The Art of the Deals: On Promoters and Labels

I’m going to be 40 pretty soon. And while it may seem like I’m saying that so that you send me cards filled with money (I am), it’s also to set the stage that I’ve been around for a minute and I see a lot of bands coming up who are just being absolutely fucking fleeced. When I started out, the one thing bands really got it thrust in dry with was pay-to-play schemes, which unfortunately still exist, but the myriad ways that you can get fucked now coming up shows that variety in the digital age is the spice of a shyster’s life. Out of a sense of community service to make up for every time one of you has seen me passed out drunk in public or, worse, had to talk to me sober, I wanted to go through a few of these things as a warning to younger bands, and older ones too. Though, really, if you’ve been around and you fall for any of this, you fucking deserve it and an apparition of Darwin will appear and haunt you with his ghostly pecker casting shame upon your house.

First up is the whole “pay to play” scheme. Now, the promoters whom engage in this short form of theft don’t advertise it as such, because being a human thesaurus with 11k entries for “bullshit” is a good marketing skill and, much like sex workers, these people will do whatever they can to make you think they’re into you so that you loosen your grip on your wallet. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the scam here is that promoters, or sometimes even touring bands, offer opening slots to local bands, most of the time in exchange for a certain amount of tickets the band has to sell to whatever shit circus we’re describing here. The average amount of tickets they have to sell is around 50 and whatever they don’t sell, they have to buy themselves as part of the “deal.”

Now I don’t care how good your mother says your band is, selling 50 tickets fucking sucks no matter who you are. And it leaves you holding the bag at the end of the day, and guess what that bag is full of, friends? That’s right, horse shit and a bill from the promoter. And did I mention you’re probably not the only band who’s out there selling tickets like they’ve got the shakes and the promoter has a fresh shot? It’s a competition to see who forgets their pride the fastest and relives Menace II Society, cheeseburgers and all.

Like I said, a lot of these pay-to-play shows are a stacked deck, so you might be going on first or second out of eight local openers before the headliner, and I’m pretty sure that counts as a fest to some promoters who’ve never been to one. And unless you’re 22 and a fucking champion, it’s really difficult to go to a show at 3pm, drink enough to tune out the local bands, and stay pumped and awake for the headliner to go on at midnight, which means a lot of people probably aren’t even going to be thinking about going near the building, let alone inside when you’re playing. You’re basically paying someone to be that guy on Pornhub who uploads a video of himself jerking off but, in this case, less people are probably watching. Meanwhile the promoter and whoever else are enjoying your money while you’re stuck loading out at 3:30pm, facing a sun that hates you and a world that is indifferent to you. At least that part is free!

But not all scams exist in the physical realm of which you can threaten violence or cry at. Some of them come through our emails, right around the chain letter your aunt sent or that tempting message offering instructions on how to get a bigger dick. I’m Irish, so I get a lot of those last ones.

One such email has made the rounds recently and some of my friends were both smart enough not to buy into it and kind enough to show it to me so that I had something to complain about for five thousand words. It has a lot of tell-tale signs of being horse shit due to grammar, spelling, sentence structure and just general comprehensibility. I’m presenting it in here as a warning, sort of like Vlad Tepes keeping impaled heads on his lawn, only this is more like dog shit in a bag. On fire.

We would like to release your record with promotional campaign through Via Nocturna or Ragnarok.
Below you can find details for CD release.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
You’ve already sent hundreds of e-mails to various labels? Most of them never bothered to send you any answer. Other replied: “no”? What if I tell you that we have a solution for yourband? Interested? See below what we can do.

– a release of 500 copies (printed cd, double-sided inlay, 8 pages booklet, jewel case + packaging);
– worldwide distribution (Europe, North America & Asia);
– digital distribution via iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, Bandcamp etc.;
– compensation (225copies of the release) for the band;
– a 50% of the digital sales will be transferred to the band;
– deal for only 2 years for CD edition (you retain the rights to other formats);
– professional media & pr promo services;
– viral marketing on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.;
– interviews and reviews in magazine, e-zines & blogs;
– EAN barcode & catalogue number;

We charge the band only 1050EUR for the above release & marketing plan. To compensate you for your initial expense you will receive 150 copies of your CD delivered directly to you without additional fees. If your band plays gigs you should be able to sell 150 copies of your album in few months and that makes it deal not only cheap but free of charge. You will get your money back in no time. See how it’s simple?

Of course you can do it. But will you also prepare the CD for pressing (for 500 copies you will pay ca. 1200 EUR with delivery), pay for the ads in magazines (without them they won’t review your album, 300-400 EUR for full page ad with interview included), spend at least 6 hours a week (for 2 months) or hire an agency for 200 EUR and promote this album in the internet, send 200 copies to distributors worldwide and rehearse for gigs? This will cost 3 times more than our offer and what if you fail?
We will do everything four band to be noticed. Our offer is fair and risk-free!

Sign the deal -> Make the payment -> Deliver the music & artwork -> We print it -> We release it & promote it -> We deliver your copies in a month after payment.
If you have any questions feel free to ask. Let’s release your CD together!

OK, so let’s look at the offer itself: this “label” will print 500 CDs for you and do all the legwork for 1050 Euros, which I think is a lot depending on how the markets closed today. Now they’ll give you 150 CDs, which you’re going to need to sell at around $8 to get back your investment. And let’s face it, if you’ve taken this deal then moving your CDs for anything above the already too expensive price of free is going to be like pissing out a kidney stone the size of a clementine. With enough prayer, I’m sure you can do it, but it’s going to be unpleasant.

They mention how you need to spend money on advertising in order to be reviewed, which is funny since I thought Pit folded years ago. I don’t know of a single magazine that charges for a review. That’s just ludicrous and if you fall for this, then you fucking deserve it.

Now I can’t speak on magazines denying interview coverage for a band that isn’t advertised, but it’s not something I’ve seen in a long time. And wait, does this mean they’re going to pay for advertising? That part is conveniently left out. They mention the 200 CDs to send out to places, but I don’t think anyone even really does physical promos anymore so this is just showing poor business sense and a taste for wasting money and physical product.

I like that somehow rehearsing for gigs is thrown in there like they’re reminding you to pay child support.

This and other “deals” like it are taking the scams of people like the dozens of “zines” in Davos and pushing it to another level. If my instinct that this company is going to leave you high (not the fun kind) and dry is at all on the mark, then that’s a large chunk of change for any band to just give away, especially considering the 114 GoFundMes currently running just in the New York Metro area for bands asking for money to pay rent and buy mustache wax. And the crushing realization that you just got fucked and they secretly slid the condom off halfway is going to be difficult to get through at the very least and at the worst case scenario, it’ll implode your band. And unlike having a member who’s a junkie and stealing from every member, this is something that’s instantly obvious and completely avoidable.

With tools like Bandcamp and, for the next 17 minutes, Soundcloud available, it’s incredibly easy for bands to have control on where their music goes. Unfortunately, even this wonderful tool can be turned into a rubber dick used to beat you over the head with. “Digital only” labels, while rare, do exist for some reason and some of them will actually charge you to sell your music online under the guise that they’re going to “promote” it. Listen, anyone who wants to take your money to do something you can do for free (and possibly even make a few dollars on) in under twenty minutes probably also wants to build a transparent wall so you can see if someone is going to throw a fatal amount of drugs over it onto your head. They’re fucking bottom feeders. The same kind of people who would charge money for a digital preorder when there’s not going to be a physical release.

If an offer seems too good to be true (or, in this case, in your inbox when nothing else is), then it probably is. I feel this way about any label, even legit ones, that want bands to put up their own money to press something. It feels like they want you to do the majority of the work (write, record, cough up money, promote it when it comes out, REHEARSE, pay your child support) while they reap the majority of the (financial) benefits. It speaks volumes to the virtue of DIY so that you can maintain direct and complete control of your music until you come across someone you trust and who trusts you enough to throw down the money needed for 100% of the finished product. I’ve only given you a few examples of the cornucopia of swindlers out there. As anyone with HPV can tell you, sometimes parasites are difficult to avoid, so please use some modicum of common sense.

It’s a free world and you’re welcome to wipe your ass with poison ivy for all I can do about it. But take every offer seriously, look it over twice and then give it to someone who knows how to read. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.