The Bite of the Unethical Song Shark

As a singer/songwriter who has sent out many demos hoping to hear back from publishers, it was only a matter of time before I encountered one of these predators myself. Actually, song sharks swim the cyber seas nowadays as well, and all undiscovered songwriters need to play it safe, and be aware!

When I heard the voicemail I almost fell out of my chair. The man with a southern drawl said, “Hi Drew, I’m [so and so] from Nashville. I just listened to your songs and I think you have a few here that could do very well on radio!” Wide-eyed, I sat listening as he went on, “Why don’t you give me a call back and we can talk about your music.”

I was ecstatic. As soon as I got home I emailed all of my friends to tell them that a music publisher in Nashville was interested in getting my songs on the radio. The next day I called him back and listened as he told me his plan. Then my heart sank when he said, “Now it will require a small investment. Do you have some money, or know someone who would be willing to invest in your music career?”

The alarm started to go off in my head. Initially I figured a publisher from Nashville who thought my songs could do well would want to profit from the songs directly, and pay me a royalty. See, that’s the way it really works with legitimate publishers. They will enter into an agreement with you to publish your songs, they get a cut and you get a cut, and everyone’s happy. It’s a little more involved than that, but that’s the gist of it.

It doesn’t work that way with a song shark. The jerk started telling me I had to invest $1500 to get radio airplay “worldwide.” I started grilling him for details and he couldn’t answer. That’s the first sign that I knew I was dealing with a con artist of sorts. I asked him how many stations he works with worldwide and he couldn’t say. I asked what countries and he claimed, “Oh, some in the UK, and some in India.” I said, “Okay, how many in the UK?” He couldn’t tell me.

I told him I wasn’t interested, that I wasn’t going to spend $1500 of my own money when I knew that a legitimate publisher would know where to shop the songs so that we could both make royalties from the sales or plays. He told me that’s not how it works, and that I need to believe in myself and invest in myself. He started to lie. We got off the phone after he insulted my musicianship, claiming that I couldn’t carry a guitar with his pro Nashville artists. Desperate to make a sale, he called me back to apologize and ask that I reconsider.

The whole thing stunk like a rotten tuna on a hot sidewalk. I could smell it a mile away. I told him I would think about it, with no intention of ever calling him back or sending any money. He never called me back either.

I wish I had known the term “song shark” at the time because I would have called him that directly. I may not be able to carry a guitar with Nashville’s best, but I am quite capable. I hope the guy stubs his toe.

Speaking of rotten tuna, there is a new manifestation of the song shark, swimming the Cyber Sea selling radio airplay packages, as well as recording and CD production services (for a little extra) to the growing number of budding songwriters trying to sell their stuff online. Cyberspace is a great place to get exposure for your music, but if you aren’t careful you can end up throwing your money away.

They make it sound so great it’s hard to resist. But resist you must! You don’t want to end up with 50 to 100 copies of a half-assed recording of your music, and no guarantee of radio airplay. If anyone is asking YOU for money to sell your music, run the other way. What do you think you’ll really get for $500, or $1000 anyway?

My suggestion? Put your music on CD Baby is the best thing to ever happen for the independent musician and singer/songwriter. They charge you a one-time-only fee of $35 to get your album going, and they just take a cut of the sales from that point on. See? That’s how it should work! Your music will be digitally sampled and sent to EVERY major music download site or service, including iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, Napster, Verizon, and countless others. Plus, it can be ordered and CD Baby will ship physical CDs from their own warehouse.

What else can you do? Build your own website (or let CD Baby host a site for you at Hostbaby), optimized for Google, and register with the Podsafe Music Network, where podcasters can find your music and play it on their shows for free. Hey, it’s exposure!

Success will not happen overnight, but it’s better than using your hard earned cash as chum for song sharks. Posted: Songwriters, Swim with Caution.