I hate when hard working people get ripped off. These kind of injustices can range from phishing scams to pickpockets, insurance companies' denying claims by any means necessary to bank CEO’s using bailout cash for beer money. It’s heart breaking to hear the stories of identity theft leaving people broke and in perpetual debt, or stock- and 401K-holders losing their future to corporate malfeasance.
Not that it is by any means “worse,” but I get a special bug up my ass (I’ve named him “Tony”) when I hear about artists and musicians getting ripped off. Having written about music for 18 years and played music for over 20, I’ve seen all kinds of scams designed to make cash off of the creative endeavors of others. From “battle of the bands” contests with exorbitant, unnecessary “entry” fees to club owners deciding at the end of the night that a band’s performance fee suddenly didn’t fit his budget to record labels putting no money into a project only to blame the band for not selling more albums (and coming at them to “recoup” costs), not paying or actually taking money from artists is its own little cottage industry within the music industry.
If there is a hell, Satan has a roped-off V.I.P. section for these sleazeballs. Firstly, artists mostly have little-to-no money (the money they do have usually doesn’t actually come from their art), so it’s kind of like stealing a homeless person’s winter coat in the midst of a blizzard.
Secondly, art is often a personal, emotional experience for the creator, something they’ve produced from the depths of their souls. (Well, usually.) There’s nothing wrong with art becoming a commodity (all the better to make a living doing what one loves), but when tricksters make big promises they never have any intention of keeping solely to make a few bucks off of some wide-eyed hopeful, that commodity becomes an Albatross that can shatter dreams. I sometimes wonder if our greatest artists haven’t been burned by scammers early on in their artistic life, only to give it all up for a life in accounting. Having aspirations crushed is one thing; losing a ton of money in the process is just soul-searing.
The Internet has been a great tool for artists and musicians, but it has also become (as it has for the general population) a cesspool of swindles. Several months ago, I started a MySpace page for some recordings on which I’ve been working. Nothing fancy. I’m not looking for a record deal or anything; I just wanted to get my art out in the ether.
Due to the MySpace page’s on-the-down-low nature (I even made up a fake band name with fake band members), I rarely get any message sent to me through it, outside of show notices from other musicians and the occasional “Good stuff!” But about a week ago, I received an e-mail essentially offering me a record deal.
The message was from something called “Millennium Records Inc.” and someone named “Kathey Lowery.” In the message, I was informed that the company sees “great potential” in my cheap little GarageBand demos. It also said they would like to “possibly” manage me and get me a record deal with Millennium or one of its many offshoot labels (that I’ve also never heard of).
“We see a bright future in you and would love to help further your music career and accomplish your dreams and goals,” the noted ended.
My dreams and goals at this point in my life are to get a good night’s sleep, not die and raise my child. But for a micro-millisecond I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be funny if, after all my time playing music, these little demo recordings would be the things that got noticed.” I’ve never played music to make money, but, if they’re being honest, there are very few creative people who wouldn’t jump at the chance to quit their day jobs and do art full-time.
That, as they say, is “how they get ya.”
Luckily, I’ve been around the block enough times that I’m able to smell bullshit of this type from thousands of miles away. I did a quick search and found, thanks to the message boards on the site songwriter101.com, all I needed to know about these assholes. Also masquerading as “Dreamtrax Records LLC,” the “company” sends out mass phishing e-mails in an effort to snag unsuspecting and/or nave artists in their net. For a mere $20, you can have a record deal! I think I can safely say that has never and will never happen.
Locally, a lot of musicians have been confused by the sudden departure of the online local music resource site, cincymusic.com. The site had been around for a decade and was once a bustling hub of activity, with a user-generated calendar, band profiles, CD reviews and interviews. A couple of years ago, the site owner seemed to give up on the site. There was no more original content, users complained of problems with their profiles and their inability to get in touch with the site owner to correct them and the always popular message boards deteriorated to the point where only a handful of users participated.
Then a month or so ago, without warning, the site disappeared. Let me make clear that I have no hard evidence on exactly what happened; the site owner had become largely unreachable by most over the past two or three years.
Dan McCabe has crafted another excellent response to the “pay-to-be-honored” controversy, sent to nominees with their tickets and reprinted below:
Dear CEA Nominee and Attendee,
Music is a powerful thing. It can and has been harnessed to change the world.
I believe music’s power lies in the music-makers innate ability to dream. As musicians you may be aware that dreaming doesn’t come easy to everyone, but with a well-crafted song you can help the listener dream with you. That’s powerful.
The 12th annual CEAs have been built by and for dream enthusiasts, so while you’re enjoying this year’s production, I invite you to dream the night away.
Start by dreaming of what our music town could be with an operating Emery Theater made available to the community. The doors of this Cincinnati landmark will be opened for the first time in almost a decade to host our local music celebration. There’s no excuse for the Emery to go dormant again after our visit. Your participation this year will help demonstrate the Emery’s viability and Cincinnati’s thirst for this venue. Speaking of thirst, buy a beer while you’re enjoying the show. All beverage sales are donated to the non-profit Emery Center Corporation to further the cause.
It’s time to begin dreaming of a functioning King Records Label here in Cincinnati. Imagine the sounds of our present day music-makers carrying the name of King Records into the 21st century. The same label that launched James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Ralph Stanley and a long list of other impactful musicians. You’ll learn more about this existing plan and its’ progress at The CEAs as we celebrate the 65th anniversary of Cincinnati’s iconic King label.
The Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame and the City of Cincinnati are coming to the table. Both entities have worked together to build a daylong celebration of King Records that culminates in our CEAs. Dream of what our music town could be if our leaders and citizenry embraced Cincinnati’s longstanding reputation for excellent music output. As most of you know, Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Director Terry Stewart is quoted as saying “There are three cities that have the rightful claim to the birthplace of Rock-n-Roll: Memphis, New Orleans and Cincinnati”.
Dream of what comes next after the embrace of Cincinnati’s music as our finest natural resource. Yes, that resource should be harnessed to market Cincinnati to the world as a fun place to live, work and play. But after recognizing the importance of this resource, plans must be made to nurture and sustained it. I suggest our leaders start by educating Cincinnati citizens on the impact our music town has on the world stage. The goal: Cincinnatians known not only as chili eating Reds fans and Bengals boo-ers, but also as music fans. Let’s get some more butts in the seats at your shows!
I can’t thank you enough for coming to this year’s CEAs. Your participation is helping to nurture and sustain these dreams. And dreams, like music, can be very powerful.
CEA Producer and Dream Enthusiast