When I first broke into this industry it was because a musical idol of mine had befriended me on a social network, brought me into his world and made me a part of his entourage. Being new in the industry, one can imagine how quickly I jumped on this opportunity. I worked around the clock to promote and recruit a fan base for this person, all for no pay, but for a promise that I’d be given one hell of a permanent position as the Director of Promotions in their up and coming recording business. When I began to ask for a little bit of money, because I was just a college student with a child to raise and bills to pay, I was told “no” on numerous occasions. Finally, after several attempts at saving the working relationship, I had to make the painful decision to just walk away from my idol, whom I thought had become a friend, and try a different direction.
My next adventure was with an online music magazine where I’d be able to write about music to my heart’s content. The people I worked with told me that they understood my previous experience with my idol, that this was a common practice among musicians, but that not all of them were that way. I was told I’d be considered for the lead writer position and, at the time, I was doing most of the writing for this publication and figured I was a solid choice for the position. After three months with this company, I started asking for an answer on when they’d be making the decision on the position, only to be told that this blog (Little Queen Music) was useless and that I’d blown my chance, by making small errors on some rock star’s birthdate or posting anything they deemed controversial on my own social networking profiles. Never mind the fact that I was highly professional with my articles and that I did everything these people asked me to do. Never mind the fact that I overlooked their own clerical errors, and so did they. This was a group of people that just wanted a way out, wanted someone competent to work for next to nothing and to not ask any questions about a permanent job or salary, all the while facilitating their own success and not caring about mine.
Had I had a written contract that stated that, after a certain period of time, I’d be reviewed and considered for a position, based on the content I had produced for them, I’d have had a much better leg to stand on when they tried to come up with excuses for not utilizing my talents any longer. Without a written agreement, someone in my position is setting themselves up to be taken advantage of and, when we’re desperate to pay our bills, we sometimes take the risk of taking people on their word. Unfortunately, too many industry bosses see the dollar signs and notoriety that comes with industry success, and many of those people will stomp on anyone they can to achieve that success. I am not one of those people and I am always shocked, whenever I see someone who is, in action. Honestly, I wonder how some of these people sleep at night.
Many industry professionals work with struggling musicians. It makes no difference. If that musician wants you to promote them, asks for your help in any way and you’ve already made some kind of good reputation for yourself, it would be in your best interest to require that the musician submit a written agreement for your services. This eliminates confusion and poor communication, and may even save your friendship with that musician when the job is complete, which could lead to more work for you in the future.
We, as writers and professional promoters, are dependent on musicians to put out content worth writing about and promoting, but musicians are also dependent on the us for the publicity. Since I stopped working for my idol, for example, his level of publicity has hit the floor again, hence the reason I should have been paid for my services. Had I been treated fairly, I’d still be writing about and promoting this person, therefore pushing his popularity and helping him to increase his own revenue, which in turn would have helped my own. Had I had a written agreement, I could have sued for monetary damages, just based on the hours I spent working for this person, simply because I kept track of everything I’d done for him. However, without a written agreement, it’s my word against his, so I just had to move on.
So, lesson learned. Never work in the music industry without some kind of written agreement. It has to be written, as all of my prior agreements were only verbal. We live in a dog-eat-dog world and the music industry is full of wolves, out to take you for anything they can, yet never willing to compensate you for much. The only way to protect yourself is by demanding that your potential employers and clients respect you enough to give you a written agreement, based solely on your work content and what you can do for the client/musician. Without that agreement, you may as well be working or free and nobody can afford to do that.