Okay, you’ve all been here before. You started a track last night and after hearing it the next day, it still sounds ace, so you finish it. Now it'’s finished, you’re really fucking excited about it and you want to send it to a label. Don’t. Let’s touch the basics here. By basics, I mean all the things you need to sort out before you even think of wasting some busy A&R’s time with sloppy work. We could talk about abolishing labels altogether and focus on building a career solely from the point of marketing on Soundcloud and Youtube, through music websites, until you reach a point where your career starts picking up – and then contact the labels as it’s easier to negotiate deals and get more out of it – first impressions yadda yadda, you get me? I’m a firm believer of artists being the metric, not the label. But heck, you’ve seen artists release and collect all the cool labels, it helps them build their careers, so, naturally, you want to do the same. Because it makes sense, right? So let’s do that then, shall we? The Music Make sure you get constructive criticism – every time. It’s essential to seek out people who won’t just nod and say ‘cool’ just because you’re friends with them. Make sure you get your sound polished and your music mastered professionally. Don’t bother sending unfinished bits, previews, work-in-progresses, bootlegs and all that bullshit. It’s insulting. Make it original and very high quality. Every time. One track is never enough for A&R to really get the feel of who you are and if you’re capable of delivering more than just that one really cool track, so send more (2 to 4 should do just fine, don’t over do it). It’s cute when artists think just music in itself is enough to get them out there. It’s not. Perhaps it’s only 20 % of all the work you need to put in it in order to make waves. It depends on how much you want it, really. Branding Set up social media accounts for Soundcloud, Twitter, Youtube and Facebook. Try to get specific URLs for each platform. One thing I’d advise, is getting your own domain (and please make it .com and nothing else), so you can build a professional artist website and send out promotional newsletters to your own promo pool. Make sure your public image looks polished and professional as well. Don’t do corny and cheap-looking logos, that’s the worst. Sometimes it’s better to wait and do it right, than to just scrap some shit together. Trust me, your best friend isn’t the best graphic designer under the Sun. Find someone who can do amazing designs and have him make all the necessary designs for your promotional channels (logos, cover artwork for releases, cover headers for your social media platforms and possibly also for your podcasts/mixes). You’ll also need professional promotional shots, which will come in handy, when you start scoring gigs. Also, have someone help you write a biography, it’s essential. Okay, so before you even consider sending anything out, make sure it’s ALL there. The first impression is everything. Now that your branding’s on point, your music’s professional and it all makes sense, you need to stop for a while and start thinking like a label. It’ll only increase your chances of getting signed. Labels Labels are a business. And as every business, they have operating costs too (distribution, marketing, designs etc.), so they need to generate enough revenue to stay afloat. In order to make excess of revenue they’ll naturally seek out artists, who can generate profits. And if you’re one of those artists, who’s not loyal to the label and is only out there scoring big-label names to generate some kind of hype, people’ll start noticing that. But let’s not over-complicate things. In order to prove yourself a worthy asset to a label, what you’ll need to do is produce amazing music, of course, improve marketing skills (and it’s really easy to see how much you’re willing to do to promote – events, releases, yourself even) and show loyalty ... over time. On another note, labels get more music than they can chew sent in (we’re talking about labels, which are relevant and can elevate your career), so what we said about the basics, will increase your chances of getting noticed within the mass of all the emails ...maybe. Don’t get me wrong: A&R people love their jobs, because it involves sifting through a handful of amazingly produced and carefully targeted recordings every day – they came into this business to put out great music, after all – but the democratisation of the process is overflowing the global A&R pool with ever lower quality effluent – that’s why they put more energy into developing artists, who’re already semi-established. Please, at the very least, don’t blame the labels for that, they’re only the catalyst! There’ll always be artists, who’ll only love to be about the music. If you really want to make it a business, you have to start playing by their rules. Just deal with it. Artist vs. Label I must say, that dealing with mainstream labels is sometimes a lot easier than with underground labels. In mainstream situations the concept of the ‘demo’ is a bit lost and it’s all cool, because, if you want to sell good, you really need to invest so much more in your product (like Daft Punk did for their Coachella performance in 2006, when they asked for more money in advance in order to build a better show – see their documentary). Professional arrangement, good quality vocals, a great mix, perfect mastering will get your track signed and sold. In the underground scene, most producers are stubborn enough (in a great way) to have everything done by themselves, from the production to marketing. But that’s a superb thing, because that means the artist-producer can have his/hers own direction all the way. Underground labels love artists, who have their own unique energy in all the aspects of their art. That’s why shy demo-posters make count in the redundant folder. When I say shy demo-posters, I mean artist/producers who don’t know the meaning of their art yet and it’s shown in the way the music sounds and how it’s presented. So, I reckon that underground labels are more interested in something that shines through from all corners. You might not think it’s important, but it’s essential. Well, when you post a demo, it not only has to contain good music, but it has to smell like a concept, an idea developed into a full scale revelation that puts the spotlight on the artist. Maybe it’s all in the groove, or a vocal line, or a message in the title of the track. The point is: people who receive demos are looking for something like that. Understanding that will change the whole reason and the way a producer posts a demo, because, first of all, you gotta have something to say ... to express. That being the essence of art. And if you don’t know what IT (your art, your music, whatever you’re trying to say) expresses, it can be observed in the way you talk about it in the description of your demo. Usually, labels won’t try out and do experiments on their own expense. Not even labels who publish experimental music. The point in marketing is to find the right place to post a product. Underground labels are themselves like little markets, that are visited by a certain type of buyers, that expect a certain style and quality of music. Nowadays, in the underground, the job of finding the right market for a product is left in the hands of the producer. It’s not bad news really, it’s good news, because it’s not only about making money in the underground, it’s about finding your friends. And once you are connected with your people – the sky is the limit! Another thing and it’s a big one, and it will probably hit you right in the kisser. Ready? Labels aren’t looking for artists, who need them in order to get big. If you don’t prove yourself totally self-sufficient, you won’t get far. That’s the harsh reality of this cut-throat industry. So, if you can remember, when I was talking about the basics and I mentioned promoting yourself on indie music websites (people call them blogs, but people are silly) and Soundcloud channels ... well, this is perhaps the best thing you can do from the start, waaaay before you think of labels. But that’s just how I see it. Get that fan base growing. Give your music out, but get the most out of that ‘freebie’. Generate worth for yourself, now you know what it means in the eyes of the label. Get your image as polished as you can. Network as much as you can, send music to people in the industry (know the difference between demos and promos and include that in the subject of the email), and really just go and stack those email contacts. It’ll come handy, when you’ll run your own promotional newsletter. Collaborate with other artists. Not only will you learn from them, make friends, but you’ll also be noticed by a whole another audience. Other people have connections as well and are perhaps more business-savvy, or just more experienced. Okay. So, after you do all that let’s write that email. But how? Here’s your shot and you really don’t want to mess this one up. You won’t, if you follow these simple steps. Demo mail Try to summarise yourself in one sentence. Tell them who you are, where you’re from, where you released music before and what was your support (from other notable artists and DJs, taste-makers, radio stations hosts, music websites/blogs and other figures that might turn heads). You can get truly artistic and try to explain your music, but don’t over-do it. I think it’s a bit pretentious, but it’s all in the presentation. It’s better to name influences, but don’t put obvious DJ superstar names, look outside the pond. Also don’t go over board and copy all your DJ biography. That’s how you get your mail moved to the trash instantly. Remember: A&R people are busy as fuck. Make it short, but sweet (it shouldn’t take more than 5 seconds for the reader to get the initial idea of who you are, bare that in mind). Include links to all your social media. They look sharp, everything is polished, and admit it – you’re kind of proud of yourself. Send demos through a private Soundcloud link, nothing else will do. One thing that helps you personalise your email and could set you apart from all the others, is that personal touch. Take time to figure out. who’s the A&R and what’s his name. Trust me, people tend to read emails, which are sent to them personally. Another don’t: never add label people on facebook and connect with them through there. People hate that. Every A&R in the history always dedicates his time only for demos, don’t try to squeeze their work into their personal matters. Just don’t, okay? Here’s another thing, that’ll get your email deleted in a second. You’ve sent your music to 20 labels through the same email and that’s another thing we need to clear up, pronto. Only send to one label at the time. Show some respect. You can even tell the label you’ve sent them music exclusively, it might help. You can abolish labels altogether, as I said, and be a musician, but if you want to play by their rules, become patient. You’ve invested into learning your art, it took years to hone your art and now you’re expecting to get it over with a simple pressing of the ‘send’ button. Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. Now that you’ve sent your first demo, get ready for the worst part of your life. The waiting game. You can ask anyone, they all know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s just one of the industry standards. It does get easier and faster as you establish a bond with the label manager/A&R. You can send a reminder, but at least wait for a whole week to pass first. And please, no matter how good you are (or you think you are), always be polite. Nobody likes people who think they’re entitled to anything. Because honestly you’re just another pea in the pod, no matter how talented. Hope this manual helps you. And good luck!
How to: understanding the label and sending demos successfully
Published 28 May 2016