Is it a Smart Investment or a Scam? Questions to Help Us Invest in Our Careers Wisely

Blog by GoGirlsMusic Co-Executive Director rorie kelly

In the new music business, many of us indies have recognized that we really need to take responsibility for our careers, think like entrepreneurs and invest in ourselves. At the same time, many companies and individuals have popped up to help indie artists run our careers. Some of these service providers are truly helpful, giving us the tools we need to work smarter and get better results. Others, though, prey on the hopes of artists, hoping to make money off of our dreams and naivete.

I don’t know any indie musician who doesn’t have a "snake oil" story--a person or company who seemed to promise big results but in the end, took the money and offered very little real value in return. We can’t all be experts in every subject, and a majority of us are working with a limited budget. How can we be sure we are investing our money wisely?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you figure out whether someone is going to help you... or play you.

1. Do they share information freely... or make vague promises?

One quick way to tell if someone is "on the money" is to start asking them in-depth questions about their service.

A few years ago I worked with a great radio promoter named Peter Hay. At the time I knew little about terrestrial radio promotion--only that I wanted to get more exposure for my music. He took the time to have a relaxed phone conversation with me, asking me questions about my career and my goals and sharing the details of his work. He was completely unguarded, offering me advice and suggesting resources based on his decades of music industry experience. He shared these ideas with me before I had spent a dime, because that’s the sort of person he is. He was not afraid I would "rip him off" by taking his information and running, because he was secure that what he offered was really valuable -- 30 years worth of experience and relationships, and personal followup on behalf of every artist he worked with. I ended up working with him and years later I still recommend him to fellow artists. (And no, I don’t get any referral fees.)

By contrast, another radio promoter I spoke with at the time contacted me first, saying "Your music sounds great! Let’s get those tunes on the radio!" When we spoke, he made vague promises to "get my songs on the air" and get me "exposure" to help me "get to the next level." When I asked specific questions it quickly became clear that he hadn’t actually listened to my music and wasn’t even sure what genre it was. The email I received was a mass email sent to everyone with a reverbnation or sonicbids account. He wouldn’t give me any real details about his process and kept our conversation brief, implying that he’d be happy to answer any questions I might have--once I became a paying client.

2. Are you an individual to them, or are they on autopilot?

Pay attention to the way you’re being spoken to. Are they speaking to YOU, or are they saying generic things they believe a musician would want to hear?

Recently, I received a Facebook message from a recording studio that opened with, "Wow, you guys have some really great tunes!" Problem: I’m a lady, and a solo artist. “Us guys” don’t actually have any tunes.

If you’re talking to someone and they can’t even get the most basic details right, do you really want to pay them to do critical work for you?

If you sense that someone may be looking at you as a sales figure rather than a unique individual, steer the conversation towards your particular goals and situation. Someone who can truly help you will be glad to talk specifics with you. If they stay vague and keep making generic remarks, consider it a red flag.

3. Is the conversation realistic, or falsely empowering?

It's no secret that many artists feel passionate and hopeful about their goals--and there are people who will cheerfully exploit this. Get honest with yourself about where you are in your career, your budget and your goals. Someone who really has the knowledge and experience to help you will be able to talk to you about realistic and actionable next steps in your career.

If you're a singer/songwriter just getting your feet wet at open mics, an example of realistic next steps might be strategizing to help you book some actual gigs. If instead, the conversation is about becoming the next Adele and selling out MSG, be aware that the person you're talking to is trying to butter you up. They are tapping into your daydreams and trying to get you to make an emotional decision rather than a practical one.

4. Are they negging you?

If you're not familiar with the term, "negging" is a creepy practice used by pickup artists. It involves making a seemingly neutral comment that actually subtly undermines a woman's self esteem. The goal is to make her feel less confident, and crave the approval of the pickup artist as a result.

I find that this practice is also frequently used towards musicians by marketers, and often it’s not so subtle! With blog titles like "5 Reasons Your Live Show Sucks" and "3 Marketing Mistakes You’re Probably Making," it’s plain to see that some people throw basic respect and politeness out the window when it comes to trying to get us to click on something. "Clickbait" titles like these work because they tap into our fears of failure or not being good enough. Remember, though, that decisions made in fear and haste are not always good choices in retrospect.

Many salespeople use more subtle forms of negging. "It’s very important to invest in your career, but some musicians just don’t want to do what it takes to succeed," they’ll declare slyly. The implication is that if you won’t work with them, you are one of those musicians who doesn’t want to do what it takes. Like the rude blog headlines above, these statements play into common fears--that maybe we’re not serious enough to "do what it takes" and we’ll miss the boat on our dreams. But this statement is also sneakier, because it doesn’t sound insulting or rude. It’s a more subtle form of manipulation that we are more likely to miss if we’re not careful.

Making decisions from a place of being fearful means that we are not being rational. Like amping you up with a falsely empowering daydream, negging attempts to push you towards an emotional decision rather than a rational one. It’s also inherently disrespectful and manipulative.


We have choices in who we work with in this industry. Make a decision to value yourself enough to choose people who respect you. These people will win you over with facts, information and integrity. We can’t be an expert on every topic, but being a thoughtful judge of character will always help you make a wiser choice.

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