Although there are many platforms for musicians to get their music out to the public independently, with a dwindling music industry, it is safe to say the best way to become successful is through a label or music publisher.
But it is not as simple as putting your demo in to an envelope and posting it to your favourite record label, or walking in to their offices and talking to the CEO about a five-album deal. Here are some useful tips about submitting a demo.
Quality vs Quantity
So, you are a budding songwriter who writes fifteen hit tracks a week. Don’t send them all. There is nothing more likely to get your demo pushed to the bottom of the pile than sending a 20 track ‘greatest hits’ record. Choose your three strongest songs and send them. If you have produced a record yourself, and are looking for distribution, make sure that the package is complete, with strong artwork, and quality recordings – a market-ready product is very appealing to many labels and music publishers as it keeps their costs down. Most labels would prefer professional recordings, or high quality home recordings, particularly smaller labels which do not have the budget to put artists into the studio and promote their records. This is not always the case however, as strong songs can be delivered simply; if you are lucky enough to get a record deal, the chances are the bigger labels will put you in a studio to re-record your material anyway.
Do your research
Make sure the labels you are submitting to are right for you. There is no point in stuffing envelopes or sending out hundreds of emails to labels that specialise in the wrong music. Don’t send your folk efforts to a drum and bass label. It is worth pointing out that you should not blanket submit anyway, as it is easy to lose track of which ones you have contacted. Labels have different forms of submission. Check to make sure you are following their rules, or your music will be ignored or automatically binned. Many labels these days request a simple link to an online presence, such as Soundcloud or Bandcamp. Very few like mp3s as this fills inboxes, and fewer and fewer are accepting physical copy unless they request it. Most labels will not listen to a recording that has been sent ‘cold’ as they simply do not have time. Many small labels are run by only a few people and bigger labels have busy schedules so make sure it is worth sending material. An introductory email can be a way of furthering a relationship, or simply checking a website to see if they accept unsolicited material; even established labels do this from time to time to find a new crop of artists.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds
So you have submitted some music and the label have not contacted you. Many labels and publishers clearly state that responses, if any, can take up to a month. Do not send a string of emails asking ‘have you listened to it yet?’ this is certain to put off any potential interest. Even if you do get a response, do not be too eager and ring on a daily basis. Successful industry professionals know when to contact you, and unless your enquiry relates to what you can achieve as an artist, do not hassle them, it can affect what you are offered, and, more importantly, if you are offered it at all.
If you are a performing artist looking for a label, do not expect them to do all the legwork. All labels will expect you to have gone a certain way to further your career on your own. Make sure that you are a presence on the relevant music and social networking sites. Play live – an independent tour, particularly abroad is always an impressive addition to a profile. Try and get positive radio and paper press and quotes are valuable. A self-release can also help because if your self-funded debut sells well, a label is more likely to take an interest in what you are doing. After all, a music label is a business, and what they are looking for is a way to further that business financially, so if they are having to sink a lot of money in getting an artist ready to even perform, they are unlikely to make that investment. A very important note to finish; labels are as fickle as the artists they put out, so be prepared for a flurry of interest and then silence.
So in essence, look before you leap, work hard, only work with those who you think will be mutually beneficial, and don’t get disheartened at rejection - Pulp took 15 years to get recognised!
Written by Paul Miles, who runs select recording studios a recording studio in London offering professional and affordable music studios.