It is, unfortunately, easy to get ripped off in the music industry. Getting caught up in a music industry scam might not damage your career, but it could cost you money you probably don't have. You can avoid a lot of music business rip-offs simply by knowing what you should pay for and what you shouldn't. Here's a list of things to avoid paying for as you get established in the music business.
Lists of Music Industry Contact Information
At some point in your music career, especially if you are a musician, someone is going to try to sell you a list of phone numbers and email addresses or both for labels, agents, managers, etc. Don't bite.
First of all, you have no way of knowing if the information is legitimate. Second, if that is the private Blackberry number of head honcho X at label Y, they may not take kindly to being called by a stranger. Spend a few hours with a list of your desired contacts and a search engine, and you're likely to track down the best way to reach that person yourself.
Labels are hip to the fact that people want them to check out their demos, and to save themselves the trouble of fielding endless requests about how to send them, they make their desired methods of contact public information. The gray area? There are a few industry guides published every year to which labels submit their contact information for this very purpose.
These books can be handy to have, and you can relax knowing that (most) of the people listed in the book have opted in and specified their desired contact method. Still, most of the information you need is still available for free online if you're willing to look for it.
Paying to Play a Show
If you're still building an audience, you may not get paid a lot to play a show if you get paid at all. You may end up out of pocket when you figure at the expense of getting to the show. But don't increase your costs by paying some promoter or venue to let you take to the stage.
You may be asked to pay a fee to play a "showcase" gig for "industry professionals." Occasionally these shows do put you in front of media and labels, but they usually don't. At the very least, you should weigh up these opportunities very, very carefully. Proceed with caution. The real gray area here is the tour buy-on.
Paying for Advice
This is a tricky one. There are some legitimate music industry consultants out there that charge for their services and music industry consultants who work for a fee. These consultants may be able to give clients great advice about how the industry works.
The flipside of this is that there are many, many consultants out there who charge musicians an hourly rate for the privilege of receiving basic (at best) or bad (at worst) advice. This is not money well spent, and it could send you down the wrong road in terms of reaching your goal.
Before you pay for the services of a music consultant, find out what you can about their background and their past clients. Look for someone who can motivate you while being realistic. Above all else, look for a good price for good service. It would be silly to divert money from other things you need to pay for these services.
A great thing to look for is a consultant who can offer advice while doing something tangible for your career, someone like a manager or a PR person you can call on for advice. That way you're getting more bang for your buck as this person isn't merely supervising your career but is invested in your career.
As a rule, one-size-fits-all solutions are difficult to come by in the music industry. For a consultant to be effective at helping you, they will need to know a lot about your music, your background, and your goals to make sure that they are invested.