My last listicle wasn’t unhelpful enough. They’re easy to write*, so I did another one. Here’s how to ensure that the contract you sign is a bad one.

1) Have unrealistic goals

Realistic goals are for people who don’t want to get screwed. Hold out for a deal that’s too good to be true, and eventually one will come along.

2) Trust people

How can you expect to get screwed if you won’t trust the wrong people? Those selflessly giving their time to steer you in the right direction might protect you from unscrupulous characters and bad advice. If you want to get properly shafted, you have to trust people who directly or indirectly profit from you making a particular decision. You might think of their massive conflict of interest as relevant expertise, but it’s better to forget about it entirely and do as you’re told.

3) Ignore the warning signs

Frequently there’s a moment when the excitement of the approach has passed, and it starts to look like something fishy might be going on. All the evidence points to an imminent shafting, but it’s not too late to turn back. Keep your eyes on the prize, embrace your confirmation bias, and ride it out: you’ll soon be at the point of no return.

4) Don’t read the contract

“Reading the contract” is the first step towards “understanding the contract”, which is frequently a gateway to “making an informed decision about the final negotiated contract after considering the other options”. It’s a slippery slope, and if you want to be exploited, it’s best to avoid doing anything sensible at all.

5) Believe the contract is non-negotiable

“This is our standard agreement” is what they say when they mean “In our wildest dreams we hope to get half this stuff past you”. For the real “screwed with your pants on” experience, don’t even question the dumbest stuff in their opening bid, and take it like a champ.

6) Don’t have a plan B

Paint yourself into a corner by making a decision about one option before you’re fully aware of the existence of the others.

7) Have unclear goals

If you have no real idea of what you were hoping to get out of a deal, you’re unlikely to notice that a screwing is taking place until it already has.

8) Get ahead of yourself

We value things more when we’ve bought them. Begin negotiations by thinking of the deal as already done, and you’ll start to believe you need it more than you actually do. If you think of every offer as “too good to be true” until you see the whole thing in writing, it’ll be a lot harder to rip you off, and that won’t do at all.

9) Assume everybody will pay on time

…because when people say “music industry” everybody thinks “scrupulously and promptly fulfilling their financial obligations at all times”.

10) Don’t do any maths at all

Basic arithmetic is for losers. It doesn’t take much to outsmart a record executive, but why bother? It’s not like the ability to add, subtract and multiply could give you the magical power to figure out how much things will cost or what you might get paid under a variety of scenarios.

* The next thing on today’s list is telling somebody that their album is sufficiently appalling as to reflect poorly on the musical judgement of anybody who might have thought it suitable for release, so any displacement activity looks pretty good right now.


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