The Musician’s Guide To Not Getting Ripped Off In A Record Deal

by Tom Hess
How To Get Attention From Record Companies In The Music Industry
The Guide To Getting Attention From Record Companies In The Music Industry

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Imagine this:

You worked your butt off to build a career in the music industry for the better part of a decade.

And finally…

Your music career dream is about to come true.

A record company has offered you a record deal.

You look over the record deal and it looks good.

But right when you are about to sign it, you start to wonder: 

“How do I know I'm not about to get ripped off by this record company?”

“Is this record deal some kind of a music industry trap?”

“Will this record company take advantage of me in my music career?”

Well, fear not…

… because in this music career article, I’ll show you the proven steps you can take to not only protect yourself from getting ripped off in a record deal…

… but also make it way more likely that you’ll get a record deal in the first place.

(And usually – get a record deal on terms most musicians can only dream about.)

How To Get Attention From Record Companies In The Music Industry
The Guide To Getting Attention From Record Companies In The Music Industry

By submitting your info, you agree to send it to Tom Hess Music Corporation who will process and use it according to their privacy policy.

Here we go:

The first thing you have to do when evaluating any record deal is…

See Your Record Deal In A Proper Perspective

Here is what happens when you sign a record deal in your music career:

How To Not Get Ripped Off In A Record Deal

The record company will invest huge sums of money and resources into making your music career grow.

That’s why you wanted a record deal in the first place, right?

But a record company is not a charity. That’s why, in return for investing in your career - it hopes to recoup its investment with interest after your career takes off (with their help).

That also seems fair, agree?

What this means is:

It’s (usually) not in a record company’s interest to rip you (or anyone else) off… because they are the ones taking all the risk by investing into your music career.

If anything, they (record company executives) are even more scared of musicians ripping them off, since they (record company executives) are putting up money and resources upfront.

The musician (you) usually has little or nothing to lose.

Unless you are a huge name, with a massive following and a big music industry catalogue (or have a lot of other music career assets)…

…there is little a record company *could* rip you off for, even if it wanted to.

Question: “But Tom Hess, if it’s rare for record companies to rip musicians off, why do so many musicians in the music industry fear this?

Answer: That’s because many musicians don’t understand how the music business works.

Some expect money, fame and music business success the moment they sign their record deal. And they consider themselves “ripped off” the moment they realize they still have to work just as hard (if not harder) to build their music career if they want to become famous & successful.  

Many others don’t carefully read (or fully understand) all the terms of the record deal they are signing (more on this below). Then they feel “ripped off” when a record company asks them to do things they (the musicians) agreed to.

A few others look at extreme outlier cases where the record company did fail to honor its obligations under the record deal.

And they assume things like this happen all over the place in the music industry.

They don’t. And now you know why.

That said, anything is possible (there are sharks in any business – including the music industry)… so, let’s look at some practical steps for how to avoid getting ripped off in the music business.

Music Business Tip #1: Hire A Good Entertainment Lawyer.

If you simply read and fully understand the details of any contract you sign (record deal or not)…

… it becomes almost impossible to get ripped off by a record company in the music industry.

The problem is, you probably don’t spend your days reading, analyzing, negotiating on and asking questions about one record deal after another.

But guess what?

Entertainment lawyers do this all the time.

So, having a good entertainment lawyer in your corner as you are negotiating a record deal can be extremely helpful.

A great entertainment lawyer will help you go through your record deal with a fine-tooth comb.

This way you’ll be sure there are no nasty surprises waiting for you down the road in your music career (as you begin working with a record company).

That said: don’t rely entirely on your lawyer to read, understand and negotiate the deal for you. It’s generally a good idea to let the lawyer represent you to the other side, but YOU need to be involved and educate yourself on what’s going on. Don’t go into this blindly. 

Music Business Tip #2: Never Negotiate Any Music Industry Contract (Like A Record Deal) In A Weak Financial Position.

Here is an important music career lesson:

When you need money in the short term, you will (almost) always lose in the long term.

This goes double for anything you do in the music business.

For one thing, the more the record company has to give you up front (example: a cash advance to help you pay your bills while you are working on your album)…

… the more you’ll have to pay back to the record company once your album starts selling.

And that means: the longer it’ll be before you start seeing real money from your record deal.

Plus, if a record company you are negotiating with is operating in bad faith, they will smell blood in the water. And that is the fastest way to get ripped off in a record deal.

Question: “But Tom Hess, it’s hard to make money in the music business! What are some tips on how to improve my financial situation?”


This might offend some people, but I have to say it:

Anybody who isn’t making a full-time (stable and lucrative) living in the music industry, has only themselves to blame.

Here is why:

1. The music business is one of the most stable industries in the world. It survived every economic recession, world war, revolution, pandemic and technology shift in human history. 

(Sure, people spend less money on music or other luxuries when money is tight… but the music business has always been there and ain’t likely to go away any time soon.)

2. The music industry is one of the easiest industries to earn money in… if you understand & build your career around the 9th wonder of the world:

Multiple Streams Of Income!

Off the top of my head - here are some proven ways to earn money as a musician in the music industry: 

1. Play gigs (bars/clubs, wedding gigs, corporate gigs and other events).

2. Be a studio musician.

3. License your music. This way you can make money in the music business through royalties by doing work only once.

4. Teach music lessons. This can be really lucrative. (I'm talking 6-figures per year.) And yes, this counts as “making money in the music business”. More on this below.

5. Sell products. CDs & DVDs (yes, people still buy those), mp3 downloads, instructional books or transcriptions of your music. The sales from these things can add up and give you a nice boost in your music business income.

Pro music industry tip: even if you are in need of short-term money, never let the record company know this!

Doing so is practically asking to be taken advantage of and ripped off in the record deal.

You’ll be far better off if you follow:

Music Business Tip #3: Ask To Get More On The Back End, Not The Front End.

The more you get on the front end of the record deal, the less you’re likely to get on the back end of the record deal.

And guess where the big money potential in the music industry is?

You guessed it… most of the big money (either for you or the record company) is likely to be on the back end.

So, to the extent that you can, you may find it in your best interest to fight harder for the back end, than the front end.

If your personal financial situation is weak when you go into a recording contract negotiation, you’ll feel compelled to try to get as much money out from the deal as early as possible. This is a classic music business mistake musicians make all the time. 

What happens next is, the record company may give you a bit more earlier (a cash advance for example), but then you may find yourself making very little (or nothing) later on. 

This is usually the point in the music industry where musicians tell everyone else the record company cheated them or ripped them off. Fact is, the musicians got exactly the deal they agreed to. You don’t want to be in this situation. 

Here is the single best way I know of to avoid it:

Music Business Tip #4: Start Your Own Music Teaching Business.

Here is why you should be teaching music, even if you want to be a performing musician in the music industry and not a music teacher:

Reason #1: When done correctly, this is the single best way to put yourself in a (very) stable and good financial position in the music industry. This means, when you’re negotiating with the record company in the music business - you start from a very strong position. And that means, you can negotiate a much better deal and prevent yourself from getting ripped off.

Reason #2: You already have almost all the skills you need to teach music well. Think about it. If you’re already building a career in the music industry, it means your musical skills are probably at an advanced level. That means, all you need to do is learn how to teach what you know to others.

(That is its own separate skillset – but it’s simple to learn. Especially with proper coaching on how to teach music.)

Reason #3: Teaching music gives you freedom of time to work on your music career in the music industry compared to almost any other day job (in or out of the music business).

Here is a quick story to illustrate the point: 

A few days before I wrote this article, a musician asked my advice on phasing out his department store day job and getting a record deal. 

But when I told him to start teaching music (in his case – guitar), he pushed back.

He said: “Thanks - but I don't want to teach. I want to be known as a musician – not some music teacher. Got any other ideas other than teaching?”

Houston, we have a problem!

Here is the thing:

There ARE lots of ways to earn money in music besides teaching, but... takes time to get any of them off the ground.

To make consistent money in music, you need a whole lot of skills, music industry knowledge & business relationships that take a long time to build.
(These are the things I help musicians build inside my Music Careers Mentoring Program.)

Fact is: most people won’t have the ambition, work ethic or the energy to do it, while working full-time just to pay the bills.

Not to mention that most low-skilled jobs don’t pay very much. 

That means: if you somehow manage to get in front of a record company to negotiate a record deal…

…you’ll (likely) be in a much weaker financial position than you could and should be.

That’s a HUGE reason why teaching music (even part-time) makes sense for just about any musician looking to enter the music industry.

Music Business Tip #5: Invest In Yourself.

An obvious way to do this is to get a music career mentor.

A good mentor can help you navigate the entire process and prepare you to not only get the record deal but negotiate a good one, so you don’t get ripped off by the record company.

Your mentor should also be involved in meetings you have with your entertainment lawyer once you get that far.

And a good mentor should have a track record of helping other musicians successfully do the things you want to do.

(Like leave their day jobs to do music full time as a career, get record deals, tour the world and build multiple streams of music career income.)

For example, here are the results some of the musicians I’ve mentored have achieved.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know that the above looks like I'm just trying to promote my Music Careers Mentoring Program. But you don’t have to have mentoring under me. You can get mentoring from whomever you want. I'm just telling you to get it, because a great music career mentor is worth his weight in gold.

Music Business Tip #6: Assume Everything Is Negotiable.

Do not assume the record company will not negotiate with you so that you can get better terms - even if they say they won’t negotiate.

It’s very common for virtually any terms of the deal is negotiable.

That said, be careful not to fatigue the company.

If you go back and forth and back and forth for months with no breakthrough on the deal, they may conclude that the time and effort involved in negotiating a record deal with you is no longer worth it.

So, as you negotiate, be efficient. Don’t waste their time by being inefficient.

Now that you know how to not get ripped off by a record company during a record deal…

… the next step is to learn how to build solid relationships in the music industry that help you get the opportunities that open doors for your music career.

And the first step for this is getting attention from a record company in the music business.

How do you do that?

I show you (for free) in my new free eGuide called: “How To Get Attention From Record Companies In the Music Industry.”

Download it today and discover music career success secrets most musicians will never know.

The Guide To Getting Attention From Record Companies In The Music Industry
Free eGuide

Tom Hess
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He trains musicians how to leave their day jobs and build successful full-time careers in the music industry.

Build a successful music career with a proven music career coach.

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