So You Want to Be in a Rock & Roll Band? - Phase 6 (page 2)

This month the column is about getting to the top on your own terms because you know how to do it yourself and because your songs have proven themselves to be great by the popularity you have achieved!

Continued from previous page.

Phase 6 - Getting to the Top (continued)

Now that you have gone through all the steps in the previous 5 phases, you can move on to the rest of the steps:

The Top is for bands that have been able to successfully perform all the steps that I have been writing about in the past 5 columns (or other ones that get you somewhere - these are not the only steps!). It is for bands that are able to get sales over 300,000 records of a title, that get decent internet or college or satellite or commerical radio airplay (they will play it by now), that continue to write great music that attracts new fans and keeps the old fans, and that use the Internet and brick and mortar means to network.

Life will be a hard working, but fun, constant cycle of all these steps for each record release.  With each cycle, there should be a consistent rise in sales and popularity, or if you have a definite niche that you want to stay in, a consistent staying quality (sometime prestige as a quality act is all that you may want and need).  If things are not moving forwards or staying where YOU want them to be, then you have to examine if you want to continue and what things you have to do to get things back on track.

Along this way, to get this far, you will have to understand contracts that indie or major labels give out and really work with your lawyer and your network to make sure you don't get ripped off. If you get popular (sometimes even if you have a small buzz), bigger labels will start coming to your shows and contacting you.  It is better to be already popular and have a lot of power because you have a large network, lots of record and merch sales, and so on so that you have strong bargaining power and can't be ripped off.  If you have none of these things and a major label is interested in signing you, you have to carefully weigh what you will get and how much you are willing to get screwed and what you will be left with in the end.  Sometimes taking a short cut to "stardom" is a quick rise and then a sudden fall to obscurity and oblivion.

These are the steps that worked for a lot of people and they tell "what" to do, they are not "how" to do it, which involves a lot of details and discussion, that I am inviting.  At the very least they involve a lot of networking! Nothing can be accomplished without working with other people that love music and love your band and want to see your success. But, beware! There are lots of wolves and vultures that are ready to prey on the weak, the ignorant, the just plain dumb, the lazy (number one problem), and the greedy!  Learn who is friend or foe!

One friend of bands is Moses Avalon, his books about what you need to know about how the music business works ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT books out there, you can not survive the music world without reading these books! I can't stress that enough here! So as you get the chance, go to and join up to get his monthly newsletter. Who is Moses Avalon you might ask? Moses Avalon (a pseudonym) is the author of a number of music business books and education tools that tell you exactly what the music industory DOESN'T want you to know. He is an artists' rights activist. By reading his books, you will learn exactly what to watch out for to not get ripped off and what to do right. No one wants to tell you this stuff. His first book "Confessions of a Record Producer: How To Survive the Scams and Shams of the Music Business" is currently in its third printing and is a top selling non-fiction book on what the music industry does to screw over bands and is part of the music business curriculum in over 20 colleges. (UCLA, Loyola Law School and NYU). In the fall of 2001, Mr. Avalon released a follow up book, "Secrets of a Negotiating a Record Contract: The Musician's Guide to Understanding and Avoiding Sneaky Lawyer Tricks", which clearly explains what to avoid in a record contract, and his new one:  "Million Dollar Mistakes : Steering Your Music Career Clear of Lies, Cons, Catastrophes, and Landmines". His newsletter, Moses Supposes, which features informed editorials on the inner workings of the music business, reaches over 3500 subscribers, and, through syndication, over 50,000 readers. He has created an amazing industry workshop for artists, producers, managers, small labels owners, and awards 13.5 CLE credits to attorneys. In the past year, Attorney Generals in New Jersey and California, as well as the Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee on Record Industry Accounting Practices, have used Mr. Avalon as a noted consultant. In September 2002, Attorney Generals in New Jersey and California used Mr. Avalon as a noted consultant to help build a case against RIAA-affiliated labels, regarding price-fixing of CDs in retail chains. This effort resulted in the return of over $150,000,000.00 in cash and goods to consumers from major labels. You should learn as much as you can from him! By the way, I also did research for over 5 years on this case and presented everything to the Attorney Generals Office and the Council of Attorney Generals.

Here's a few questions I asked Moses in an on-line interview:

1. Sal: Your first book is about surviving the scams of the music biz. Many naive bands still are dying to get signed to a label, whether large or small, and think that all is well once they have signed. To me, that is often the beginning of their nightmare ordeal. One problem is Shelving Contracts. Can you tell our readers what that is and what to look for to avoid that career destroying situation?

Moses: "I haven't heard that term used, but what I think you're referring to is when a band gets signed and then dropped. "

Sal: I mean when a label or a production company signs a band because they see them as a potential monetary threat to any of the major acts that they have invested in. They sign these bands as a scam to actually keep them from getting anywhere. So, it's like insurance that any real competition to their act, that is ignorant enough to sign their contract, will have their recording shelved and not compete in the market against their favored acts.

Moses: "This happens a lot.  Most big labels sign about 10 acts a year knowing that they only have the resources to promote three or four of them. The others get "shelved." Or suspended is the technical term.  They end up in limbo, legally until the labels decide what to do with them. This can waste years.  The best thing you can do to prevent this is to have a great manager and lawyer on your side.  The acts that get the best consideration have the best team on their side. However you still need to turn in a great and I mean great sounding master with great material and arrangements."

Sal: And is this happening as a common occurance now more than ever, since labels are selling less cds now?

Moses: "I don't think it's going to be as common in the future as it was in the past. Labels are signing less acts than in the past.  This means more commitment to the one they DO sign.  They are also doing more master buy-outs than ever before."

Sal: I recommend that my readers read your "Confessions of a Record Producer" book to learn about the many scams the music biz has against artists, like how producers dip into budgets, labels skim royalties, and lots more.

2. Sal: Many new bands have become enormously popular live and sell a huge amount of records, but after a year or two, they suddently realize that they haven't been paid one penny in royalties and then they start freaking out in anger against their label or break up in discouragement.

Moses: "Well, first one must understand that a royalty is not really figured against the actual number of records sold, or the actual sales price, but a 'Royalty Base price', which is the result of a 'configuration'. This configuration is a series of factors laid out in the contract (deductions for the packaging of the record, and so on). Then after the royalty is calculated, there are the deductions made for the amount of records "sold". For example, you might think that if you sold 500,000 records for $17.98 each and have a royalty of 14% of Suggest Retail List Price, that you can look forward to a check for $1,258,600. But the truth is only 80% of those records as counted as "sold". Your actual royalty is really only about $1.25 per record, or only $500,000 in total."

Sal: Plus, it seems to take forever to even get paid at all, no matter how many records you sold.

Moses: "Just about every record deal takes about two years to see the first check from record sales.  That part's not really a sneaky lawyer's trick, it is a problem of the retail pipeline because the record company does not want to pay royalties for a record that might return from the retail store. These days labels are holding royalties for far less time. This is because of digital downloads, which cannot be returned."

Sal: Then there is the ultimate kiss of death for many bands, your indie label can't pay you because their distributor won't pay them or went out of business!

Well, almost every tricky clause and loophole a label can use against a band is featured in your book "Secrets of Negotiating a Record Contract", so I would recommend EVERY band that is close to being signed to any size label that is going to be giving them a contract to sign READ his book. You'll be really sorry later if you don't! I know I learned a lot, and I turned down a few rip off deals cause of it and had contracts re-written to make them better. Many small labels have totally sloppy contracts that don't really promise to do anything at all, once you read the clauses and what they really mean.

3. Sal: Tell us about your new book "Million Dollar Mistakes : Steering Your Music Career Clear of Lies, Cons, Catastrophes, and Landmines".

Moses: "Million-Dollar Mistakes presents the stories of when people in the music business were dead wrong. The book details some of the most expensive mistakes ever made by artists, as well as by the record executives, managers, and producers who've worked with stars such as Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Beyoncé, Kurt Cobain, Ricky Martin, Dido, LA Reid, and dozens more. From contract and copyright screw-ups to sheer arrogance and lying, Million-Dollar Mistakes includes tidbits such as the pitfalls of employing a family member, the marketability of suicide, and the industry's accepted levels of mendacity and thievery. Some of these mistakes are so embarrassing that the people involved would only speak off the record."

Sal: Well, if you are getting sucessful, you owe it to yourself to educate yourself before everything gets ruined and read these 3 books, you'll be much wiser and more than likely richer!

Moses: "The more you know about a subject, the less of a target you will be for people trying to put crap over on you."

Congratulations! You've reached the bottom of the top, along with a few thousand other bands from all over the world. Now you have to keep afloat and run through and improve the cycle of steps you have been doing.

I'll pick up from here next issue!

Sal Canzonieri - /

(c) 2006 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri