For many, many artists, signing a record deal is at the top of their priority list. Despite what you may hear, labels are not dead. Nearly every single artist that is on any chart ever has a record label behind them.
The resources that a record label has to offer an indie artist are invaluable. Even just having other humans promoting your music is huge. However, the most important thing that they can offer you is their connections.
You’ve probably realized by now that artists with a team get way better opportunities than artists who are completely independent. That’s what you want, and record labels are sometimes the first team members to jump on board. So how do you make that happen?
Well, you start pitching, sending emails, giving people CDs, talking to your industry connections. It is a long, arduous process, but I want to make it a little easier for you.
Here are four mistakes you need to avoid on your journey towards record label success.
1. Not Leaving Yourself Enough Time To Sign A Deal
The thing about artists is that they always just want to put out everything they make. And believe me, I get it. You’ve spent a lot of time, money, and heartache on your album – you want people to hear (and buy) it.
Here’s the thing: if you just throw your record out into the world, you are immediately less interesting to labels.
All of the behind-the-scenes work that a label would have put prior to a release is now impossible to do, because all of the songs are already out. Maybe you’ve already had an album release show, and after that it would be pretty weird to have an album re-release show.
So, you need to leave yourself a bit of a buffer.
Generally speaking, I would leave six to 12 months for the pitching process, and then expect it to take up to three to four months for the deal to be finalized and the label to start working for you.
It seems like a long time, but if you’re serious about getting a team together, you need to give yourself the appropriate amount of time to do it.
In the meantime, you can also pitch demos to labels. You should be demoing all of your songs anyway, so if you can make your demos sound good enough to send to industry people, you might as well start early.
The benefit of sending demos to labels is that if you successfully pique their interest, they can still have some creative input, as opposed to taking on an album that’s already done.
2. Only Sending Emails To Addresses
When you’re researching labels, you’ll find that most of them have contact info on their website. This is a good place to start, because they may also have specific directions for sending music.
It’s always wise to heed their requests (such as no .mp3 attachments, streaming links only, etc.) because if you don’t, you risk looking very unprofessional. In fact, if you don’t follow their directions, your email may head directly to the trash folder.
Most labels will have a public email that will look something like the above email@example.com address. The thing about these email addresses is that they are often checked very irregularly if at all. Sending emails to these addresses can feel like shouting at a wall.
You need to find other ways to get your music into the right inbox.
Your most valuable tool will be your industry connections. Artists who are already on the label, managers with an interest in your band, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask for an introductory email, and get your music in their ears.
3. Not Attending Music Conferences
I’ll admit, music conferences like SXSW are a bit of a gamble. You never really know what you’re getting, even if you put in all the necessary work.
That being said, music conferences are a great place to get some face time in with people that matter. If you’ve been corresponding with someone in the industry, there’s a decent chance that they or someone from their team will be going to the next major conference.
The ability to set up meetings with so many industry professionals from around the country/world with just one flight/car ride is huge. It’s much more cost-effective than traveling to every city and shaking one hand at a time, and way more effective than just corresponding over the internet.
The trick is finding out who is going and setting up meetings well in advance. People tend to get booked up very quickly at these events, so you need to beat the rush in order to sneak into their schedule.
Also, beyond just the conference, don’t be afraid to ask people to hang out at night as well. You need to figure out what bars the industry people are hanging out at, and get yourself there. The party is just as important as the business.
4. Having Bad Branding/Imaging
The first thing people check out when they’re introduced to a new band is their social media. They want to get a feel for what the band is doing, what their fan base is like, and how serious they are.
If your branding sucks, if you’ve got an inactive page, if you’re not getting engagement, industry people will lose interest. Unfortunately for us artists, social media is incredibly important and everybody knows it.
Your branding needs to be cohesive, unique, and make sense with your music. Make sure that it’s consistent across all social media accounts, because you better believe that they’re not just checking Facebook; they are checking Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and most of all, YouTube.
Be aware of this and don’t let your branding and imaging fall on the back burner.
Beyond just the way everything looks, you need to make sure you’re constantly looking busy and engaging with fans on social media. Show pictures, videos, contests, you name it, it doesn’t matter. You need to be constantly upping your social media game, just like you work on your music.
Steer clear of these mistakes, and I guarantee you’ll have an easier time of pitching to labels. Good luck!