Indie Artists Beware: 4 Ways to Avoid Getting Ripped Off
I feel a burning need to blog about ways you can get ripped off as an indie artist. Yes, it's an unsavory topic. And let's face it, no one wants to admit that they have been swindled. But, I would guess we have all made what I call 'bad business decisions' in our careers, from getting photos on railroad tracks (when our music had nothing to do with trains) to signing that 'too good to be true' contract that turned out to be, well, really bad. In no particular order, here are four ways you can avoid getting ripped off as an indie artist:
1) Know who you are working with and shop around
Personal referrals are great, but even then I think it's important to do your homework. Just looking at someone's website isn't enough. You have to talk to them, meet with them, talk to their clients and get a general vibe. Don't be afraid to shop around for services that you need and know what kind of people you personally like to work with.
For example, a friend of mine once recommended a 'fantastic professional photographer.' I needed new photos, so I went with the recommendation. Five minutes into the shoot, I was extremely uncomfortable—and it went downhill fast from there. I ended up paying a lot of money for five photos and having to re-do the shoot to get the photos I needed. If I had really spoken to the photographer and done my homework, I would have realized right away we weren't a good match and I wouldn't have hired them.
2) Follow up on services you are purchasing
Don't be afraid to ask for regular updates from anyone that you hire.
I had a song plugging company that I made fill out a spreadsheet every month so I knew what songs were pitched and what the responses to my songs were. I was paying for the service and wanted some accountability for what I was getting for my investment. This kind of follow-up, in my opinion, is really essential if you don't have a manager or label. You need to be your own manager and follow-up.
3) Look for indie-friendly companies
I can't tell you how many people come to Nashville and start shelling out big money to work with so-and-so's producer or the radio promotion company that got such-and-such big star a #1 Billboard hit. It's great that they can get big results, with big budgets and big artists, but what can they do for you and at what price? After all, you aren't Taylor Swift or Blake Shelton yet. You might be better off working with a company that has fewer employees and is indie-artist friendly. Ask for examples of how a company is helping artists like you reach the next career level.
As a sub-point to this I have to also add: know how to use the tools out there for indie artists. Can you get a great website for less than $200 a year and manage it yourself? Yes (shameless Bandzoogle plug here), and that it might be better to do that than hire a web development company to build an expensive whiz bang site that you have to pay them to update every time you play a show.
If there is a big contract with big impact to your career, by all means you should get a lawyer to review it and explain it to you. If it's a regular standard contract for things like film and TV sync licenses, my personal take is just make sure you know what you are signing. A word here and there (limited vs. unlimited) can make a huge difference.
Finally, listen to your instincts. If you're getting a bad feeling in your stomach, don't go there. If a person seems off or isn't following through with initial questions, don't assume it will be better once you hire them.
Shantell Ogden is a singer-songwriter based in Nashville, TN. Her latest album "Better At Goodbye" won Americana Album of the Year at the recent IMEA Awards. Find out more about Shantell and hear her music on her website www.shantellogden.com and follow her on Twitter: @shansmusic