Here they are. These are the one in twenty that spoil the music
industry for everybody else. If 95% of all the people in the music industry are honest and talented, then these
are the rest.
Someone once stated "The music business is a long, neon-lit
plastic hallway where thieves and pimps roam free and good men die like dogs, but there is also a down side."
Sadly, the music business draws some very unsavoury characters, ranging from
the unpleasant to the totally criminal. Every industry has its down side and I am quite prepared to believe that there are
crooks in the wool or print industries, but the music industry has a magic mixture of many young and naive musicians each
looking for that one, golden break and a very high level of public interest.
The Total Sham
These are the easiest parasites to deal with and to identify.
Like tics, if you grab them by the head and pull, they come off and you can crush them or throw them in the fire. They claim
to have done things that they just have not. These are the sound engineers that claim to have worked with the Beatles and
were working at Abbey Road when the beatles recorded Sergeant Pepper. (Over the years, I have met enough people who claimed
to have been in the control room at that time to have filled Noah's Ark and made all human life there impossible because of
Sometimes The Sham claims to come from a record company. Usually
just one telephone call can clear that one up. But then The Sham will say that he is working 'on behalf' of a record company
as a scout or as an agent, or some such vague term. Again, you can ask him for his contact man or woman at the record company
and clear that one up pretty quickly.
Most Shams drift into being Shams by wishing that they had really
done something and then they start to tell the stories: as Jean Paul Satre might have said, "I wish, therefore I am!"
The real problems arise when The Sham has built a whole business
around being A Sham. Then he will have a visiting card and even in some cases an office. Then The Sham becomes quite a dangerous
person; whereas before he (it nearly always is a he) would just waste your time, now he wants to waste your money. He is asking
you to invest in projects that just do not exist, or tours that just will not happen.
On one notable occasion, a band from Ireland turned up at our
studio all ready to record. They had already cleared the project with the record company (that did not exist) and the producer
(who melted into thin air) and the label accountant (who took their money and then melted into thin air). They were amazed
to learn that record companies pay for studio time and not the band. They were also amazed to discover that they had come
all the way from Ireland for no good reason.
At the one end of the scale, The Sham is a harmless distraction
who only makes himself look foolish, at the other end, we find criminals for whom young musicians are just good fodder for
The Parasitic Control Freak
The music business is not unique in attracting this type of person, but they
do seem to be attracted to the music business more than any other industry I can think of. At first sight, he (and again,
it nearly always is a he) appears to be just another control freak. But in reality he is a useless and untalented person that
only seeks to hang onto the ability and talent of others. He is a parasite.
We are all control freaks to some extent. We all think we know
what is best for our fellows a society in general. Politicians are the biggest control freaks, because they combine this 'I
know what is best.' attitude with an overwhelming desire for power. But for some reason, the music business draws a particular
type of parasitic control freak that seeks to control every part of a project down to the most absurd detail, from the type
of guitar used to which type of lettering goes on the CD cover.
He will want to use a certain microphone - and it is always
one you do not have. He will find a bass anomaly in your monitoring system, but he refuses to use 'those' subs. The control
freak will always insist on doing things his way.
In other words, by laying down arbitrary conditions of his own
invention, he draws the threads of control in towards himself. He, as producer, engineer, artist or whatever, can only work
under certain conditions.
And he always shifts the goal posts. After agreeing to a set
of conditions in a contract, he will ask for new conditions to be added before signing. If he books the studio for a week,
he will ask to come in a day early to 'just set up.' The set up then becomes a complete jam session that lasts until midnight.
At the other end of the gig, the mixdown will overrun, but it is never his fault. The monitoring system is wrong, or the mics
(that he has been complaining about all week) have lead to other, new problems, or something. Whatever it is, you are going
to have to give him something or take less money than agreed, just to keep him quiet.
This parasite has a very short and a very selective memory,
so you have to write everything down. But also something you said as a joke two years ago will be taken at face value if it
is to his advantage.
If he is playing producer, every studio is fantastic and every
band is just the best ever. But there will always be one little problem that only he can fix. And you know by the way he says
'little' that it is the mother of all problems! But, as only he can spot the problem, only he can fix it.
The game the parasitic control freak plays is to make himself indispensable
by being the person that controls as many factors of a project as possible. The truth is, he is often a complete waste
of space, is probably totally incompetent and is dragging everything down with his foolish games.
Although most parasitic control freaks are would-be producers,
managers, or sound engineers, let me tell you a story about a band and its indispensable band leader:
The Band was great. The drummer was perfect, the lead
guitarist was considered one of the best and the keyboard player was perfect. There was only one minor weak point and that
was (as is so often the case) the bass player. On many of their records, the lead guitarist played the more difficult bass
parts and this rankled the bass player.
But the bass player started writing some of the songs and the
songs were good. The band began to tour and make a name for themselves. But he was turning into a control freak. He called
the shots in the studio and on the road and insisted that he sang the lead parts.
They got a record deal and booked a studio for weeks on
end, just so that the bass player could experiment. After months of work, the Band produced an LP that was a minor commercial
success. Everybody had contributed to the songs and their structure and it was very much a collaborative effort, but
he managed to create the impression that it was mostly his work.
The next LP was just written by the bass player and it
too was hailed as a great piece of work, so by this time, the bass player was completely and utterly convinced of his own
genius. The rest of the band was less convinced. The new tunes were just the old tunes reworked. The same
tune appeared on three different records and the band joke at the time was "I see X has written his tune again."
When the keyboard player insisted that either the bass player
writes something new or lets someone else write, all hell broke loose and the bass player gave the band a 'him or me' ultimatum.
Then he dropped his bombshell. Convinced he did not need the
others, he told them that he was going solo and they would have to dissolve their partnership and with it, the band.
Well, to cut a long story short, the rest of the band bought
him out, released two records that sold in millions and toured and toured and toured. Freed from the bass player's need for
artistic expression and insistence on a perfection that only he could perceive, the concerts were fantastic and the albums
were commercial. The band became fabulously rich and large beyond their wildest dreams. The bass player became a footnote
in rock-and-roll history.
The Leech and the Sham are very closely related. Some even think
they are the same, but I beg to differ. Although some Leeches are Shams and some Shams are also Leeches, it is perfectly possible
to be a complete sham, but not try to bleed anyone and it is possible to bleed some poor sucker dry and be the real thing
at the same time.
A Leech is a parasite that sucks your blood. Let me give you
some examples of industry Leeches:
I know of a one-man record company that just signs bands, any
bands. They do not have to be good. This man is roaming all over the North of England and Scotland signing anything that moves.
The contract is rubbish. It guarantees nothing. He does not have to record anything and he does not have to release anything.
But the contract ties the musicians to his label for life. And getting out of that contract costs money.
The last I heard, he was charging bands £3,000 for him to tear
up their contracts.
There is an American production company that approaches young
talented bands, pretending to be a major record company. Although they are still opperating and still working this con,
they met in prison some ten years earlier and got the idea whilst watch a TV talent contest.
One of the gang claims to come from Sony, BMG, Warner or
any of the others. He might claim to be Island one day and Def Jam the next. What he is trying to do is sell them a vanity
publishing deal where the band pays him a vast fee to release a third rate CD with no hope of success. They do this
by pretending to be the major label at first, but then switching the deal to a 'far better deal' with a new label, but the
band (or their parents) will have to 'invest' 25% of the $3 to $5 million launch costs.
Both the above examples are Sham-Leech combinations, but sometimes
the Leech is competent and clever. But he is still a Leech.
A young music student in Germany approached a big city studio,
offering his services for free as a gofer/runner/tape-op. He said that he needed the work experience and he was a personable
young man and seemed to have some knowledge of the business, so they took him on. After a few days, he told the studio manager
that he had some friends that would like to use the studio, but that they did not have much money. Could he cut them a deal
if the student agreed to act as engineer? This happened several times and each time the student asked for a better deal for
his various friends. These were just local thrash bands and the resultant work was invariably of such poor quality that the
studio's reputation was beginning to suffer. And strangely, it was always the student and never the band that paid for the
studio. It transpired that the student was approaching bands all over the town, claiming to represent the studio and its associated
record label, offering them record deals. But they would have to cut demos first that only he could record and they would
have to pay for.
The studio got rid of the leech, but the leech went on to become a successful