Aaaw, the music industry. A cozy place full of honest and nice people. Money grows on trees, rivers run liquid gold, and everyone who believes hard enough lives in castles overlooking the ocean under lush, green palm trees.
Okay, time to wake up now. Needless to say, the above is a nice dream but far from the reality. The industry is one of the hardest to break into for songwriters and lyricists and, once in, the uphill struggle is far from over. Earnings are low, hours are long, and pressure is high as you're now in a position where at least 100 others want to push you out of and take your spot. But, if one keeps fighting, the rewards are worth the struggle. Money still doesn't grow on trees of course, but you are actually lucky enough to be one of the very few making a living with what you love the most: making music. You're free from a 9-5 routine, free from corporate meetings, and free from hour-long commutes through rush hour traffic.
However, to get to this point, a songwriter has to work and overcome some obstacles. Some of these obstacles are so-called companies wanting to help the struggling songwriter reach the music industry paradise (and they often describe it like the dream described in the first paragraph). However, many of these companies are far from legit, and I will now list some of the common pitfalls to look out for.
1) We will pitch your song if you let us produce your music (for a fee of course).
This is probably the most common scam out there. Many music production studios don't have much to offer (recycling old songs is not really producing modern, innovative music) so they need to find other selling points. This selling point usually comes in the form of adding your song, which they produce, into their publisher catalogue, pitch it to established artists like Taylor Swift or Keith Urban, or release the song on their next compilation album that probably sells about 10 times to the 10 songwriters who fell for it and most likely end up having to buy their own CD to get a copy.
If you come across a company promising that they will pitch your song if you let them produce your song for a fee, put up your guard and at least do some research about previous success stories. Don't believe every single word they write on their website. Confirm those success stories outside. If they claim that they placed a song with Taylor Swift, ask which song and confirm it through the official album inlay. If success stories can be confirmed but they all date back 20 years, this is also a valid reason to run. You don't want anyone to handle your music production who is still stuck in the ‘90s. Most likely your song will sound like that era once the production is done and, unless you invent a time machine, you'll be left with a bill to pay but no chances of any placements.
2) We are based in Nashville and we really have to stress that fact. (As we all know, music can't be produced anywhere else in the world other than Nashville, right?)
This is one of my favorites. Without a doubt, Nashville is a great place for (Country) music and certainly the place to be – 20 years ago! We now live in 2016; music and music production is pretty much globalized. Nashville's favorite child (Ms. Swift) has as much to do with Nashville as apples do with oranges these days. Hit songs of any genre are produced in New York, Stockholm, Los Angeles, London, Austin, Berlin, and many other places of all sizes all over the world and Nashville.
But, here is the best part: If you are really keen to get your song produced in Nashville for the nostalgia, or truly believe only a Nashville studio can give you the sound you're looking for, double check if the production company of your choice really is Nashville based. Anyone can set up a P.O. Box on music row, but that doesn't mean your song is recorded on music row. I randomly checked three online recording studios (partly also running scam #1 by the way) that claim to be based in Nashville. One, kudos to them, really is. One was actually registered in a different state nowhere near Tennessee, and one wasn't recognized by any Secretary Of State in the US by any name they go by. So just keep in mind, a P.O. Box in Nashville does not mean Nashville musicians are playing your song in many cases.
3) We will critique your lyrics and if we like it, we will put music to your words (for a fee of course).
The last of the batch is the “we're so exclusive, we only take your money if you're good enough” scam. Chances are that they will like everybody's lyrics because, well, they make $$$ with every lyrics sheet they “like.” Most likely, here is what happens with companies running this kind of scam: The website has HUGE names that they claim to have worked with (which might or might not be true). They are seeking new lyrics for their music, and you did everything right to have found them. Then you see this very appealing form to fill out where you can upload your lyrics and hopefully get this talented company to work on your lyrics. A few days pass and you receive an email from the CEO, President, or whatever they call themselves of that company praising your lyrics (don't get too excited, most likely it's a template) and they are dying to put your words to music. They will tell you that you're so talented and start describing music industry paradise once again (see first paragraph) and say you have a shot at making it there. All you need to do is sign a contract and fill in the blank with your credit card number.
If you have a set of lyrics and you want to get them produced and set to music, do your research on who is the best fit for your genre. All companies in the business of producing music will take your lyrics and help you put music to it. It's highly unlikely that any of them will turn you down unless your lyrics are provocative or inappropriate. If you're not sure about your lyrics, try to get feedback first.
Bottom line is, there are some legit companies and people in the industry. Companies in all price categories, sizes, locations, etc. You might have good experiences with one and someone else might have bad experiences with the same company. But, that's how business is in all industries. You might love one restaurant and your work colleague hates the very same place. Tastes are different and that's good. But, sadly, as in every industry, there are some black sheep. Probably a bit more in the music industry than in other industries and, unfortunately, those bad eggs shed a bad light on the entire industry. Luckily, they are easily identifiable, and by sharing this article, you might save a friend from falling for one of the three “better run” scenarios above and guide him or her to a legit online music production company.