OK, so today we're going to look at how to get a record deal. If you've ever had dreams of signing to a record label and have them propel you to fame and fortune, this is a must-read guide. In it we're going to look at two often overlooked truths of getting a record deal, as well as what it takes to get someone to sign you in this day and age.
If you find this guide useful, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else other musician hang out. OK, so let's get into it.
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The Truth About Getting A Record Deal
Before we look at how to get a record deal, I want to quickly look at the reality behind getting signed. While getting a record label on board with your music career can be great and give you the resources to take your music to the next level, there are two key things you need to think about before signing anything:
- Having a record deal isn't an instant path to success. In fact, some record deals could actually hinder progress in your career. It's important you get someone who knows what to look out for to look over any contract before you sign it. For your information, here are some things to be aware of.
- Even if you're signed, you should still pay attention to the way your music career is run. You should also be in the loop as to how you are being promoted, and be given some creative control.
Now I'm not saying this to scare you or turn you off getting a record deal. That said, it's important you know that not every deal will be suitable for your personally. It's important you get in your head a clear idea of what you're looking for in a deal before you sign anything, and be aware that getting signed isn't a magic pill that will mean overnight success.
Just because you get a record deal, it doesn't mean that you're going to “make it”. There are a lot of different types of deals you can sign; some are good, some are bad.
Similarly, if you end up signing to the wrong label, your deal could actually do more harm than good. They could end up completely changing the direction of your music (for the worse), or they could hold back your album and never release it at all. We'll look more at this later in this guide.
With regards to the second point, it's important that you have a good base knowledge of music marketing. If you know how to market your music (I strongly suggest you read that guide after this one – click it, it opens in a new tab for later), you'll have a better idea of what the label is trying to do with you. This will allow you to see any potential flaws with their ideas, and hopefully get them to work on an angle that will be more beneficial for you.
Record labels know the importance of music marketing, so if you don't, I suggest you study up on it.
That said, and believe it or not, record labels don't always get it right. They may not fully understand what your market wants, or even why any existing fans have taken to you in the first place. Without this knowledge, they run the risk of alienating your existing fans, and attracting new fans that will never be as diehard as the current ones.
If this happens and your sales don't do well, you will get dropped and be back to square one. Your original fans will have gone, and your new fans that were only there for “the next big thing” have moved on to liking someone else.
Some artists are signed on recommendations or referrals. While this is a good way to get your foot in the door, if the label is clueless as to what to do with you (and this does happen), you stand to gain very little from being on the label.
Because of this, it's important to follow along with what any label is planning for you, and have the knowledge to see when something is being done wrong. From here, you can hopefully work with the label to get your promotional campaign on a better path.
Understanding the fact that a record deal won't mean instant success and that you'll still need to get involved in the marketing side of things, you'll be able to negotiate a much better deal when that time comes. And who knows, you may even decide you don't need one if you're doing well for yourself.
The harsh reality is that sometimes labels will sign you and then do nothing to help you with your music career. If you don’t know how to market yourself, how to book a tour, or how to grow your fan base, you will eventually be dropped from the label.
How To Get A Record Deal Worth Signing
OK, so onto the good stuff. How to get a record deal. I'm sure if you've read any other guides on this subject, they'd suggest you send your demo into record labels and it'll all get going from there. Now I'm not sure if you've tried this or not, but I can tell you one thing now: Unless you're already established in your genre, this is largely a waste of your time!!
Unsolicited demos really don't work anymore.
While this used to be a good way to get on the raider of record labels, the chances of this working these days is extremely slim. Record labels have become extremely picky over who they choose to sign, and generally only go on to give a deal to musicians who have a proven track record behind them. This could be in terms of how many units they have already sold, how much buzz they're receiving in their chosen genre, or how much of a fan base they already have.
Putting all of these things into place and then approaching a record label is the most effective way to get signed. Forget all the “guides” that tell you how to get a record deal fast or how to get a record deal in 2013, below I'm going to break down what you really need to do to make things work for you and why.
At the end of the day, record labels are businesses. The reality is it's become financially risky for them to sign unproven acts, and it's expensive to train up newbie acts to become the complete package.
But, they still need acts to make their business work.
The solution for them? Save time and money by signing someone that's already at least partly established in their scene. They won't have to spend as much money to get this musician known, and if they already have experience performing and recording etc., they'll waste fewer resources teaching them how to do this as well.
So, what am I getting at? How can you get signed? From what I've seen, the best way to get a record deal at the moment is to market yourself, build up your fan base, and start getting yourself out there as much as possible as an independent musician. It's because of this that signing a deal shouldn't be your main aim for now.
As I mentioned, the majority of people that get a record deal these days are people with a proven track record. As it's unlikely you're going to get signed before you're established, you have to prove that you're worth the investment before you get a deal.
I know you may want a record deal so you don't have to think about promoting yourself, but the truth is you will most likely have to market yourself initially if you want to get signed. This means it's essential to learn at least a base level of marketing to gain any kind of success in today's music industry.
Once you've learned how to market yourself, if you manage to get yourself a buzz in the underground scene in your chosen genre, you'll find that record labels will start noticing you. You may want to send a demo in to potential labels at this point, but only if you've achieved a number of things already. This is because you'll need to attach your musical CV alongside your demo, and if it doesn't read very long or hasn't got many standout points, there's a lot less chance your demo will be taken seriously.
This stage of things isn't truly essential however, as if you're at the stage where you're making a big noise in your genre, record labels will find you. They may not approach you initially, as they often scout people out and watch them over a period of time before they decide whether or not you're right to join them. Because of this it's important that you leave clear details of where people can catch you performing live and what you're doing on your music website.
Make Music That Matches The Record Deal You Want
While this may sound obvious when said out loud, sometimes this is a point that needs to be stressed. If you want to get signed, you need to think about the kind of music you're making. For example, if you're making songs with explicit content or themes that aren't very mainstream, don't expect to be signed to a mainstream record label. There are some decent sized labels that may still be able to cater to you and your needs, but there are also a lot of labels that won't.
If your aim is to get a record deal, you need to look at what labels are already out there, and who are some of the acts they've already signed.
If there's a record label that already has an act like you, this could either be a positive or a negative. It's positive as they already market the kind of music you create, but it's a negative in that they've already got a “you”. So why would they need another you?
Ideally, you'll want to look for labels that cater to your genre and ideal fan base, but that haven't already got someone doing what you do. This is the best scenario to be in, as the last thing you want to be doing is competing for attention with your label mate. And if your label decides to promote them more over you? You could be left in the dirt.
Getting on the right record label is all important, as only the right record label can give you the right record deal.
Become The Kind Of Artist Labels Want To Sign
We’ve now covered the basics of getting signed to a label.
But what are labels truly looking for? What makes them go, “yes, we must sign this artist”?
This goes back to what was said earlier about having a proven track record. But you might not be entirely clear on what that means, so let’s delve deeper.
I’m going to be sharing five keys to getting signed as an independent artist. But know that each of these items are closely linked together, and are inseparable from each other. You can’t work on just one and expect to make it – you must work on everything.
1. Your Branding Needs To Be Stellar
Many artists struggle with this, and that’s because it isn’t easy to put together. You need to think like a businessperson, and bring your image and your music into perfect alignment.
When it comes to your logo and graphics, the font, colors, and shape all need to be chosen carefully. These are the same brand elements you’re going to be using everywhere (i.e. on social media, emails, posters, etc.), so they better be on-point with your musical identity.
Another important element to your brand is your story. You need to think about what your mission and vision is as an artist, and craft a compelling story around it. This is the central place from which all communication and marketing needs to flow.
You also need to define your audience. This is something you can begin to figure out as you grow your social media followers, and perform and tour more, but you need to start collecting audience data immediately. And don’t stop at demographics – age, location, gender, and so on. Dig deep. Make note of their preferences for fast food, fashion, beverages, and so on.
This also extends into what you wear, how you carry yourself, what you say to people, and so on.
2. You Must Release New Music Continually
You will also need to invest in the best engineering and production you can afford. This may not be much at first, but you need to make it your goal to get into better and better studios, and work with better producers as you are able.
But keep in mind – you don’t have much time to waste in the studio, because the moment your release is ready, you’re going to need to go on a radio and tour blitz. You’ll learn more about that below, but if you’re going to be touring every year, you can’t afford to spend more than a couple of months in the studio.
3. You Need To Get On The Radio
Forget mainstream commercial radio, because your chances of being played on it are next to none. But community and college radio represents a major opportunity for independent artists, and if you work hard, you’ll even rank in the charts.
The major labels essentially control the radio, so they will pay attention to acts that are breaking through despite the controls they’ve put into place. But don’t worry about that. Just focus on getting played at as many stations as possible so you can tour through those towns.
4. You Need To Perform & Tour Like Your Career Depends On It
And make no mistake – if you’re hungry for that record deal – your career does depend on it. Make note of all the radio stations that are playing your music, as well as where your email signups are coming from (in terms of location). You can also use your social media stats. Organize and analyze this data, as it will tell you exactly what towns and cities you need to tour through on a yearly basis (at minimum).
Then, rinse and repeat, every single year. Get your butt out there. Record, get on the radio, perform. Record, get on the radio, perform. Increase your circle of influence every year.
5. You Must Build Your Fan Base
This means growing your email list subscribers and social media followers into the thousands and even tens of thousands. And we are talking about legit followers here – you can’t just pay a service to boost your numbers, as any marketer worth their salt will see right through that.
So, make it your goal to increase your subscribers and followers with every show you play. Yes, you will need to be proactive in asking for emails and drawing attention to your social media profiles.
Sign On The Dotted Line
Does the above seem time-consuming, expensive, difficult, or even unreasonable? Perhaps so. But we are firmly in the DIY age, and labels aren’t going to take any chances on artists that don’t have their stuff in a group. What you need is proof, and a string of releases, tours, radio play, and a large social following are all signals to labels that you’re ready for the big time.
Developing these skills and continually doing the right things should help you build a healthy and thriving career as an independent artist. Ironically, you may come to the realization that many artists have – that handing all of it over to a label doesn’t even make sense, because you can keep more of the money and have complete control over your creativity if you don’t sign.
But that choice is up to you. Record labels can make for great partners. But that’s what you should see them as – a partner. Not as an express ticket to stardom. In an ideal world, signing to a label would foster meaningful collaboration between the two parties. Sadly, it doesn’t always work that way.
Important: Not All Record Deals Are Made Equal
One thing you need to remember is not all record deals will be good for you. “Getting a record deal” and “getting a good record deal” are two completely different things. Don't be too quick to sign anything just because someone offers you a deal. If it's a deal that will hinder your career, it's best to steer clear.
Before you sign any kind of deal, you should be sure that the terms of the contract suit your needs. Make sure you read every inch of the contract, and have a music lawyer there to read a copy of it too.
While it may cost money to hire a music lawyer to do this, you are about to sign a deal that in theory should make you a decent sum of money. If the record deal doesn't pay you enough to get a music business lawyer to look over the contract, then it's probably not worth signing that deal.
Be sure not to cut costs here and just read it yourself, as there is likely jargon that you won't understand and clauses which you may not notice until it's too late. We've all heard stories of acts that got big and constantly worked long days and nights, only to be broke at the end of it. They generated a lot of money through various sales, but it all went to the record label.
To ensure this doesn't happen to you, do your research into what makes a good record deal before hand. And NEVER go in without a lawyer!
So there you have it, the best way to get a record deal. While it's not as easy as it once was to get signed, it is still possible. You may have to go about it in a different way and take a more hands-on approach before you get signed, but it will make you more knowledgeable as a musician. This will in turn help you get a better deal, and be able to guide your music career in a more beneficial manner.
While having a record deal isn't essential to do well as a musician, having a decent budget and resources available to you can definitely be beneficial. If you're going to go and chase a record deal, good luck.