So, you've decided that you would like to score a contract with a record label.
In today's world, building a profitable and successful career as an independent artist is well within reach – more so than it has ever been – but there's nothing wrong with having major (or even minor) label ambitions too.
If you want to get signed, the key is to understand what labels are looking for. If you were running a record label, what kind of artists would you sign? When you see things from their perspective, it's not so hard to figure out how you can increase your chances of getting signed.
Here's what you need to do if you want to have a better chance at getting record label representation.
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Succeed As An Independent Musician Before Trying To Get Signed
First and foremost, your goal should be to succeed as an independent, and there are several reasons for this.
One is that record labels don't really like taking chances on untested artists. They want to work with acts that can fill seats, move records, and also have a sellable image. They're not going to figure this out for you; you have to figure out what the best course of action is.
Another reason is that you'll have a much better chance of negotiating a favorable contract if you've experienced some success as an independent. Record labels aren't going to mess with something that's already working, so that's to your advantage if artistic integrity and creative control is important to you. If you don't have much success behind you, any contract agreement that comes your way is unlikely to be profitable for you.
The last reason is fairly straightforward. Even if you succeed as an independent artist, it doesn't guarantee a major label contract! If you love music and you know that you want to keep building a music career despite what major labels think of you, then having some success under your belt will provide you with options. You can continue on your merry way building your independent success.
You might remember the Canadian band The Tea Party, who found success in the early to mid 90s. After releasing their self-titled first album in 1991, they distributed it through their own label called Eternal Discs. This paved the way for a contract with EMI Music Canada in 1993. They didn't find widespread success until 1995 with their most commercially successful release, The Edges of Twilight.
As you can see, The Tea Party was proactive in their approach. Even after signing with a major label, they didn't find immediate success. However, they kept reinventing themselves until they found their sound, and after that, commercial appeal.
Tour, Tour, Tour – This Will Increase Your Chances Of Getting Signed
What are labels looking for in the artists they sign? More than just about anything else, work ethic.
Today, labels are less and less likely to do any favors for the artist, up to and including marketing. The artist is responsible for their popularity and overall success. They have to go out into the world and show audiences how great they are.
Artists with label ambitions should be touring out on a regular basis; preferably yearly. This shows that you're willing to work hard for what you want, and that you're not going to lose momentum. It shows that you have connections, and that you are organized enough to fulfill commitments spanning multiple locations, times and dates.
Touring acts continue to make new fans over time, and also earn money.
If you want to grow your fan base, you can't just maintain and nurture your existing following; you have to build at a rate that causes overflow to happen!
Labels know that artists with a work ethic tend to come out on top over time. It may not happen overnight, but when an artist releases new music and shares it with their audience on a yearly basis, they begin to create the kind of clout that labels look for in the artists they sign.
You've probably heard it before, but it's worth saying again: labels do not work with artists that aren't already established. They're looking for bands and acts that have their stuff in order.
So, if you want a big time contract, you have to ask yourself if you're willing to put in the work necessary to tour every single year. You need to be able to build connections and establish relationships with venues and event planners. You need to come out with new music on a regular basis so you have something new to share with your fans every year.
Build Your Online Following
Whether you care about Facebook likes or not, you can rest assured that first impressions count for a lot. If a label sees that you don't have much of a following on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, odds are they're going to be a little skeptical about your ability to grow a fan base.
Make sure to cover the basics. Get a website set up, start collecting email addresses wherever you go, and let your fans know where they can find you online at every opportunity possible. Make sure to keep focused, because you don't want to spread out your fan base among too many social networks.
It might seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but your online following really does matter. Give your fans a reason to follow you on your fan pages and profiles, and make a coordinated effort to increase your social following. And, by the way, don't bother with buying ‘likes' or followers, because it will always show in the level of engagement you're getting (or not getting).
Keep in mind that there are no guarantees in the music business. You can work really hard, build a large following, sell thousands of albums, and still not get recognized by major labels. The odds of getting signed are slim to say the least.
However, can you stack the deck in your favor? Absolutely. Can you do things that will make your act more attractive to labels? Yes.
And, odds are, if you do the things necessary to be courted by major labels, you're already successful as an independent, and you can choose a path that's right for you and your music.