Once upon a time, it wasn’t that difficult to get signed by a record label. In the early days of rock n’ roll, labels were hungry for new talent and it seemed that all you had to do was be in the right place at the right time.
Today, there are a lot more people making music and the competition is stiffer. Record labels are also more demanding with many of them needing some sort of proven track record before agreeing to sign you on.
If you have your sights set on becoming a successful musician, read on to find out what steps you should be taking in landing that record deal.
Get the Music Together
In order to get a record deal, there is one essential; you have to have good music.
Today, pop is the most popular type of musical genre, so you may think you need to play pop music to increase your chances of getting a record deal.
The truth is, you may be more successful if you play certain types of music, but there are labels for all genres.
What’s more, it’s important that you play what’s in your heart. If you try to be something you’re not, people will smell it a mile away and you’ll never be able to build a solid fan base.
The best advice is to play the music that feels natural to you. Then find a label that you think is likely to put it out.
But before shopping, you want to make sure you are putting your best foot forward. Many bands are eager to get a record deal and might try to shop their first release even though they may not have developed their skills, their sound or their chops.
Do a few gigs to get used to playing. Live shows and rehearsals can work wonders in improving your music skills.
You should also do a few recordings to hone your sound. Once you work with a producer to find the best ways to mix and master, it will make your music sound more impressive.
On the other hand, if you try and rush things and shop your music before it’s ready, you may develop a negative reputation in the industry. If A & R people pass on your music, they will be less likely to sign you in the future.
Create a Package
If you know anything about business (and if you’re in the record industry you probably should) you know that branding is very important when it comes to selling a product or service.
You are not a product or service, but you are selling yourself. Therefore, you will want to create a strong brand identity.
Building your brand starts by taking a look at yourself. Again, you always want to be authentic so you want to capture what you’re truly about, but then you want to take it to the next level.
For instance, Alice Cooper doesn’t wake up every morning doing obscene things to mannequins, but he probably always had a fascination with dark and evil images. He took things a step further to create an image for himself that got him noticed and it helped him get signed.
Look at your music and think of what you can do to make an exaggerated image for yourself that still represents who you truly are. It’s true that a lot of gimmicks have already been taken. It’s okay to draw inspiration from other artists as long as you add elements that make it your own.
Once you have decided on an image, create social media pages and a web site that promotes your persona.
Musicians are often on a low budget, but it’s important to make the tools you use to promote your band look as impressive as possible. Therefore, you may want to hire on a professional logo designer and artist to make art for your branding.
If you plan to post photos of yourself and your brand, make sure they are professionally done as well.
Best Ways to Create Your Brand
Creating a brand is not easy and it can be expensive. Here are some tips for making your branding as affordable and effective as possible.
There are plenty of website design programs out there but if you want to do it right, it’s a good idea to find a domain that makes your band easy to find. You can use our friends at Varial Hosting to find a domain that fits your band and is not used. Using something like (your band name) .com or .ca, that is ideal.
When it comes to social media, you might find that some platforms are better for promoting your music than others. Try a few out and see which ones work best. If you find you are getting more of a return on certain sites, devote your attention to those.
When thinking of music, there is a wide range of social media platforms available. There are the obvious platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, and there are also several music social media sites where people can go to download your music like Bandcamp, Reverb Nation and Soundcloud.
Make sure to have a good mix of each. Then link them all together.
Your ‘regular’ socials will work to promote your music socials and vice versa.
To ensure you are easy to find across all platforms, keep your URL consistent. So if your URL on Facebook is facebook.com/greatband, your URL on SoundCloud should be soundcloud.com/greatband.
When it comes to branding elements like a logo and pictures, you can’t afford to skimp. You’re lucky if you know an artist that will work cheaply and we'd recommend this route, but if not, there are plenty of online resources you can use.
For instance, you can try browsing EDM producer forums to find beginning designers who are willing to give their designs away for free for the experience and opportunity.
You can also try design competition web sites. The way these work is, you post a job offering for a logo design or illustration. Then the designers on the site pitch designs that match your requirements.
When your listing expires, you pick the design you like best and pay the designer who made it the money.
99 Design and Crowdspring are both examples of these types of design competition sites.
Promote, Promote, Promote
Music is about being creative and expressing yourself, but a record label is a business and ultimately, it all comes down to dollars and cents.
Record labels get several demos a day. Ultimately what they are looking for is an artist or band they know will make them money.
If you want to impress them, here are the things they will be looking for.
A Strong Social Media Following: Labels are impressed by bands that have a strong social media following across all platforms. Unfortunately, building a following is not easy to do.
On a site like Instagram, you can like a lot of people’s pages and see if they will like you back, but remember, if you are following 10,000 people and have a following of 5,000 it won’t look as impressive.
The best thing to do is to get followers organically through networking and promoting.
A Lot of Plays on Your Streaming Platforms: A & R reps will want to see that your music is getting a lot of plays and sales. This is another ‘not-so-easy’ task but recording good music and promoting correctly will help you get your foot in the door.
Packed Live Shows: If you’re lucky, you just might have an A & R rep show up at a live show. He or she may have caught some sort of buzz about your band or they may just happen to be in the audience.
While putting on a great live show will help, they really want to see that there are a lot of people in the audience who are willing to come out and pay to see you play.
Even if an A & R person is not in the audience, having a large following helps create a buzz increasing your chances of having a label check you out somewhere down the line.
In order to get people to your shows, it helps to be a social butterfly. Network with people in the industry and support other bands to try and increase your turnout. If you don’t enjoy being social, this may not be the best business for you.
Make the Connection
Once you have done all you can to make your band look impressive, it’s time to make a connection.
Start by figuring out which labels are best for promoting your music. Finding one that has artists in your genre is a good start.
You also might not want to target larger labels first. While it’s always good to reach for the sky, you may be better off starting with a smaller indie label.
An indie label will be more receptive to unsolicited music and they may have more time to nurture and promote your band. Once they get you off to a good start, you will be more likely to get signed to a major.
Find the Right Person
Once you find labels that are right for you, the next step is finding the person at the label that takes submissions. Sending out an email to a general address will probably be a waste of time. You want to make sure your submission gets into the hands of the powers that be.
The easiest and most obvious thing to do will be to look on the record label website to find out who takes submissions. They may have a list of their staff members with emails so you know exactly how to get in touch.
If not, you can use Google Chrome plugins like Hunter to help you find emails. Hunter will scan the website cache to help you find emails on the site.
You may also be able to use social media to find out who is best to approach about submitting music.
Once you find that person, see if you can find them on social media sites like Facebook, Linked In and Twitter. Then start developing a relationship by commenting on their posts.
When commenting, try to include useful advice like pointing out something they could have missed or provide links to articles you think they might find interesting.
Don’t be afraid to approach people in powerful positions. Taking risks can pay off big time in the long run.
Once you have established this type of relationship, see if you can take things a step further by sending them direct messages. All of this will make your name recognizable helping you stand out from the piles of submissions A & R people get every day.
Now it’s time to go in for the kill.
Ask them if you can send them an email with your music. Or, better yet, if they work in the area, see if you can set up an in-person meeting.
Making a Good Submission
Let’s say all goes well and you get a green light for submitting your material. Now is the time to make a really great impression. Here are some ground rules to take note of.
Submit Finished, Unsigned, Unpublicized Original Material: Only submit material that has not been uploaded publicly. This includes any edits or reworks for published material.
Don’t Submit Anything That’s Been Copyrighted: Labels aren’t too fond of releasing copyrighted material as it can result in additional expenses and law suit issues. Indie labels might not care as much as the big boys, but either way, you’re taking a risk.
Quality Over Quantity: Labels don’t have a lot of time to listen to music. It’s advisable to start off submitting just a few of your songs. Have them in a track sequence so your ‘hits’ come up first on the recording.
Prioritize: Submit to one label at a time. Each label wants to feel special and if you end up getting accepted to two labels at once, both deals may fall through. Of course, you could end up with a bidding war that can work in your favor, but it’s best not to take chances.
Submit the Right Quality: Most labels will be looking for 320 kbps MP3’s. Sending a WAV or AIF file may seem like overkill and may ruin your chances of getting listened to.
Label the Songs Correctly: The right labeling can be the difference between life and death. It is recommended that you label each file with the “Artist Name, Track Title (Mix Type) and email address”. That way, reps will be able to contact you if they find the track randomly.
Upload a Streaming Version and Download: Attaching a file to an email could also be a deadly mistake. It’s likely an A & R person won’t even open an email if they see it has an attachment.
It is preferred to send music as a private Sound Cloud link or via Google Drive. If you choose to send via SoundCloud, make sure the tracks are tagged appropriately and include your emails address in the description.
If you are sending via Google Drive, make sure your track is in the right folder before sending the share link. It should also be set to ‘anyone can view’.
Use the Right Subject Line: The subject line of your email is also important. To be clear and professional, it’s advisable to go with (Label Name) Submission: Artist Name – Track Name.
Once you have sent the initial email, you will want to follow up after the first week. Keep the email short and sweet. You can just say something like:
This is ______________ from ______________ (band name). I was just checking in to see if you had a chance to listen to our music and what your thoughts are.
Then be persistent, continuing to follow up every two or three weeks making for a total of three follow ups. If you still don’t get a response, it may be time to move on.
Continue the process until you have submitted to all five labels (assuming none of them accepts you). If you get no’s across the board, you may want to think about how you can improve the music or its quality.
If you have determined there is nothing more you can do, try submitting to more labels until you find one that gives you the thumbs up.
Getting signed to a label is not easy but if you follow the tips in this article, you are more likely to be successful. We wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.