In early December, Bluegrass Today ran a story about an email scam targeting bluegrass artists. This seemed an odd professional group for the scammers of the world to zero in on, but the story was true, not merely a hoax about a hoax. Making it even more of a specialized con operation, it involved scammers posing as representatives of British bluegrass festivals attempting to hire bands for their 2020 events, then extracting some kind of up front fee for permit processing.
Perhaps most surprising of all, the emails that were sent out were actually pretty good, with solid English and some inside knowledge, not the work of a Moldovan teenager, or the proverbial 400 pound man sitting on a bed (though who’s to say the 400 pound man doesn’t have good command of English and an acute knowledge of just what U.S. bluegrass artists long to hear).
The emails sounded professional enough and offered more money than would ever be offered by a small UK bluegrass festival, but not enough to make you burst out laughing when reading it. They mentioned names of organizers that sounded like people you should know, though I didn’t. Some email formatting issues and the lack of a personal greeting aside, it was pretty well crafted. It was definitely a cut above your standard African-prince-choosing-you-to-keep-his-fortune scam (I only fell for that once, and never again). Just suspend your understanding of bluegrass economics, and any knowledge you might have had about how many Pounds Sterling there are floating around in the UK bluegrass festival scene, and this looked plausible.
Some reacted in horror that no part of our society is safe from these kinds of cyber-thieves. Not only do we have to contend with Russians meddling in our political process, and people stealing our credit card info at gas pumps, but now we have people soiling our idyllic world of bluegrass festivals, with its late night jamming and its casual exchange of small quantities of cash.
I’ll confess that my first reaction, on the other hand, was one of glee (after I’d stopped weeping because it wasn’t a real gig). To me, this all just means that we’ve finally arrived. Someone actually thinks it’s worthwhile to steal from us. Are they doing this to Cajun bands or Gregorian chanters? I don’t think so. I almost feel gratitude towards these people for taking the time to target us, and to do it with some competence.
As a thank you to these specialized criminals, I’d like to suggest a few scams they might not have thought of yet, ones that could return the same kinds of unimpressive hauls of cash they might have gotten from the UK festival scheme:
The Too-good-to-be-true Fiddler Offer:
Dear bluegrass bandleader,
I’m Jack Clarendon, a fiddle player with over 20 years experience in bluegrass music, having recorded on over 30 albums for various established artists, and traveled the highways with traditional and progressive bands alike (you could even name some real bands here—half of them wouldn’t even be sure they hadn’t hired this guy at one time). My primary influences are Bobby Hicks, Stuart Duncan, and Shoji Tabuchi. I really love the sound of your band and would be very interested in working with you as soon as a spot might open up.
Here’s where it gets unrealistic, yet still possible for those with an optimistic nature:
I’m 38 years old, single, a non-drinker and non-smoker, own my own reliable transportation but I’m also licensed to drive a bus if needed (I was a bus-driving instructor for 5 years and am a diesel mechanic). I have a strong musical work ethic, I read charts, but don’t need to, and I sing all harmony parts but low tenor. Though I believe in good entertainment, I’m not a showboat type; I’m just wanting to be part of a band effort and to make you and everyone else sound as good as they can (this might be too much. Dial back if needed).
As compensation, I would be happy with whatever Bill Monroe was paying Kenny Baker in 1973. I would just request an up front fee of $800 before the first show as a guarantee of at least one month of employment. References are available.
The Unrealistic Record Deal:
Hey there, friend!
I’m writing primarily as a big fan of your music. I feel it has the right combination of drive, soul, and pandering for radio airplay. As soon as you are contractually available, I’d love to discuss a possible deal with us at Elbow Records. Our network of distributors is second-to-none, and our commitment to fairness to artists is unparalleled in the business.
We can discuss this in more detail later, but what we propose broadly is as follows:
We offer an up-front advance of $3,000 per release to handle your incidental expenses while recording. We cover all recording costs, including any guest musicians, lodging, and catering, with a budget ceiling of $35,000. Expenses above that amount would be deducted from future royalties.
We would produce no fewer than four music videos per album release, at our expense. We pay royalties of 50% of all units sold, which are paid out from the very first sale. You would retain 80% of all digital downloads and streaming revenue. We know we’ll recoup our expenses because we believe in our artists!
For live sales, we would sell CDs and LPs to you at $2.00 per unit. We would just require a pre-order of 500 units ($1,000) before any recording would begin. This may be paid by credit card, but bank transfer is preferred.
We would commit to a 12-album deal, which you would be free to opt out of at any time.
If this appeals to you, just reply to this email and we can begin making arrangements. I’m looking forward to a profitable relationship with you.
— James (Cousin Nat) Starker
The overly generous instrument endorsement deal:
Greetings from Waycross Instruments. We are making some of the finest handmade guitars, mandolins, banjos, and resonator guitars today. We placed first in a recent review of new acoustic instruments by Luthiers and Builders Monthly (LBM). Our list of endorsees is a virtual who’s who of the bluegrass music world that includes Clarence Lombard, Chip Strathmore, and Sarah Selkirk (just hoping you’ll think you should know those names).
We have great respect for your playing, and you come highly recommended by a trusted friend of our company. We would like to propose the following endorsement arrangement: we would like to give you two of our top model dreadnought guitars (one rosewood, one mahogany) and one of our F-5-style mandolins, all with flight cases. All three instruments would be built to your specifications. We would also lease a company car for you (NIssan Qashqai or similar, wrapped with our logo) for two years. We’ll also include a taupe-colored Waycross tote bag. These come with only one condition: that you play each instrument at least once in a live show and send us a photograph of the show. You’re welcome to sell or pawn the instruments within three months. We ask for no exclusivity from you and no payment, except for one up front deposit of $1,200 simply to ensure that our instruments remain in your possession for 90 days, and that we receive the photograph of your performance. After that, your deposit will be returned in full.
If this meets with your approval, please reply to this email to arrange transfer of funds and the shipment of instruments to you. We look forward to welcoming you to our roster!
— Buddy Waycross