Here's the thing about music. Like another thing called love, music can - Logon ka deewana bana deta hai! A small segment of the population can claim to be music-neutral meaning that music doesn't really affect them emotionally to any great extent. It doesn't matter to them whether any music is playing or not. These people are not passionate about music or genres or artists and generally these people will also not have any musical talent within them or feel the urge to play a musical instrument or sing. No problem with that. But then there are the others - the music-mad people - guys and girls like me! Music rules our lives, makes us cry and bend down on our knees and kiss the ground beneath our feet out of gratitude for the sheer beauty of the sounds that reaches our ears; and it is Music that comes to our rescue and pulls us back from the edge of the precipice and saves us in our darkest hours. And as is the case us with us humans, anything that captivates us emotionally can also make suckers or fools out of us because when the heart is involved, logical thinking and rationale goes for a toss! You may be smart and super successful in the business you do or the work you are engaged in. You will never purchase a car, buy a house or even a magazine subscription without doing some research or knowing all the details. But when it comes to the dream that you are pursuing such as writing a novel, trying to create a music album or produce a film that is close to your heart, you buy into the dream that the sharks are pitching and there goes some of your hard-earned money!
Keeping that in mind, here are some helpful tips for those whose heart is sold on making a career in music either as a singer or songwriter that may help you save some of your hard earned bucks and prevent you from abandoning a career in music because of all the fraudsters you met along the way! Let's start from a positive stance - the music business is a nice place and people connected with music are generally nice and chilled out. If you have a financier or music company backing your songs or your music project, they take half your future earnings in return for the investment they have made in your music and music videos. That's absolutely fair. Everybody takes and gives and everybody is happy. However some people want to take all your money and give you nothing of any value in return. These people are called 'sharks'. Sharks abound in every business. Where there is water (a profitable business) and abundant life (large market), sharks (scamsters) will always thrive. They have thrived for about 250 million years and they will in the future too!
In the media business, sharks can be more commonly found in areas such as the literary world where amateur novel and poetry writers abound in the millions, the film business where everyone wants to be a scriptwriter, director or actor and in the music business where almost everyone fancies they can sing or have the talent to become the next AR Rahman! Basically sharks thrive on dreams - dreams that the common man has of one day making it big and becoming rich and famous.
Unlike in the water, sharks aren't always easy to recognize. To scam people with dreams in their eyes, they have perfected the art of making a big impression. They may have impressive credits and come to meet you at the Marriott in a BMW. What you do not know is that these people have either exaggerated their accomplishments or have fallen out of the loop in the business and they use their credentials and their studios to separate gullible songwriters from their life's savings. Which is how they can afford those fancy cars!!
When Should You Pay Someone
How about never! If you have talent, the world will spot you sooner than later and you are the one that will get paid - in sackfuls of cash. Ask Honey Singh! Let us say you as an aspiring singer or music composer meets some Jeetu Jhaatwani at his suburban recording studio in Mumbai. You are impressed by the studio, the recording console, the sound booths and the general ambience. Jeetu Jhaatwani claims that all Bollywood Music Directors record at his studio and claims that he is the man who can help you release your album or get you in touch with Bollywood producers and directors, most of whom are on his phone's speed dial. In between the conversation, he even gets someone to call him on his phone which he will then claim, 'Oh that was Mahesh Bhatt." You are impressed by the glib talk and the facade and you are asked to shell out a certain amount of money towards recording costs etc. You are tired of all the rejections you have faced so far and are ready to pay him what he wants because you think he can get you one step closer to your dream. To cut a long story short, Jeetu gives you half a dozen songs with amateurish production qualities and then starts avoiding your calls.
Then there are those who will ask you for money to help you meet certain big shots. Again avoid them like the plague. He will take your money in advance and do the Houdini act! If you are a indie music band, beware of event organisers who ask you to pay them instead of them paying you. A lot of event organisers are aware of the fact that most of the Indie bands in India are basically vanity projects started by college kids with rich parents. These Indian indie bands create copycat music of American Bands which does not cut any ice either with the local audience nor the global ones. The young impressionable band members are basically in love with an image of themselves as rock stars and the unscrupulous event managers feed on the dreams of these innocent teenagers with lines like 'Oh, you deserve to play in Madison Square Gardens!', 'You will have groupies running after you!', 'I will get you two hundred gigs a year!' and 'You are the next Dream Theatre' type spiel. The gullible band members get a few gigs, spend a fortune on their gear and travel costs and disband within a couple of years when Papa says that it's time to go abroad for higher studies. Indie bands in India have made many an event manager very rich and they continue to do so! Damn, I wish I was an event manager in India's Indie scene!
Other Shark Species
There are lots of other sub species of sharks. Do a quick online search and you will find dozens of national and international websites that are scams in hiding. Scamming is not a typically Indian phenomenon and is not restricted by nationality or the color of one's skin! These people who also lurk on classifieds sites will say that they are looking for singers, lyricists or composers and after a couple of emails will get around to asking you for money for so-and-so stuff. There are lots of websites in the US who will offer to produce your English compositions for a price. You Paypal them the money and what you receive are slightly better than Karaoke versions of your songs! Basically what these guys do is quickly put your songs on ready-made midi song templates, hire average local singers to belt out your material and do basic mixing and mastering if any. What you get is far worse than what local sessions musicians in Mumbai would have done at half the cost!
Again there are sharks on Soundcloud or Youtube who will spot an amateurish band or a song and will send you a mail saying how much they loved the song and will say that they selected your song to be chosen amongst a centenary world music compilation or some other such bullshit compilation. You are honoured but then you are asked to pay a price for re-mastering and other charges. The CD never arrives and you never hear from her royal highness the Queen's Anniversary World Music Release A & R team ever again!
A Word About Contests
Contests are a great way to get your feet wet and maybe even get some recognition. In India, the only contests worth entering are the ones on National Television such as Indian Idol, India's Got Talent etc. These contests are genuinely geared towards spotting talent and offer big prizes, studio time and recognition to the winners. Any other contest on websites or ones advertised locally on newspapers etc. are simply frauds and are basically moneymaking ventures first and foremost. If a contest is free to enter and offers prizes that you could benefit from, go ahead and have fun.
You Get What You Deserve
At the end of the day, I can only say - 'Life gives you what you deserve'. Let us say you are a young healthy individual who is curious, imaginative and successful in your chosen profession. You have a dream that someday someone will hear your compositions in recorded form on their mp3 players or on the car stereo. But you do not have the knowledge to arrange and produce music. So you look out for music arrangers in the market and come across a few on sites like Quikr and Olx.com. I can assure that the music arrangers you find on these websites are highly mediocre. The good ones are already busy with a lot of work and will not have to resort to advertising their services like second hand used items on classifieds websites. If you still go ahead and get your loved tunes arranged by these hacks, what you will get are very poor and amateurish pieces that you yourself will be embarrassed to hear or share with others. In short, money down the drain and your musical ambition cut short. Why not try to learn arrangement? That arranger you hired was probably using a far less powerful PC or laptop to create music than what you are using at your home or office. Your Bose headphones are probably a hundred times better than what he was using to mix your songs. In today's world, it doesn't cost much to learn how to arrange music on industry standard music softwares and hardwares. All it requires is sustained practice for maybe a couple of hours or more everyday over a period of time. After a year or two, you will be able to arrange and produce professional sounding music that is more suited to your original vision for your songs. You will not have to rely on struggling song arrangers out there to arrange and mix your songs. You can do it yourself and after a period of time and depending on your talent and perseverance, you may even do it better than the very best out there! You will have added a new life-skill - Music Production. It is a skill that will guarantee you many hours of pleasure in creating music - time that would have been otherwise spent inside noisy malls and watching sub-standard movies at the cineplex. You will have saved lots of money and many a frustrated moment and more importantly you will recognize a shark when you see one. And you won't have to be underwater for that!
Atin Dasgupta is an entrepreneur and a Music Composer / Sound Engineer. Leveljam – a community of computer music programmers in India is an initiative that is very close to his heart. His Music can be heard here - https://soundcloud.com/firangees