How to get signed by a label
How can a musician get signed to a record label? Marcus Taylor, founder of TheMusiciansGuide.co.uk, shares his insight into how you can approach a label.
When musicians ask me for advice on how to get signed I usually start off by telling them the same advice my first label manager told me - 'think like a record label'.
The reason why this concise tip is so effective is because so many musicians fail to understand the motivations that drive record labels. When you stop and ask yourself what the record labels really want, you can work on providing it.
Since 2006 I’ve released music on five different record labels, on top of running my own independent record label. In this post I want to share with you two important lessons I’ve learnt from my experience that will help you to think like a record label and approach labels without being ignored.
Record labels are businesses
One of the quickest things you learn from thinking like a record label is that record labels are a business. Sure, most decent record labels base their business on the artistic and moral duty of creating great music, but it’s very difficult to sustain that duty when you can’t pay the bills.
So it should come as no surprise to hear that most record labels function as a business, and thus have an interest in raising their profits.
When you stop and ask yourself what the record labels really want, you can work on providing it.
At first glance, this may seem slightly clinical and unfortunate, but I assure you that this is also a fantastic opportunity.
Let’s break it down and think like a label:
- Record labels are businesses.
- The core aim of a business is to grow your profit.
- You can grow profit by increasing revenue or by lowering expenses.
So how can you increase the label’s revenue or lower their expenses?
To answer that we need to know exactly what the label’s revenue streams are, and what expenses they incur.
Most labels get their revenue by taking a cut of their artist’s recording sales, royalties, touring fees, merchandise sales, licensing fees, and sponsorship fees. Typical expenses include recording studio fees, music video production, graphic design, photography, web development, PR, and transportation.
Now it starts to become a bit clearer how you might be able to contribute to growing the record label as a business. Is your drummer studying video production? Is your guitarist a web developer?
If you offer your services to the record label free of charge, on top of the use of your great music, you’ll first of all be doing something that 99% of other bands won’t (and therefore standing out from the crowd), but you’ll also be helping the label in an unconventional way that still helps to boost their profits.
Don’t cold call A&R scouts
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a sales call, you’ll have experienced in some degree what it feels like to be a record label A&R scout.
Most labels receive in excess of 50 unsolicited demos per week from bands they’ve never even met, let alone heard of.
Of course, it’s an A&R scout’s job to listen to new music and find high potential artists who suit the record label’s agenda. But these days it’s far easier to find high potential artists by attending gigs at reputable venues and looking at who’s topping the charts on various unsigned music charts.
A&R scouts like to use these as filters, rather than having to filter through all of the demo submissions themselves. Of course, there are exceptions and some label scouts will disagree with me on this one, but generally this is the attitude of most sensible A&R scouts.
How to contact a record label
So how do you approach record labels without being a cold caller? Here are my top three tips:
- Attend music business conferences and meet ups
These events provide a great informal opportunity to meet and build relationships with label managers. Meetup.com is a great place to start to find music events.
- Email the label offering a free service
When I produced dance music, I used to offer to produce remixes of a label’s releases for free, which worked very well. You could also offer to do photography, web design, video production, or anything else that would either help the label.
- Ask for an introduction
If there is a particular label you’d like to get signed to, attend one of their artist’s gigs and arrange to meet the band before or after the show. Offer to help that band in return for an introductory email with their label.
However you decide to approach a record label, your aim should be to build a relationship with them before talking to them about signing your music.
Marcus Taylor is the founder of The Musician’s Guide, a website that helps 300,000 musicians a year learn how to promote their music and build a career within the music business.