"Let's take unsigned artists, exploit them, and make money."
Sadly, this is exactly what the show has done to thousands and thousands of singers who believe they have a shot at stardom.
This business model is really nothing new. Since the 1950's, we've had amateur talent being used to entertain us on our livingroom TV's. However, with the advent of the internet, it seems that competitions are being held for unsigned artists on a local, regional, national and worldwide level.
If you've been scouring the web at all, especially Youtube, and you're connected to the music industry in any way, you'll have stumbled across some type of competition where fans are encouraged to vote for their favorite artist for this or that opportunity or prize. If you're like me, you have been sucked into the black-hole of rallying your fan base to just click the link and vote away for your artist.
Contests and competitions serve many purposes. The advertising and hype usually focus on the competitor and their possible dreams coming true. However, remember, whomever is sponsoring the competition or contest stands to gain some benefit too... and in some cases, they are the real winners.
For an artist, a few things come to mind about why you would want to submit to compete.
- Exposure to new industry people or fans
- Reality check on whether you are talented enough to turn heads against other talented artists
- The grand prize being offered
- The bragging rights if you did win
- The potential networking with music industry people that may attend or are involved.
I'm sure there are more finite or possible benefits, but to be fair, let's list the negatives that come along with being involved.
- You must fleece your fan base to vote for you (which can become very old and annoying depending on the amount of competitions you submit to)
- You ride a rollercoaster of what if's and can become distracted with the "lottery mindset" that this single event or contest could be your meal ticket
- You find out quickly that you aren't as talented or desired as you possibly thought
- You find out that other artists may have more supportive fans (voters) (bummer to the ego)
- The sponsor behind the competition really has no valuable industry credibility
- You spend time and resources which could be used to advance your career in some other more proven method
- You realize that bias and potential rigging of the contest occurs (this has been proven many times due to technology or sponsor bias)
- The bragging rights really mean nothing in the scheme of music industry professionals. "You won the Next Big Singer To Come From Smalltown, USA".
Sound jaded? Well, facts are facts. The music industry is filled with opportunists who are all looking for ways to exploit young and undiscovered talent.
Other than the many stories I've come across of bad experiences from other artists, I'm just going to share a few we've encountered in our journey to being discovered. For the sake of summarizing, I've blended these into easy to read bullet points.
- "SUBMIT YOUR VIDEO CONTEST"
- This contest requires you to upload your video to xyz.com's website where they host the video and you direct your fans to vote for you. This site may or may not be technically up to par. They let your fans vote as much as they want every day. Or, they tell fans to limit their votes to once per day. Problem is, clever fans and street teams of artists have figured out how to short circuit technology through browser loopholes that allow you to simply delete your footprint from ever having visited the site, thus allowing votes to be made 100's of times a day without being noticed by the naive site owners.
- Second, your video is "content" provided to that site for them to generate new traffic. Why do you care? Well, believe it or not, in the world of web development, traffic to a website is gold and can easily be converted to revenue by paid advertisers on that site. Essentially, you gave away your talents to a website to exploit for their personal gain based on your driven desire to win and get noticed.
- "VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST"
- Similar to the submit your video contest, several radio stations, for example, have fan based voting contests which require fleecing your fan base to click votes on a third party website which you may or may not trust to be technically bullet-proof to vote hackers.
- "FEE BASED SUBMISSION FOR CONSIDERATION - WEBSITES"
- Not necessarily a contest, but honestly, it may as well be. The web is full of $ based websites where membership dues, one-time submission fees, or hired consulting fees are used as a means to get you in front of industry professionals. Sites like Reverbnation, SonicBids, Music X-Ray, and a host of other sites out there are all portals connecting undiscovered talent to music industry professionals who are looking for undiscovered talent. While the sites are definitely used by professionals for harvesting talent, the massive use by undiscovered talent makes you a needle in a haystack in most cases.
- "TALENTS SCOUTS AND FORMER A&R EXECUTIVES"
- One of the most annoying opportunities to come across an inexperienced artist's email or social media inbox is the "washed up" ex-industry pro looking to make your artist into a star. They list their past credentials (note that I state "past") as a calling card to get your attention and trust. The problem is that they use this same pitch to hundreds of naive people in hopes of getting your $$ with no guarantee of anything really. They promise to empty their brain and "maybe" help you get a meeting with a current industry executive.
These are just a few of the opportunity type exposure methods we have all succumbed to. Then there are the social media based tours and events that typically require you to invest something.
Now, there is definitely a balance of risk reward in all these. The majority of the time, you invest a lot of mental energy into the "what ifs" and end up feeling duped because your best-case scenarios didn't turn out.
So, before you get sucked into participating in EXPOSURE events, ask yourself at least some of these questions first and do your best to vet every sponsor or organization hosting the opportunity/event.
- If there is a fee to participate, what exactly are you paying for?
- Entry fee only, or do you get anything in return for that amount?
- What additional expenses will you have to pay on your own?
- travel, finding sponsors, selling tickets for guaranteed attendance at the event, etc.
- Does this organization / person have any "current" projects or accolades that can be found publicly through a web search?
- Is the event or opportunity person or organization willing to give you current references of other artists they've helped or who have done this before so you can discuss it with them?
- Who exactly is attending or going to see the event?
- Make sure you know your demographic audience for your music and don't participate in opportunities that aren't hitting that. For example, if you are a hard rock artist, chances are a contest featuring mainly country acts would not likely yield the best results for you.
- Is the voting method fool-proof? Can it be hacked?
- Are you giving them original music or videos that they can post on their site or are they willing to embed your Youtube videos or music stream links?
- Again, many simply want to use your content to drive traffic to their site without you gaining any benefit. We had a bottled water manufacturer in California want to host a competition for unsigned artists and they launched a new website. The contest required letting them have the original file of the video placed on their site for voting. We lost all the Youtube views because we gave them the video.
- If an MP3 is required for submission, make sure you know how they are using that file.
- Many are looking for free music to play on their web radio stations and they do not pay royalties through ASCAP, BMI, etc. They simply use a contest as a means to get your content for free.
- Before you submit any original content, make sure it is registered with a reporting royalty agency (ASCAP, etc.) and copyrighted so that they can not "steal" your work and later claim you voluntarily gave it to them or signed off your ownership rights of the material.
- If it's a reality show competition, "HIRE AN ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER".
- America's Got Talent, X-Factor, American Idol, The Voice all have thick contracts you must sign in order to be on the show and within the contracts are iron-clad ways for them to exploit you for money without you making much in return. They own you.
- Original music competitions (songwriters, etc.) usually involve you submitting your songs for consideration. Be sure to get them copyrighted before you submit them.
- If your artist is under 18, make sure you do a thorough investigation of the people you're talking to about it.
- We, unfortunately, along with about 6 other young male artists, were sucked into a talent scout scheme which promised a recording contract with Universal Records. When the man refused to be shown on SKYPE camera, we became suspicious. Fortunately, we had a few industry friends we asked to help us find out if the guy was legit. Nobody had ever heard of him. After further investigating, we found out that he was having other males around the world do inappropriate video submissions of them exercising in bike shorts and no shirt. We notified the FBI and they stopped him after other families reported too.
- If you're paying a submission fee for consideration as a performer at an event, make sure you read the fine print of what that fee covers and what the opportunity is about.
- Sometimes venues use services to find acts to fill their talent needs. Many of the venues get their calendar booked quickly and never take down the advertisement. In the mean time, Johnny Come Lately's keep submitting their fees and the venue doesn't even look at their submission or provides a simple "we're already booked" response without refunding your money.
I know there will always be dishonest people, but the music industry seems to be built around opportunists exploiting dreams of innocent people. Don't get me wrong, you can find integrity filled people in the industry, but when you're first starting the journey and have limited resources and time, it's usually best to have some warning of what to look out for in EXPOSURE events.