Do Parents Allow the Entertainment Industry to Eat Their Young?

In today’s society we know that the moral fiber of our communities is in peril. Why then, do we not protect our children? We have a responsibility to safeguard our most vulnerable; instead, we prematurely catapult them into a world they are not mature enough to handle and destroy their innocence.

Frequently, I am asked by parents and friends of aspiring “stars” to offer my opinion about getting their child into show business. Recently my publicist, Marsha Friedman, President of Event Management sent me the following question:

“…After the performance I spoke with her mom (who was in tears the whole time) about their incredible daughter and her future. Their daughter’s dream is to be on stage singing professionally…I said I would forward some information to you – to get your thoughts.”

After much contemplation, I wrote to the parents (excerpt):

“No matter how strong your daughter or your dream is, wait until she is 18 to try for stardom. She is already doing what she most wants, and that is to be on stage. Once she is 18 and you are ready for her to sell sex to other teenagers and older men in their 20’s – 60’s, she will be better equipped to handle the response, as you will be also…”

These words may strike you as unnecessarily candid, and perhaps a touch vulgar, but the reality is that most parents and children do NOT dream of just “being on stage.” If that was the sole requirement for their happiness, then local stage performances (a much safer avenue) would satisfy their dream. Since the child may already be doing that, there would be no more questions as the goal would have been achieved. Sadly, the aim as stated is wrong. What the parents and child really want is stardom, without knowing the cost.

They focus on the Hollywood dream and convince themselves that the path to stardom will be a romantic ride. The fantasy is filled with adoring fans, endless wealth, eternal fame and glamorous travel. This illusion inevitably fades, and what remains is disappointment, heartache, bills and endless travel (in less than desirable circumstances). More ominously, some of the “adoring fans” may actually be obsessed with the child, to the point of danger. This should not be entirely surprising as the child is being sold to look like the American male fantasy of an adult woman.

Many people reading this article will be convinced that I am wrong, or at least exaggerating. I ask you to consider the last time you saw a child “star” who looked like a child in their videos? The typical images are a 15 year old Britney Spears, a 14 year old JoJo, or a 13 year old Leanne Rimes

When Spears came into the public eye, she was dressed like a Catholic school girl, seducing the audience with, “Ooh, baby baby.” Leanne Rimes was dressed in a black satin outfit singing, “How Do I Live Without You.” (It should be noted that her ‘look’ would be considered tame by today’s standards.) Why are they dressed this way? Frankly, the music industry sells sex, sex sells.

These girls (although Leanne and Britney are now adults) are talented and beautiful, yet they are strategically packaged to entice older men. The fans who are young teenage girls don’t care whether the artists are sexy when they purchase music. However, continually seeing their idols dressed seductively has made them aware of sexuality and they want to dress the same way. This contributes to the cheapening of children’s values and image, and the cycle continues.

Recently, I was running on the treadmill at the gym when I was stunned by what I saw on one of the news channels. It was a feature about a modeling contest for children limited to those twelve and under. The winner would receive a one million dollar modeling contract, which of course sounds amazing! However, as the clip continued, mouths dropped throughout the gym. Three girls (under 12 – contest requirements) dressed in skimpy bikinis were being drenched with water and gazing at the camera like they wanted to seduce each man watching. If the girls were twenty five, aware of what they were doing and, as adults, making their own decisions, I wouldn’t think much about it. However, the participation of twelve year olds is horrifying. Child pornography is universally condemned and pedophiles treated with not only revulsion, but the full force of the law. Doesn’t this fall under the same category, just corporately condoned?

In my opinion, prostituting children in this manner is perpetuating child pornography in a purportedly “legal” manner. This practice needs to be stopped. While the music industry to date, has not participated in such an extreme level of exploitation of children, I still believe that children should be kept out of the music industry on a professional level until they are at least 18. Even with the strongest family support possible, they are not emotionally equipped to handle the issues that will inevitably emerge. Realistically, however, I know that children will continue to be signed and sold long before their eighteenth birthdays, let me offer some practical advice.

1. From a financial perspective, learn the business inside and out. You MUST know: Who gets what, and why? How much was made, or lost? What is the bottom line? If you don’t make this a priority, you will join the host of famous artists who have been forced to claim bankruptcy.

2. Put together a dazzling press kit. People receiving the kit must be enticed into opening the package, so you will have to present your child in their best light. The demo must be well produced and include four of your child’s best numbers. Keep in mind that each song will be listened to for about thirty seconds before moving on to the next piece. It’s possible to make a pretty impressive demo on your own for about two thousand dollars, including pressing. Don’t fall victim to the scam of someone guaranteeing stardom for your child with a professionally cut demo if you simply write a ten thousand dollar check.

3. If possible, establish a track record of sales BEFORE any contact with recording labels. (Get your CD listed on Soundscan.) You’ll have greater bargaining power if you know your product value prior to negotiating.

4. If a label finances the recording of a CD, it is a loan, NOT a gift, and must be paid back. The recording industry is a business, not a charity. Beware of becoming competitors insurance. If you fall into that trap, you may lose everything. (I detail all of this in my book, The Indie Guide To Music, Marketing and Money.)

5. The phrase is, accurately, “Show Business,” and your child must be prepared to put on a “show,” just as you and they need to learn the “business.” Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Madonna and Justin Timberlake are great examples of how this is done and the work involved to sustain sell-out crowds.

6. Provide acting, vocal and dance lessons for your child, and register them for writing classes. Writers currently receive 8.5 cents per song on a CD, while the artist generally receives one point per album. Writers make the most money, with little or no initial investment. Make sure you understand how to legitimately copyright music. The aptly named ‘poor man’s copyright’ won’t hold up in court.

7. Avoid anyone stating that for an upfront fee, they can make your child a star. Managers and agents get paid a percentage in the range of 10-20%. Managers usually receive 10-15%, while agents receive 15-20%. You also need to know and understand the difference between managers and agents. Similarly, lawyers shopping a deal for your child on his/her own volition will take a percentage of the contract. (Lawyers that you hire on your own request, must be paid up front.)

8. Marketing and promotion are imperative and can be very expensive. Labels have access to promotion capabilities that most individuals cannot afford. However, there is no limit or cost to imagination, so be creative! Affordable promotion can be attainable.

9. Develop personal relationships with contacts at the labels. Once you get to know people, they may offer you a special code to put on the outside of your package which signals to the front desk that your package is requested. (simply writing “material requested” on the outside of the package will not work) DON’T submit anything without permission; most throw unsolicited press kits in the garbage and a few return them unopened. Warner Brothers sends a nice note referencing legal concerns, while Disney sends a nicer more detailed note explaining their policy around copyright laws. Don’t waste valuable product and time.

Currently, many people are considering the ‘American Idol’ route, while forgetting that only one person in the 22 million that showed up for auditions last year actually made it.

One last note: Label representation can be an awesome thing, but you must know the business first! There is much more detailed and valuable information in my book, “The Indie Guide To Music, Marketing and Money” ISBN 978-0-9746229-4-1 ISBN 978-0-9746229-4-1. Additionally, my website contains a number of applicable articles on the music industry which can be accessed free of charge. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.

Copyright 2005 Jaci Rae


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