scams in the music industry

What Are Common Scams in the Music Industry?

There is no doubt that the music industry is a tough business. With so many artists out there just dying for their big break, it’s a thriving scene for scams in the music industry. A scammer will come along and ask for a musician’s money promising big things in return. Often artists end up never seeing that person or their money again. In other instances, they may get something in return, but it will not be worth the price they pay.

To protect themselves from scams, musicians should be aware of red flags. So, what are common scams musicians should be looking for in the industry? Scams often take the form of people asking for money in return for a promotional service that is not worth it or that they don’t intend to see through. In other instances, there could be managers or record labels trying to rip a musician off. There are also pay-to-play scams.

In this article, we will look at different types of scams to keep yourself protected.

Marketing: The Most Common Scams in the Music Industry

Marketing scams are probably the most common type of fraud out there. You may receive a message from someone who promises to get you a radio play or tons of press in return for payment. They will ask you for money upfront, and you will end up getting very little in return. In some instances, you may never hear from them again.

There are a few things to consider when protecting yourself from these. Independent bands generally have the power to promote themselves. There are plenty of online resources, radio stations, and magazines that are happy to promote unsigned artists. For instance, Indie on the Move provides a list of media and radio stations that feature unsigned artists.

Although it takes some work to reach out to all of them, it’s better than taking a risk on a potential scam artist.

Tips To Avoid Music Marketing Scams

However, some organizations offer these types of services and if you’d rather pay someone to do it for you, go ahead. Just make sure that the service you are using has credibility, like reliable customer reviews and testimonials.

If they promise you things that seem too good to be true, like coverage in a well-known magazine, or airplay on a big radio station, be very afraid.

Finally, make sure you have protection in any financial arrangement. Paying with a credit card, for instance, will allow you to charge the service back. If you pay with cash, there will be no paper trail, and scammers may be able to disappear with your money.

Management: Less Common Scams in the Music Industry

For a lot of musicians, landing a management deal may seem like a dream come true. But the truth is unless you are at a level where you are about to get signed, you don’t need a manager, especially one that’s asking for money.

The best thing an unsigned band can do is find a manager that is a friend or relative that genuinely wants to help and is not looking for any money. Otherwise, musicians can manage the band themselves.

Managers should not be approaching you out of the blue unless there is real money on the table. For example, a record deal is one reason for a manager to step forward. If they are, and they’re asking for money, tell them to get lost.

Pay to Play: Another Common Scam in the Music Industry

Pay to play is another situation that many musicians and promoters deal with, and both sides can argue as to whether it’s a scam or not. Essentially, “pay to play” is involves paying a club a fee to play at their venue. Bands can “earn back” the money by selling tickets.

Many musicians feel pay to play is a scam because it gives more opportunities to bands who have money and may not be as talented. It also kind of sucks to charge artists a fee for performing their art and expressing themselves. It can hurt a thriving music scene.

However, there are two sides to every story. A promoter will tell you that bands have the opportunity to make their money back, and if they can’t get enough people in the door to fill the quota, they shouldn’t be playing anyway.

My Experience on Pay To Play

I come from New York, where pay to play is practically non-existent, and moved to Los Angeles, where it is much more acceptable. Many musicians I networked in New York feel pay to play is a scam because both promoters and bands know how difficult it is to get people down to clubs.

Rather than making bands pay for slots, bringing people down to clubs should be a collaborative effort.

While bands should do all they can to promote, promoters can do their part by booking strong bands with bands that don’t draw as well so they can build their followings. Or maybe they can add other attractions that will make people want to come out their nights.

Pros and Cons on Pay To Play

But if you are a musician that wants to play a specific club and you know you never will unless you pay to play, here are a few tips.

  • Consider the slot you are playing. Are promoters charging you $300 to play at midnight on a Thursday night and asking you to sell tickets at $10 apiece? It will be hard to get people down at that time slot, and $10 is a lot to pay for seeing a local band. You’re better off turning it down.
  • On the other hand, if you get the opportunity to open for a big act and know your friends will want tickets, it may not be that hard to get your money back. It will also get you great exposure as the venue is guaranteed to get packed.

Nirvana’s song Pay to Play has abstract lyrics, but you can tell their stance on the subject.

Record Deal Scams

No matter what level you’re on, you’re always vulnerable to record company scams. It seems that artists on every level can get ripped off by their record company.

As a local band, you might not make any money off the sale of your album. If an indie record label wants to pick you up, you may agree to it for the distribution and exposure they give you alone.

Smaller record labels may ask you to provide your recording, but they should never charge you anything in advance. If they do, they may not be the right label for you.

Consider a Lawyer

When you’re at a higher level where you stand to make money off your album, a lawyer should handle your deal. The lawyer will make sure you get the royalties you deserve.

It’s not easy to make it as a musician. Scammers lurking on the sidelines make it even harder for musicians to get ahead. The tips in this article will keep you safe from people who want to take advantage of you—good luck protecting your assets.


What are some common scamming signs?

Here are some general signs that a company may be scamming you. They apply to the music industry or any other situation.

  • The company is contacting you out of the blue.
  • You receive notice of a “limited time offer” and feel high pressure.
  • Banking information or any other type of personal data is requested.
  • You receive a letter or email with bad spelling and lots of grammatical errors.
  • There is no website for the company that’s contacting you.
  • The website is not at a secure link.
  • Your computer warns you of a virus in an email attachment or IM attachment.

How Do You Know if Publicist is Shady?

Earlier in the article, we talked about how some individuals will ask for payment to get you press. While some of these people are scammers, there are tons of legitimate PR people out there. Usually, the ones you can trust will have some track record that lets you know they are aboveboard.

What is Payola?

Payola is another form of pay to play, but it involves musicians paying deejays (DJs) to play their songs. This approach is legal if the DJs announce that the artist has paid them to place the piece before playing it. In all other cases, it is illegal.

But even when payola is legal, it is still kind of shady. For one, like pay to play, it means that artists with more money take opportunities away from those that may be more deserving.

DJs can also take advantage by running songs during off-hours to boost the stats. Today, it’s even easier to fake streams and downloads, making internet DJs more likely to bilk money out of Payola clients. While entirely legal, certain perspectives can paint Payola as another example of the scams in the music industry.

What is Double Dipping?

Double-dipping can take many forms. One example is when a manager has a record label and signs an artist on a management and record deal.

There is nothing wrong with a manager who does both. However, there can be blurred lines for how much the manager is due.

Before agreeing to such a deal, artists should make sure there are clearly defined contracts in place for both services. The right contract will allow you to avoid losing control, a significant factor of scams in the music industry.

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