Tip Jar: Speak the Language of the Music Business



Hit record producer Joe Solo (Fergie, Macy Gray, Michael Jackson) and creator of The Joe Solo Music Success Workshop relates an incredible (but not so rare) encounter with an artist’s willful ignorance about the music business––and the unfortunate consequences for the artist’s career.  

Talking The Talk

Last summer, I was hired to listen to the “final” mixes of an artist’s record and tell him what possible improvements I could suggest.

He explained that music was his life, and that this collection of songs was the culmination of three years of an emotional, passionate, musical journey. He nurtured, cared for and loved his “babies” with all his heart.

I took a listen. His songwriting talent was undeniable. Each tune a highly written gem. The recordings of the songs were well executed, too. He had hired a seasoned producer, took ample time to experiment with different colors and arrangements and tweak them until they were just right. Each and every vocal was perfectly in tune and dripping with vibe. To top it off he spared no expense in hiring a top mastering engineer.

I asked him what he intended to do with his record and he said he’d probably mail it to record labels and wait for them to send him deals memos.

“What?!?!?!?” my brain said to myself. I asked him if he knew that major labels don’t accept unsolicited material.

“Didn’t know that.”

I asked, “Do you know the basic tenets of music publishing?”

“What’s publishing?”

I explained to him it’s where songwriters make the majority of their income. I asked, “If somehow you’re able to generate label interest, who will negotiate the deal for you?”

“I’ll do it myself.”

“Have you thought about getting your music placed in TV, movies, video games and commercials?”

“Is that even worth doing?”

At this point I couldn’t take it anymore. How could someone with so much talent be so ignorant of the business side of music? I asked him if he thought about learning, at a very minimum, the basics of how the business side of music works. (Publishing, records deals, license deals, manager agreements and copyrights, to name a few.)

His response: “I just want to make the music. I don’t want to hassle with all that other stuff. It’ll all take care of itself.”

Doubt it.

While listening to his music, I was pondering ways in which I can do business with this guy––pitch his songs for films and TV, shop him for a record contract and a publishing deal. Maybe even connect him a top manager. He seemed to have it all. Great songs, unique voice, an interesting look, and superb recordings.

But upon finding out how little he knew––and cared to know––about the business, I quickly realized I didn’t want anything to do with him professionally. And pros in the biz would respond the same way. More on this in a minute––read on...

I passionately recommended that he seriously consider getting educated on the basics of the biz. But it fell on deaf ears. It was as though laziness, fear of the unknown, or perhaps some ego (“All they have to do is hear my music and it’ll be a piece of cake from there.”) were winning over him considering the perspective of a guy who’s been in the trenches for 24 years. Go figure.

For example, if he knew that by copyrighting his music prior to someone possibly infringing (stealing) it, he would be entitled, by law, to up to $150,000 per infringement and reimbursement of all attorney’s fees. (And having this legal leverage would set the stage for attracting a top music litigation attorney to take his case—typically resulting in a quick, lucrative settlement instead of a risky, drawn-out trial.)

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