In this article, I will be covering the 5 worst mistakes that artists make. As a practicing attorney, these are mistakes I see day in and day out. They are very common, but they can be avoided. I’m going to go in reverse order on these, starting with number 5.
5. Giving Away Ownership of Their Music. When it comes to signing with record labels, signing away ownership is usually part of the deal. You sign with a label, and the label will own your music. Meaning, they are going to own the music forever. Most times, you don’t even have a right to try to purchase back your masters. Decide whether it’s worth it for you. One piece of caution that I always offer to my artists is, if you are going to sign away your music, understand that you are making a bet on the label. The big mistake that I see is that artists are very eager to give away ownership of their music for nothing. Usually, it’s a brand-new record label that reaches out to an artist wanting to sign them. They don’t really have funds to give the artist a signing bonus, so there is no up-front payment. The label has to take a chance and start signing artists because they are wanting to build their roster. On the flip side, as the artist, you don’t want to be that guinea pig. As the artist, you don’t want to say, sign me up and let’s just see how this goes. The way I put it is just, remember you are betting on the label, as much as the label is betting on you. You guys are going to be business partners.
4. Posturing and Lying. As an artist, I think that there is a tendency to fake it til you make it, but do it mindfully. Don’t be posing about your numbers, when really you’re paying for fake plays. Don’t lie either. Don’t lie to try to get a gig. Don’t lie about shows that you haven’t done. There is something that might be very attractive to do that in the beginning of your career, because you don’t have a lot of things you can point to, I get that. You have to remember, especially in the music and enteritanment business, what goes around comes around! People that you meet in this industry will remember you. You may connect with them again down the road. If you got caught in a lie, or they thought you were being a little extra and bolstering what you were saying, that’s not good. I’ve seen this blow back in really bad ways. Always be transparent, and be your genuine self! That will go so much further, especially in the music industry.
3. Not Acting Professional. You always have to act like you’ve “made it.” Not in the instance that you are posturing or lying, but by taking yourself seriously as an artist. If you are a professional, then conduct yourself like that from the beginning. It’s a good rule of thumb because it helps to set the standard of how other people are going to treat you. If you aren’t acting professional, not communicating well, not responding to e-mails, then that is probably what you can expect to receive in return. Also, it helps to set the expectation of what you want or need when working with other people. Sometimes when working with other people, you don’t get professionalism. You’ll find you have to set that standard for yourself. You’ll figure out what you are willing to put up with as you build your team.
2. Picking the Wrong Partner. When I say “partner,” I mean this broadly. It’s that person is who is by your side, who wants to see you succeed. Make sure, as a long-term play, that you pay attention to that relationship. Sometimes we get locked into these relationships early on because of convenience or because someone was there in the beginning. Eventually, that relationship can start to deteriorate, and that person can become someone that hampers your career and progress. This could show itself in so many ways. If you go to a meeting and have someone with you that is running their mouth, that can hurt your image. Maybe someone is being quick with the cash, money is being spent, but not being accounted for.
Then there are literal partners, where you decide to start your record label or other music business venture together. Ask yourself these questions. Who is doing the accounting? Who is having the meeting and taking the meeting minutes? Your life will either be so much harder or easier based on who you decide is going to be your partner. I say that because sometimes, it’s time to move on, and you need to find someone who is a better fit. Do an audit of your own circle! The people that you keep around you are either going to slow you down, or will help you with your momentum, and help you keep moving forward.
1. Not Having a Strong Team or Attorney. Most artists do not retain an entertainment attorney until later in their careers. If you can’t get one right away, you might be relying on your core team (i.e., your group that is there to protect you). Your team, such as your manager, agent, attorney, all of them are supposed to be working together to make sure that you are protected, make sure that you are able to make your art, and make sure that you aren’t going to get yourself into a bad deal.
The golden standard is, you need to have an entertainment attorney as soon as any important contract comes up, period. doesn’t matter if you need to borrow some money. If you are going to do a deal and sign your name on a piece of paper, you’re going to be tied to something for several years. It’s worth going and getting an hour or two of an attorney’s bill to pay to make sure that you are protected. Also, when it comes to the team that you make, make sure you build a powerhouse team around you. Every time someone trips, you have to help each other. The more your team is tripping, the more your team is slowing you down.