“My Career Sucks, And It’s All Your Fault”


“I’ve sold 500,000 albums and I am still un-recouped from the label. I’m getting ripped off just like every other artist working with a major. I bust my ass to deliver a great record, it’s a big hit and they steal all the money. Not only that, they own the record. My work, they own it and I still owe them money. What a screwed up business.”


“I just wrapped up a 15 city arena tour opening for one of the biggest acts on the planet and I made less money than I did when I was doing solo acoustic shows in the clubs. Thanks to my crack team, my manager, business manager, record label and booking agent, the background vocalists made more money per show than I did.”


“The scum at Spotify don’t care anything about artists. My music has been streamed over 1 million times and I received a check for $1,200. Twelve hundred bucks for a million streams, who’s getting screwed here? Me, the artist. Enough of this crap”.


I’ve seen this movie before, an artist achieves a level of success, but is still not where they think they should be.

“My career sucks and it’s all your fault. Someone else made me sign a bad deal with a record label. They own my masters and then charge me back for marketing my music. My manager and this team he put together are just looking out for themselves.”

And the list of grievances continues. The next move is to fire the manager, to find someone that can “get in the face of these people and get my share of the money”.


Where does a music manager begin to fix this mess for this artist? First, they should have an honest lengthy discussion with the artist. After a thorough review of their career, contracts and associations, only then can a manager put things in context to know where matters stand. A new manager must also discover what the artist understands about their situation, what their expectations are and what they think can and should be done. This is the elephant in the room, from my view.


The biggest red flag from this scenario is “what does the artist know about their situation”. Knowledge and understanding, or the lack thereof, is the at the root of so many problems and business misunderstandings.


Imagine this. The record label was excited to be working with the artist, negotiated a reasonable and fair deal and devoted all their associations and resources to breaking the artist. The artist manager knew the level of investment and commitment from the label and counseled the artist on the situation. Did the artist understand the significance of these actions and discussions? It appears not. If clearly understood, an artist would know that a million-dollar investment from the label would be an investment into their long-term development, but that payout could take considerable time to scale.


A booking agent is going to know before the tour that the opening slot performance fee is not going to cover the production expenses and a substantial bonus for the artist. No surprise here, it’s an investment into the future of the artist brand, building fans, impressing promoters and connecting with media on the road. Should the agent forego commissions? Maybe this could be a part of the discussion, but this is a minor point in the big scheme of things. The real issue is what does the artist understand about their career? Is this tour an investment into the future?


The point here is the “artist is a victim”. A great talent is at the mercy of business people, eager to exploit their lack of knowledge and understanding to enrich themselves. Or is that the case?


The truth may be, that every member of the artist’s team has acted in good faith, devoting time, expertise and resources to develop the artist’s career, possibly even foregoing income to further the cause. It is incumbent upon the artist to be engaged with the business, to understand the playing field and to make choices wisely. Yes, there will be times in your career where you must make some hard decisions and make changes to your team, but that may not fix the problem.


As my friend Mark O’Connor expressed to a class of music students at the University of Miami, “Don’t be a victim. Take control of your career.”


Signed by an independent label as a teen and then after spending years with Warner Bros. Records and Sony Music, Mark is now an independent artist, in charge of his career. He is not a “victim” of the business, but rather the man in charge of his destiny. Does he still have a team around him that advise and counsel? Indeed. Does he know where his money comes from and the value of marketing and promotion, you bet he does.


In addition to being a brilliant musician and performer, Mark is also a savvy entrepreneur, that knows how to build relationships and trust his instincts. He also understands the music business and how to protect his interests.


The moral of this story? “Don’t be a victim!”


Learn the business. Build an understanding of contracts and the role that each team member plays in your career. Be aware of their goals and responsibilities and how you can help one another. Everyone’s success is the goal. This is not a “zero sum” game, “I win, so you must lose”. The music business at it’s best is a win-win-win. The artist makes great music and a comfortable living, the team members work in tandem with the artist and share the success and consumers revel in great music and performances.


Don’t be a victim. Stream music through Spotify and put the value in context or not. Sign with a label and market and promote your music in partnership or not, tour and perform with your dream ensemble or not. But whatever you do, don’t be a victim. Understand the business and your talents, engage in the business in ways that support your dreams. Look for ways to build the win-win-win.


Bow Wow shares his views on the importance of understanding the music business in this clip. Bow Wow is in charge of his career, he is not a victim.

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