How to sign to a record label
Although we covered building a fanbase yourself in our article: How To Get Fans 2022 (hyperlink), record labels can play a big part in promoting your music to their audiences and backing releases with financial means. A label will typically advance costs for artwork, promotional assets, mixing & mastering if necessary, but will also push your music through their various channels (Spotify playlists, fellow artist support, Radio, etc.) once it is released.
While working with a label sounds interesting, the question often comes back to us: ‘How do I sign to a record label?’.
Even by following all the steps in this article, if the music you are sending to labels is not up to par with their standards, they will give it a hard pass. This is why the main focus of sending music to label should be to make sure that the music is qualitative. In order to make sure that that is the case, it is important to take a step back and, although it is difficult, give your music an objective listen.
When comparing to a reference track, your music should sound 95% as good before you consider sending it to labels. This reference track can be an artist in the same genre or a track from a specific label’s catalog, and should help you identify areas that need progress before you start sending out your music.
Feedback is also key & will help you get your music to the point it needs to be at ! An objective ear will be able to spot issues that you could not pick up on after spending a week working on your song; it is important though that this feedback is given by someone that you trust will give you honest and good feedback.
If there are any recurring points or issues in people’s feedback, it can be considered fair to implement it. Any idea that corresponds with your vision could also work, but keep in mind: not all feedback needs to be implemented! If someone suggests a modification that goes against your vision for your work, don’t feel obliged.
Understanding & knowing the label
Working with a label is a two-way street! There are definitely benefits that you can get out of it as an artist but it is important to ask yourself the following question: What does the label hope to obtain out of a deal with you?
The function of a label is to decide whether or not they are ready to take a financial risk for your music in exchange for a percentage in revenue generated by the song. This risk can be reduced by pushing a format that they know will work well with their audience, therefore it is key to understand what their audience wants!
Spend time listening to their catalogue, understanding what they typically look for in a song or in artists that they have signed recently. If their format is rather commercial, does your music cater to them? If not, can you or would you be willing to modify it in a way that would be better for their label?
Once you have a handful of labels that you believe your music will be a good fit for, it is time to start contacting them! Label A&R/demo e-mails can generally be found via their website or social media. Larger labels such as majors and very large independents will generally require a direct contact.
How to send your demo
You are going to reach out to a record label for the first time, so remember there is a human being on the other side of your screen! As with meeting anyone in real life, first impressions are key & will be interpreted through the quality of your social media & e-mail.
Your social media should look professional, complete and kept up to date with your current endeavours! A strong brand (as explained in our article about branding your project) will also help, alongside a following which will boost your credibility with the label. Attention to detail with your online presence is often a strong indicator of how professional you are with your music, and A&Rs pay attention to it.
In regard to the e-mail you will send, here is an example of a clear, concise demo e-mail that will help you write your own:
Don't do the following
Writing long e-mails
A&Rs of big labels get tens, sometimes hundreds of demos every day, they do not have time to read very long e-mails, keep your e-mail short & to the point!
Sending impersonal e-mails
Do not send out one e-mail to a list of recipients, labels love exclusivity! If you know the A&R’s name, be sure to start by saying ‘Hey Josh!’, or try to mention a specific release from the label that you enjoyed.
Sending a file instead of a streaming link
A&Rs prefer private Soundcloud or DropBox links, as it allows them to rapidly stream a demo instead of downloading it in the case of an attachment. Try to make their job easier, they will appreciate it!
As mentioned previously, A&Rs are often swamped with e-mails, which means they might take some time to reply & do not always have time to reply if they decline your song. If you have gotten a reply to your demo though, you can respectfully follow up on your first e-mail one or two weeks later asking if they had the time to check it out.
If you don’t get a reply after following up, it usually means that the A&R has passed on your demo. In that case, find other labels to pitch it to! If these labels turn it down, make a new song and try again! It won’t always work out the first time.