Jeffrey Weber is the author of the recently-released You've Got A Deal: The Biggest Lies Of The Music Business.
Based in Beverly Hills, Weber is a longtime industry producer known for his work with Luther Vandross and Ronnie James Dio, and two of his projects won Grammys.
But after 30 years he's left the corporate rat race to work directly with artists. With his new freedom Weber has decided to expose the more dubious aspects of the business. Here are his top ten record industry lies, pulled from his book. We talked to him about what exactly these lies mean.
10. “We love your stuff.”
According to Weber, when producers say this, what they really mean is either: “I don't know who you are,” “I listened to it and it's not very good,” “I never got it” or “I didn't listen to it.” It's a white lie to spare artists' feelings. Weber adds that a producer who has actually listened to your stuff will have a complex understanding of what works and what doesn't. Those who haven't listened tend toward vague praise.
9. “We'll fix it in the mix.”
This really means “We'll do our best to make you sound like an artist,” Weber says, which sounds to us something like “It'll grow out” after a bad trip to the barber. The final product might be all right, but the recording is sub par.
8. “The booking is definite.”
What this really means, according to Weber, is that the booking agent doesn't know who you are, is waiting for someone who's going to be a better draw or — preferably — an audience that's going to spend more on booze than yours. Remember that the clubs are in business to turn a profit, not to give your band exposure.
7. “It's hot in the clubs.”
Rather than answering your question, a record company exec will supply you with a silver lining in the form of a non-sequitur. “It means you're getting a lot of attention and buzz in clubs,” he says, but also that “no one has a clue about your record and no one's buying it.”
6. “My last band had a record deal, but we broke up before recording an album.”
There are deals and there are deals. “When someone says you have a deal,” he says, “it means you have a deal until the next guy up the chain says 'are you crazy?'” He's also clear about the realities of the recording industry. “If marketing and promotions don't believe in the record, there is no deal, regardless of what A&R says.” This pressure often causes bands to break up before a real deal gets signed.
5. “What a voice!”
Record producers are fond of nice-sounding phrases that mean absolutely nothing. That way, they can make you think that they've just said something, when they really haven't. Weber calls this one “a Band-Aid” phrase. “It can mean anything,” he says. “What you really want to hear is 'what an amazing voice.'”
4. “That was great — you nailed it!”
Not all lies are insidious; some are used to get the best out of a musician. It's quite possible that the take was not all that great; if it's followed with “Let's just do one more as a safety,” that could be in the hopes that you're so filled with confidence that on the next take you'll really nail it. “If the producer starts his comments with an exclamation — 'hey' or 'wow' or something — it was good,” Weber says, “If they start with your name, it was bad.”
3. “I'll listen to your CD tomorrow.”
“This is a kiss off,” Weber says. The producer doesn't have the time to really listen to it and is sparing you their instant judgment. “I can't make an instant evaluation of your record — and you wouldn't want me to,” says Weber, stressing that “you have to listen multiple times.” This makes listening to a demo or single very difficult when it comes to non-established bands.
2. “Of course we'll market and promote your project. How do you think we stay in business?”
“Once you sign,” he says, “you have absolutely no control over whether the record company promotes your music or not…Marketing and promotions have to go in front of executives, and they can always say 'this is a stiff, we're not going to push it.'”
1. “What — you didn't get that check?”
The music industry is notorious for not paying people in a timely fashion — or at all. “This is the new version of 'the check's in the mail,'” Weber says. It's also an all-purpose response to unrelated complaints. Ask a question with an uncomfortable answer (like “Why isn't my song on the radio?”) and an exec will change the subject to the money he might or might not have send you.