Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had clear intention and we could take them all at their word?
Unfortunately, people often have ulterior motives. That’s not to say everyone intends to take advantage of others, just that things can get cut throat when people believe they’re competing for a finite amount of attention and acclaim. Welcome to the music industry. We’ll do well to recognize when someone is intentionally trying to bypass our defenses to gain trust. Why? Because anyone who wants to bypass your defenses is least interested in helping you and most likely to do you harm.
Artists often feel starved for validation and that makes love-bombing a very effective tactic of manipulators in our industry. To love bomb is to shower someone with attention and affection in order to gain influence and control over them. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship at all. It’s coercive. It’s about power not romance. It works because we all want to believe we are worthy of attention and affection (we are) and we feel a profound sense of relief when someone tells us they see us as we want to be seen: unique, talented, better than, etc. It’s not unreasonable to expect attention and affection from friends and family though that can wear thin over time depending on how well you tolerate the ups and downs of a music career. It is, however, unreasonable to expect career changing attention and affection from a newly acquired music business connection and mostly because the majority of people in our industry are struggling with the same issues of unworthiness as we are. Yes, even if they are bragging about their successes (actually, especially if they are bragging about their successes).
Things to consider:
* The only person who has the right answers for you and your career is you.
* Someone setting themselves up as the answer to all your problems will likely become a problem.
* If you are a conscientious person feeling a bit lost and alone in your music career, you’re basically a babe in the woods with a bacon backpack
The trust trap can be set in any number of ways. Maybe it’s someone who presents themselves as a fan, who tells you how amazing you are, gains your trust, and, after getting access, tries to control you or some aspect of your career. Maybe it’s a producer, manager, band mate or other music business professional who focuses intently on earning your loyalty but ends up mining you for ideas, borrowing your credibility, or sabotaging your career to advance their own. Maybe you feel stuck from removing yourself from the relationship or obligated to them regardless of whether or not they’ve actually helped you achieve your goals. Maybe you’ve lost your direction because you’ve substituted your goals for theirs along the way.
It happens. In a months time, I’ve talked to five different artists experiencing their own versions of a trust trap. This is where a lot of people get stuck because they want to be all the good things: grateful, loyal, professional, etc. What they miss is that, while there are some wonderfully generous people in the world who can turn out to be the greatest helpers and supporters in your career, there are those who have zero problem using your dedication to pursuing your hopes and dreams to get what they want for themselves.
How to avoid a trust trap:
1) Ask questions. Some things in this industry happen fast but getting swept off your feet and carried away means you’ve lost a fair amount of control. You need time to figure out who you are giving control to. The quickest way to slow things down is to take the time to ask questions.
I know it’s difficult to put the breaks on when you are drunk from all the attention and affection. (C’mon. It’s what you want!) But anyone who is legit will expect questions and will have zero problems answering them.
Ask for references, samples of their work, awards and accolades, rates for their services, experience, job history, successes, failures, a list of credits, etc.
Red flags: refusal to answer questions, guilting (“Are you trying to hurt my feelings?” “Do you think I’m a scam artist?”), shaming (“Who do you think you are?” “You should be grateful I even offered?”), or flat out lying.
BE PREPARED to walk away. Remember, this is your career and, ultimately, you’re the one who should care the most and do the most to make it work. There’s no shortage of people who know what you’re going through as an artist and countless paths to your success.
Note: Some people may pressure you to do things quickly. Giving people a time limit on an offer is a sales tactic and I have zero problems with it as long as you know what you’re buying and what you’re paying for it (see 3. Set terms). The people to trust are the people who are willing to answer the questions. Period.
2) Verify answers. Do your homework and check to see they’ve given you factual information. Directly contact anyone they listed as a reference and ask for feedback.
BE OBJECTIVE. We often want to believe the best or worst about people. This is the time to approach it neutrally and see where the info takes you. If you have trouble with that, write down what you observe from each perspective (best, worst, neutral). It will help you get honest about the evidence you’re finding, understand what your gut is saying, and recognize whether or not there’s a repeated pattern in your career or decision making process (Am I generally distrustful or do I attract scam artists?)
Write down keywords that come up when talking to other people. Are those words in line with what you want for your career? Do you even know what you want for your career? Be clear on that first.
Red flags: no references, no one willing to give clear answers, “anonymous” work (they either have credits attributable to them or they don’t), shaming/blaming/belittling/insulting. That last one may not be obvious so look to yourself. Do you suddenly feel you need this person’s approval, have to impress them and gain their acceptance? It’s a trap!
Ask people you trust or musician support groups (you should look for and join several) for their take. I know we don’t want to bring ourselves down to earth when our hopes have been inflated. We all want the dream. But, if you don’t want the nightmare, do yourself the favor of getting different perspectives. You can still follow your gut. Either way, it’s going to be a learning experience.
Note: Proximity to famous successful people does not equal responsibility for their fame or success. Maybe they have a crap load of pics with famous people but maybe they just went to a lot of meet and greets.
Remember, it is reasonable for any professional to ask for and check references when entrusting someone with any aspect of their career. Don’t let anyone talk you out of doing the professional thing. That will never benefit you, only them.
3) Set terms. They must be clear about what they are offering you and what they expect in return. You must do the same.
The terms can be “I’m a fan who believes in what you are doing, want to help, and expect nothing in return but a pat on the back” or they can be “I can help you with this aspect of your career and I’d like references/money/credit in return” but not “oh, it’ll all work out”. If you’re entering into any kind of working arrangement, you need clear terms to refer back to should there be disagreement later.
When people are showering you with attention or affection it’s hard to imagine there will be fallout later. Imagine it. It happens. Be sure that whatever terms you agree to, you’re willing and able to hold up your end. Your integrity is everything and will protect you long term even when others don’t follow through.
If it has to do with money or ownership GET IT IN WRITING. Split sheets and contracts are a thing. Look up samples on the internet. Make use of them. Hire a lawyer if necessary.
I really can’t stress terms enough. For some reason, people think “I don’t need details” translates to “I trust you”. To me, all “I don’t need details” translates to is “I am so afraid that I’m not worthy of a mutually beneficial arrangement that I’m willing to put blinders on and risk everything just so I don’t have to talk about it” (Yikes!). Nothing says “I value this working relationship” like being clear about the terms of that relationship.
Remember, people who are good at what they do generally don’t give their services away. They value their work and want some kind of return for their time and talent.
Why bother with all of this? I know how it is. In the beginning, we’re all friends, band mates, managers, producers, fans who knew you when, etc. You don’t want to put someone off by asking a lot of questions. You don’t want to spoil a budding relationship with suspicion. You don’t want to make them think twice about what they’re getting themselves into with you. You don’t want to burst the mutual love bubble. Spoiler: the bubble burst is inevitable. Bubbles don’t last. When they burst, it’s better to have a solid agreement to fall back on and reenforce your bond than it is to have a bunch of mismatched assumptions and expectations. Ask the questions. Verify the answers. Set terms.
Remember, regardless of how quickly you feel connected to someone, it takes time to build trust. What you are avoiding here is falling into the trap of those who intentionally want to bypass your defenses, gain your loyalty and trust, and end up with control over you or your career that you never intended to give them.
There are people out there who are going to love and support you for you. I promise. If you come from a place of being desperate and needy for that love and support you’ll be an easy target for every person willing to flatter you and focus on you for a bit. But, the truth is, flattery and short term focus are the easy parts. You’re worth so much more than that. You’re worth long-term, lasting support, attention, and affection through all the inevitable mistakes and missteps. Believe it.