by Peter P. Carli - © 1996, revised January 2014

In every business there are dishonest types who try to unfairly exploit others for their own personal greed, and unfortunately, the world of music and entertainment has more than it's fair share of them.   My tutorial here will tell you what to watch out for.


One type of crook that aspiring writers, producers, and artists need to watch out for is "The Song Shark". Song Sharks take advantage of new writers who do not understand standard industry practices or ethics. Song Sharks will take anything regardless of quality and since they are paid in advance, have no vested interest in helping you or anyone else secure a publishing or recording contract.

Here is an excerpt from a recent letter of solicitation with questionable intentions (company name has been omitted).

"Unnamed Record Company is looking for new and original songs and lyrics. We are interested in locating songs in the mainstream styles of Country, Rock, Pop, R&B, Ballads, and Gospel. Select three or four songs and put them on one cassette. Include lyric sheets for every song and an SASE if you want your material back. Rest assured that your material will be perfectly safe. You will receive our decision promptly within ten working days. If Unnamed Record Company decides to sign a Commercial Recording Contract with you, we will send your recordings to radio stations and record stores, and you will be paid a ROYALTY for each record sold."

If an A&R representative or producer says "you will be paid a ROYALTY for each record sold", that is a tip-off that something is not on the up and up. Any seasoned music business pro already knows about royalties. Also, the line about "your material will be perfectly safe" speaks volumes about the honesty and intentions of the solicitor. The only way to insure bulletproof security of one's material is to file a claim of authorship with the Copyright Office and every experienced pro knows this.

Never sell your songs outright. Although it's legal, no reputable publisher or music business professional would make such an offer. Also, never pay someone to publish your work. Publishers pay you. Before you sign any contract with anyone, be sure to read everything carefully. It is well worth hiring a lawyer experienced with entertainment and copyrights to review all contracts and explain everything to you.


In addition to the Song Shark, there is another dishonest type that sails the high seas of the music business - The Music Pirate.

Piracy is the act of making counterfeit copies of legitimate music recordings, videos, and computer software and then selling and or distributing them as "the real thing" (this includes unauthorized P2P internet downloads). Legally, record piracy is in many ways similar to making counterfeit money, and is a felony offense punishable by imprisonment in North America and many parts of the world. Pirates steal everybody's music, including that of the major labels. From what I have read, my estimates are that more than 50% of gross music revenues are lost to piracy, and the problem is so rampant worldwide that the NMPA, RIAA, the FBI and other orgaizations within the entertainment, government, and law enforcement communities have international joint efforts working on the issue.

The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society MCPS of the UK also includes unauthorized "Bootleg" recordings of concerts, unlicensed distributions of legitamate pressings, and overpressing of client's product in their defination of Piracy.

The best way to prevent a pirate or song shark from stealing your music is to do your homework ahead of time. Contact prospective labels, producers, and music publishers ahead of time and ask them about their submission policies. Find out how long the company has been in business, and don't be afraid to ask them for business references. If you are sending to a label that has a large catalog and wide distribution, you should be safe. No reputable record label, producer, or publishing company will engage in illegal activity; the last thing anyone wants is a lawsuit and a trashed reputation. REMEMBER: Always register your work with the copyright office before sending it anywhere.