Pay to Play?

Pay Someone Else to Commercially Release Your Music?

The idea that an artist or production company would financially back the manufacturing, release and promotion of their own project is not new to the entertainment industry. A number of independent record companies have realized that many artists or production companies are willing to pay several hundreds or thousands of dollars in order to get their work released, promoted and hopefully distributed. The book publishing industry, has a similar practice known as “private”, “vanity” or “commission” publishing whereby a publisher will likewise require an author to pay for all initial printing, publication and anticipated promotional costs of the book.

We won’t comment on the ethics of these deals and we have no statistics on the success rate. The practice is certainly not common among the major labels or well known independent labels. Indeed there are numerous horror stories of unscrupulous companies taking hundreds and thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people. Nonetheless, we have also heard stories of artists or production companies paying money up front to another distributor/label, for the manufacturing, release and/or promotion of their product. The decision to enter into agreements of this type should ultimately depend upon the parties involved, their track record, reputation, and expertise that the party asking for money brings to the negotiation.

The horror stories abound in circumstances where a company charges an artist from a few hundred, to several thousand dollars. In return, the company agrees to have records, compact discs and/or cassettes manufactured, promoted to radio stations and “shopped” to and through the company’s contacts. Who are these “contacts”, and can they be verified? Be wary of companies which have no real or verifiable contacts, and therefore no real “pull” or clout in the industry. They may be simply after your money and may be in no realistic position to advance you or your artist’s career.

“Song sharks” are various companies which approach an artist or songwriter with a “recording offer.” For a few hundred dollars (or more) they will have someone, usually in their employ, record the song (“cover” it) and include it on their compilation recording. Others may or seek to “license” the master recording produced by you, while some may actually manufacture and release the recording. A minimum pressing will be done and the purchasing artist or band will even receive a few samples. These companies then claim to send copies to radio stations and reviewers. Many professionals in the industry do not take product offered in this manner seriously because they know which companies are song sharks. The song sharks are masters of mailing lists and prey upon the artist’s or band’s frustrations in not seeing their product released by somebody. The performing rights societies do not take these releases seriously and may not even index the released tunes. The song sharks are just “rip-off artists.”

What does all this mean to an artist, band, or production company of a master who is seeking a major label deal? We are generally apprehensive and distrustful of any deal in which our client is required to pay money to others to release material. This is not to be confused with the decision to manufacture your own product and seek distribution through a reputable company. Generally, the major or well known independent record label is willing to take the financial risks. (This is one reason why contracts are so pro-record company when it comes to royalty computations). Most of the companies which seek payment from an artist in order to sign that artist often lack credibility and clout within the industry, and make most of their money from the paying party, not from record deals.

By: Bruce E. Colfin and Jeffrey E. Jacobson
© 2005 Jacobson & Colfin, PC

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