when a friend told me he had been “signed” by a record company that had promised to get his songs on the radio, and it only cost him $15,000, I checked out the “record company’s” stable of artists. I hadn’t heard of any of them, and when I sampled their albums, I had no trouble figuring out why.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t name-droppers and liars who love taking credit for other folks’ success and hard work. But that eventually comes to light, too.
One place that references help is if you have a relationship with one trustworthy service provider, he or she often has relationships with other folks who can help you. A “live music producer” I’ve known since the 1990s put me on to a promotions coach, who put me on to a voice coach, and so on. Not that I’ve personally used any or all of their suggestions effectively (so don’t judge their quality by the 5% of their good advice I’ve had time to assimilate). And one of the providers (outside that circle) whom I’ve found generally trustworthy keeps recommending another provider whose work is not all that impressive. So you still have to do your homework.
Some Quick Rules of Thumb:
- Nobody legitimate will promise to make you successful. Period.
- Nobody legitimate will insist that you pay huge sums or sign away your life’s work up front.
- Nobody legitimate will claim you’re not serious about your music if you refuse to take them up on their “offer” at this time, even if it’s their real, all-time, too-good-to-be-true FINAL OFFER!
- Nobody legitimate will claim that they are your “one shot at success.”
- Nobody legitimate will tell you that your success depends on them, and not on your own hard work.
- Nobody legitimate will e-mail you out of the blue offering to make you a star – legitimate providers are too busy to randomly spam wannabes.
- Nobody legitimate spams people they have no relationship with at all claiming that you contacted them or otherwise have a prior relationship. As an example, one very busy scammer always opens his e-mails to total strangers with the line “Thanks for checking in.” Of course, if he sees this article, he’ll change that line, but you get the point
Here’s the sad part. A certain number of people will read this blog, then a week later will be approached by someone who is making them an offer that’s “too good to be true” and they’ll throw their life savings into it anyway. The worst part is that often their dreams die when the money runs out. They take their disappointment when nothing comes of the scammer’s promises as a sign that their parents (or whoever) were right, and their music was just a detour on the way to whatever they’re really “supposed” to be doing with their life, (like getting a “real” job).
Maybe you aren’t destined for a full-time successful career in music – not everybody is. (I know that’s blasphemy in some circles.) But letting scammers rob you of what you do have and any real opportunities that might have come along if you’d just “kept the faith” a bit longer isn’t the answer.
Sadly, for many, it’s easier to believe the lie they want to hear and than the truth they don’t.
Here’s hoping you’re not so easily conned as many folks I’ve seen!