'The Boss' in the Business of Music
A Miami entertainment-industry attorney shares his
hard-nosed advice used in guiding many successful recording artists'
Bercuson is a Miami attorney specializing in the music
and television industries. He has represented artists, record labels,
producers, music publishers, composers, managers, on-air television
talent, and independent television producers in the negotiation
and re-negotiation of significant industry agreements. He has handled
the business and legal affairs for several independent record companies,
popular recording artists, and television personalities. Mr. Bercuson
is also a specialist in licensing music and finding deals for artists.
not include cover songs on the demo. No matter how talented
you are, you will always be compared to the singer and the recording
that made the song famous.
into the music business obviously requires talent; a passion for
and knowledge of music, singing, and performing; a high level of
preparation; and realistic expectations and the ability to cope
with rejection. As an attorney in the entertainment industry specializing
in music, the advice and information that I will offer in this article
is the same advice that I give to clients on a regular basis.
Assuming that you have all of the above characteristics, the most
common question is: "How do I get started?" The balance
of this article will give pragmatic and useful information that
should help provide direction for your start in the music business.
to Know the Business
The most important thing to
know about show business is that it is a business! It is
not called "show party time" or "show I
want to be a star." You must always remember that, in the
music business, if you do not take care of your business, you will
soon be out of business.
It is easy to learn about the music business. Take any related classes
in high school or college. If no classes are offered, go to the
music business section of your library or bookstore and you will
find numerous books that are specifically written for people who
are interested in learning about the business of music.
hope the message in this section is clear: always prepare to the
extent of your ability. You can never know too much or over-prepare.
Consequently, you must read, ask questions, and learn everything
you can. If you do not learn about your business, you will benefit
neither your short-term nor long-term career goals.
of Ages David
Bercuson has handled the business of major music acts, including
Harry Wayne Casey, who is "KC" of KC & The Sunshine
Band (Far Left: with David's wife, Marla Bercuson) and (Left)
Nicko McBrain of the musical group Iron Maiden.
Smart About Demo Packages
The principal tool used by a
singer to obtain a recording contract is the demo package. Clearly,
a demo recording is a demonstration of the artist's vocal abilities
and, if the artist is also a songwriter, the demo also serves to
exhibit the songwriter's skills.
As you may know, the music business today is being challenged by
a number of factors, such as digital downloading and piracy. In
this difficult environment, it is very easy for a record label to
say "no" to a prospective new artist; therefore, an artist
needs to be smart when creating a demo. Do not give the label any
opportunities to say "no." Consequently, the general rule
is that the demo should include only three songs, and these
should be your very best vocal performances and your very
best songs. If the label likes two or three of the songs
you have a great probability of continuing the negotiations with
the label. However, if you give the label 10 songs and they like
only two or three, the other side of the equation is that the label
does not like seven or eight of the songs. In this event, you will
have lost your opportunity with that label.
There are other very important matters that an artist needs to consider
with respect to the demo. The first issue is the budget available
to the artist for the production of the demo. You absolutely do
not need to produce a demo that is ready to be played on the radio.
I have obtained recording contracts for artists whose demos are
merely a voice and a piano or a voice and a guitar. Do not be fooled
by a producer who wants a high fee because he believes the demo
must be "radio ready." Remember that a singer/songwriter's
demo is not a producer's demo. The purpose of the demo is
to get a contract for the artist, not the producer. The people reviewing
the demo are listening only to your voice and the quality of your
songwriting. You must also remember to leave money in your budget
necessary for "shopping" the demo.
Help, Then Follow Through
In the event the artist needs
to find a songwriter and/or a producer for the demo, the search
process should not be difficult and is no different than finding
a doctor, lawyer, plumber, or dentist. Seek recommendations from
people who have used the services of songwriting or production professionals,
and then listen to examples of their work on records. Once you find
someone whose work you like, call and set up a meeting in order
to exchange ideas and find out if you connect creatively. Furthermore,
it is mandatory that you reach an agreement (preferably in writing)
with the songwriter and producer to determine their compensation
before any work begins.
Your demo package should contain a terrific photograph. A headshot
is good, but it should be accompanied by a full-body shot as well.
You also may include a biography or discography, if it contains
good and impressive industry information, such as any prior recordings,
concert experience, industry awards, and honors.
Finally, do not include any cover songs on the demo. No matter
how talented you are, the person listening to the demo will always
compare you to the singer and the recording that made the song famous.
Inevitably, you will come up second best and give the label another
opportunity to say "no." When putting the demo package
together, always remember: the goal is to get the record label to