Consultants. Every area of business has them. There are marketing consultants, political consultants, security consultants, etc., etc.
Usually, when one calls oneself a "consultant," it can mean one of two things:
1) Someone whose prior success/expertise in a field allows them to charge a substantial fee with the hope of guiding you and your business toward greener pastures.
2) Someone who's inability to find steady work in a field they were once duly employed in has left them grasping at straws, with the hope of hanging on to a piece of a world they're no longer legitimately part of. In this instance, "consultant" can also mean "unemployed."
When it comes to the music business, 99 percent of the time, the latter is usually the case.
The implosion of the major record labels in the late '90s left thousands of qualified music executives without work. Some landed on their feet and found other ventures in and around the industry. Some left the biz entirely. But, when it comes to the thousands of unqualified music executives, ones who were suddenly left without a steady paycheck and refused to acknowledge it may be time to 'downsize,' the title of "consultant" suddenly appeared on their business cards.
In the decade since the collapse, these unqualified hucksters have saturated the market and some have been making quite a nice living prowling the musical landscape as consultants, looking for independent artists with a little bit of money and a little bit of talent. And as long as the money's there, the other really doesn't matter.
These con-artists use their former connections to legitimate people in the industry as a way to lure the desperate, eager, young singer-songwriters into their web; promising record deals, tours, radio play, etc., for a price. How do I know? It happened to me.
It's not saying much, but I like to think I'm a good point or two above the median I.Q. range of the average musician, yet, I was taken in by a "consultant" just the same. And, like most artists who have no one else in their corner, and don't want to believe the one guy you trust the most is the one you should trust the least, I was dumb enough to allow it to go on way too long.
A few years back, as I prepared to release my first solo record, I was introduced to a guy who used to work for a very powerful record executive. We'll call this executive "Clove Deevis." Anyway, this guy, who bragged about working with this multi-platinum artist and that one, told me he loved being a consultant; that offering his "stellar" connections in the biz to help those he would discover himself get to the next level made him happier than ever. Of course, this came with a fee. But, according to him, even if I was willing to pay the fee, and even though he'd heard of my past work, he still had to hear my new stuff to see if I was good enough to be one of the 'chosen ones,' as he only took on a few new clients a year. Wouldn't ya know it? I was. Winner, winner. Chicken Dinner.
Having no manager at the time and having made some money licensing my music to teeny bopper shows like Dawson's Creek, Party of Five, One Tree Hill, etc., I decided I would build a team of former top music executives to work my record. And this former hot-shot marketing exec., who was now a consultant charging me the "indie-discount" price of $3,000/month- plus expenses (because he "believed in me"), was my first hire. Yes, I know, I'm an idiot but let's not focus on that right now.
Fast forward about two years, to early 2012, and there I am signing a civil complaint against this loser for pretty much every professional and ethical violation under the sun; unrepaid loans, theft of my radio promo money, breach of fiduciary duty, unauthorized use of my credit card, etc., etc. But, this guy's no dummy and he's transferred all his assets to his wife's name, moved offices, avoided the subpoena, etc., to the point where it ended up costing me so much time, money and effort to go after him, I gave up. A year goes by.
Then, just last week, a friend tells me to check out a new artist he likes. When I go to her Facebook page, low and behold, I notice she's rep'd by the same asshole who conned me. And, I bet you a Dunkin' Munchkin she's paying him a "consulting" fee.
I decide to reach out to her to see if she's experienced anything similar to me. Turns out, she has. We speak on the phone for close to an hour and, sure enough, he's been promising this, that, the other thing, for a year and has never delivered. Meanwhile, she pays his fee and he strings her along. And, she's one of the lucky ones. He hasn't actually stolen from her like he did me.
This artist then directs me to our mutual friend's Reverbnation page, where I see he is currently representing over half a dozen, up-and-coming, and unaware, singer/songwriters. After speaking with several of them, I learn he's taken another artist for $25k -a kid in his mid-20s who thought he was the only one, and yet another for around $10k. And still, this piece of garbage continues to operate without question in the underbelly of the music business. Truly sad.
Now that the pipeline of distribution has been blown wide open, and artists can make great sounding records in their bedrooms for about the price of a nice suit, the scorched earth that once was a major label metropolis has given way to an unprecedented number of leeches and parasites who prey upon the dreams and desires of aspiring songwriters, without so much as blinking an eye.
Of course, there were always con-artists in the music business, but since the demise of the labels took their legit paychecks away, it's been like goblins released from the Ghostbusters' holding tank. And, in my case, he was the spitting image of the 'Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man'; one who comes as a friend, who you think would never hurt you, ends up trying to destroy you.
The worst part is, in most cases, these sociopaths take what little savings these unsuspecting kids have and use it for their own gratification and self-preservation. Never once stopping to think of what they're doing to the time-sensitive careers and psyches of these trusting young artists.
I figure, if I can't stop this guy using the legal system, at least I can try and warn those new, and not-so-new, eager artists out there. Never pay someone a fee to "manage" you. Not even in this free-for-all type climate.
It may be difficult doing it on your own, but think of how rough it will be two-three years from now when you've gone nowhere -except the poor house, thanks to your trusted "consultant."
Follow David Fagin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nikchapman