Some things show up in four year cycles, like the Winter Olympics, leap years, and complaints about Talent2K.
In the past few weeks, I've found myself again facing a stack of mail asking whether Talent2K is "legit," whether they're "reformed," or whether they can deliver on the promise of a record deal.
Contributors to spinme.com have been writing about Talent2K since the very first iteration of this site, over a decade ago. Back in 2003, John Foxworthy wrote a guest editorial summarizing the findings of his investigation into the company. We followed up with some more details in a 2004 post, and our comments and bulletin boards have perennially surged with new readers looking for information about this A&R outfit.
Here's how it works:
Bands "sign" with Talent2K, an independent A&R company, who guarantees the offer of a record deal within a fixed period of time. During that time, T2K representatives "shop" a band's demo to major labels. The contract promises a full refund if T2K fails to procure an offer.
Usually days before the refund clause kicks in, T2K brings back an offer from one of a collection of affiliated labels. The deals we have heard about all require acts to front some of their own money for production or distribution expenses. These upfront costs often amount to thousands of dollars.
Bands who turn down the deal end up losing the fee they paid Talent2K. After all, the contract only said they'd get you an "offer," not an actual deal. And the contract didn't stipulate which label you'd be hearing from. (They didn't promise that you'd get signed to Warner or Sony, after all.)
Bands actually forging ahead with the record deal often report back to us that they hit unsurmountable obstacles in the recording or production process. Bands have to pay their own expenses to travel to Los Angeles to record in an expensive studio--all stipulated by the record deal, and all requiring upfront expenses.
The handful of recording artists that have made it to the point of completing an album under these deals now have to market and sell their CDs without help from the label, unless they're willing to pay for an approved publicist. In some cases, I have heard of bands actually failing to receive the product they ordered. (As if nobody actually expected them to get that far.)
Is Talent2K a "scam" or a "ripoff?"
That depends on your definition. Legally, they provide the service that they offer. They shop records and they find record deals. But are they really doing anything you couldn't do on your own, for far less money?
Their website no longer lists the "record deal" offer they've made in the past, so I have no idea if they still actually put that out there, or what they charge. Let's look at what's listed under their "limited offer" promotional package, for $995:
40 submissions to forty record labels
40 submissions to forty of the top management firms
create a biography and press kit
create a website for your project
Here's what it really takes to accomplish the same net result:
Order 80 nice Kraft folders from Staples, outer envelopes, eighty glossy headshots and eighty one-page fact sheets at Kinkos ($160)
Convince a Facebook friend to write/design your one-sheet and CD sleeve (at least lunch at Taco Bell, no more than dinner at Morton's.)
Design and host a professional website. (Bandzoogle's service does a great job for $15/month.)
Instead of spending $995 on your label outreach, you can do it yourself for a few hours of sweat equity and $512, and you will get EXACTLY the same result: no nibbles from any legitimate label that wants to offer you a deal.
That's because NO A&R person is looking in their slush pile for acts anymore. They're talking to club owners about who's packing small venues. They're watching chatter on bulletin boards and asking MP3 bloggers what they should be hearing. They're looking at iTunes charts for bands with sales figures from out of nowhere. They're looking for an audience that's already been built.
They are NOT looking for acts in any pile of mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.
The website promised we'd be stars!
But, wait! Talent2K's web site says that they have received millions of hits in the past year, and that they are one of the biggest music related websites on the net.
I call shenanigans.
spinme.com is definitely NOT one of the biggest music related websites on the net. Yet, even in a year where I have been wrapped up in book projects and posting only sporadic updates, we get many more unique visitors, according to respected third-party tracking service compete.com:
Not a fair comparison? At least they beat me during the month I screwed up the DNS records and knocked the site offline for, like, a week. But let's stack both our sites up against a real tastemaker, like the folks at Pitchfork:
Won't it cost less if seasoned professionals do all the work?
In 2003, it still cost thousands of dollars to record and master an album. Today, you can do it for far less, especially if you connect with fellow artists through communities like Just Plain Folks.
If you hand over thousands of dollars to anyone claiming even the most spurious connections to established artists in the hope that you will become an overnight sensation, you are simply telling the universe that you don't like having money.
There is no company on earth that can take your band and a two thousand dollar investment and make you a star. Period.
Only you have the power to do that, and you don't need to charge yourself that much.
If you feel really compelled to spend $512 on your career this month, I have compiled a shopping list:
Get the Musicians Publicity Bootcamp collection that Bob and Ariel made, for $245.
Buy Jay Frank's awesome new book about how to write songs that radio programmers and A&R folks will love, for $25
Hire Madalyn Sklar to conduct an interview of your band, which also includes a post on her blog (also read by more people than T2K), for $50.
Get five independent, unbiased reviews of your press kit and demo from experienced journalists from ReviewYou for $150.
And, of course, buy all four of my books for $67. (Why should my friends get all the love?)
Buying all this stuff won't get you a record deal, either, but it will make a heck of an impact on growing an audience that can actually help you make your money back.