Due diligence is a phrase that is thrown around the legal world on a daily basis. “Is that borrower credit worthy? We’ll have to do our due diligence.” “Do we want to purchase that gas station? We will only know after we complete our due diligence.” Does the concept of completing due diligence in the music world ever come into play?
The answer is that it should. Just like a business looking to buy out its competitor or a bank trying to figure out if it should issue a credit line to a borrower, a musician should always complete due diligence before making any decision related to his career.
In my quest to get musicians treat their music like a business, I have often compared a music career to any other type of business. However, even though being a musician is similar to being a manufacturer of tires or a having a shoe store, there are different rules and procedures in the music industry. These different rules and standards are due partially because of the slick talkers and stereotypical music industry professionals but mostly from a successful system that has been in place for decades. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it has been the mantra of the major label music industry for years. In this system, the typical scenario played out as follows: a musician breaks onto the scene or discovered by an A&R rep, the musician blindly signs a multi-album record deal, a manager is provided by the label and the label would control the musicians career for the length of the contract and beyond. As we all know, this system is no longer the norm. Due to the failures of the record industry over the last several years, the system has changed and the process for building a career as a musician has changed along with it.
While a musician was happy to sign the first contract that came from a “reputable” label in the past, that musician now has the ability to conduct her own due diligence. For a musician his or her music is her work product. Today, when that work product gets to a level where it is ready to share with the public and the public wants to hear it, several doors may open for the musician. Behind every door, however, is another business who wants to make money off of the musician’s work product. A manager, business manager, lawyer, label, publicist, publishing company, etc. etc. are all examples of businesses who make money off of your work product. But just like a business owner who is looking to hire a new CEO, a musician must conduct diligence before making a long term committment which may direct the musicians career and check book for the next several years.
So what should you look for as a musician who is looking to sign with a third party (a label, producer, manager, etc.)? How does a musician conduct his own due diligence? First, conduct your own research: google the hell out of the company or individual that is looking to work with you; talk to people in the industry to see what their experience has been with that company or individual; and spend a lot of time talking and observing what that individual or company is really like to work with. A label might have a good reputation, but that reputation could have been built on a success 10 years ago; what have they done lately? Ask for a specific plan for you and your band. How will the label help you get tours? How will the manager deal with finances? How will the lawyer bill you? We know that Sub-Pop has been successful with many of thier artists, but how do their contracts work? Will they enter into a license deal or maybe they are only a 360 deal label? Just because a label or management company has a good name doesn’t mean that they are a good fit for you.
It is always exciting to have someone interested in working with you and in some cases offer you money to work for them. But in today’s music world, you have to ask: is it worth it? Maybe you can do it on your own. Maybe you make your own start and then go with a label. Maybe your best friend is ok to work as your manager for a regional tour. All of these things must be thought about before signing on the dotted line. In the business world if one business is looking at buying out another business, the due diligence period may take months (years even). Lawyer pour over the existing contracts, the amount of money coming in and out of the company, the people working at the company, the systems in place that are working or need to be fixed. Why should your music career be any different?
Musicians should focus on music. That is what they are inherently good at and why they have the exciting prospect of people paying them for what they create. However, saying that “I only want to make music” and ingorning the decisions that effect your career as a musician can have devastating results. Do your due diligence before you make decisions that will effect your ability to continue to make music for a living. Once you have made smart decisions on who makes up your professional team, you can go back to what you are truly meant to be doing: making music.