Independent artists have been sending their demos to record labels since the dawn of time. Or at least the dawn of record labels.
In this guide, you will learn the steps you need to follow to submit your demo to a record label to maximize your chances of success.
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Prepare Your Material
Before you start emailing labels, you need to make sure that you've prepared a solid package. It doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. It just needs to be a nice concise package.
Here is what you will need.
In my opinion, it is smart to submit finished, mastered tracks. They can be demos, in the sense that they might not be the final version of the song, but they should be professionally mixed and mastered before you send them to the wider industry.
I have heard many industry folks say that they can hear passed the demo and grasp the potential of the song, but the truth is, they often don’t.
Your song needs to stand out among dozens of other songs in their inbox. If your song has a bad mix and is too quiet (or too loud and harsh), you will not stand out.
You can send un-mastered and rough versions of your songs to close friends, peers, and industry that are already working on your music, because they have more time and do not need to be impressed in the same way.
If you are doing a large pitching campaign, you should have a product that you would feel comfortable releasing.
Your promo pictures do not need to be anything special. Have a friend buy a disposable camera and take some candid shots. Or ask a friend do some nice studio shots. Whatever works, if it looks cohesive and sharp.
On the other hand, if you have the funds, investing in high-quality, professional pictures can turn some heads. I recently went through a rebrand, and the studio shots I paid for were worth every dime.
They got more engagement than anything I’ve ever posted, and I do not regret it. They also gave my profile a very polished look.
A Short Bio
Write a short bio or have someone write it for you. The bio should include basic information about you as an artist – where you’re coming from, who you are inspired by, and what you have done so far.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to be short, sweet, and effective.
Research Your Labels
Your next step is researching labels. Make a master list of all of the labels you are interested in, and beside each one, make a little note about why you think they are a good fit.
This is important: don’t just send your music to anyone and everyone. If your music is not a good stylistic fit, your album won’t get any interest, and you will have wasted your own time as well as theirs.
A label partner is an important partner, and you need to make sure that you are sending your music to people who would be a valuable long-term ally.
Understand why you are sending your music to the label in the first place. Do they have similar artists on their label? Are you a fan of one of their releases or their release strategy? Do their values align with yours?
The truth is, there are a lot of labels out there. You could spend days researching every label in every city across U.S., Canada, Europe, and the U.K., but that doesn’t mean it is a good way to spend your time.
Choosing a few labels that you are genuinely interested in working with will work much better.
Sometimes, it is acceptable to send your demos or pitches directly to people working at the company. If there is an A&R person working at the company and they list their email, you can send you music there.
If you are looking for somebody’s email, I am about to blow your mind: check out Hunter, a search engine for email addresses. It is incredible. You can find emails for people working at all sorts of companies and labels.
Be careful with this – do not email everyone at a company, that is annoying. Be choosy, and know why you are sending somebody the album.
Note The Record Label Demo Submission Policy
While you are researching, make note of whether the label accepts unsolicited demos. Many do, some do not. For best results, submit the demo by following the label’s policy on unsolicited demos.
Better yet, if you have a connection to somebody at the label, pitch to the label through that connection.
If the label does not accept unsolicited demos, don’t bother trying. If you really want to get in touch with that label, try to find a champion among your current connections. You will have much better luck this way.
Send Your Music
Next step: sending your music.
Send the music according to the label’s submission policy. Usually, this involves sending an email to an firstname.lastname@example.org type address.
Do not send your music as attachments.
To reiterate: do not send your music as attachments.
This is tired advice at this point, but it is still important. People do not like to receive attachments because they clog up the inbox and require either a download or making the email service useless while the attachment is played.
Make a private SoundCloud playlist for your music. They can stream it that way. YouTube also works well for sending private links.
Send a short and sweet email. The email should include:
- Who you are and where you are from
- Why you are interested in the label and why you see them as a long-term partner
- Ask them to check out a private streaming link
- That’s it!
If you want to include more information, embed the SoundCloud playlist in a private page on your website.
You can have the embedded SoundCloud link, some nice press photos, a little bio, and links to live videos and music videos there.
Send A Follow Up
Wait seven to 10 days before sending a follow up. When you send the follow up email, keep it short and sweet. Just say, “Hey there, just following up on my email from last week, hoping you've had time to check out the music”!
In your follow up email, it can be helpful to link them to something new. Perhaps a recently released bit of live video, a new music video, or a little bit of press you’ve received. You can also ask for a phone call in your follow up.
Following up is important, as many industry folks receive a deluge of emails every day. A second email can be a good reminder.
That said, you should only send one to two follow up emails. If they don't answer you after three emails, that is because they are not interested, and will probably deem you annoying if you persist. Trust me, I learned that the hard way.
If somebody takes a liking to your music after a pitch, stay in touch with them! Talk to them on the phone, establish a relationship, and invite them to your shows.
As you explore the new connection, you can send them new music, and keep them updated on what is going on. Be authentic. You should be sharing your content and music because you are excited about it – if they like what you do, they will be too!
Keeping in touch with people as you meet them is important. It builds rapport. The more you talk to someone, the more likely they will be to invest in your project, and share your project with others.
Be Honest About Your Career
There is no point in making your career out to be something that it is not. Don’t say you can sell out a 500-person venue if you can’t sell out a 100-person venue. This does not serve your project and it doesn’t help the industry person accurately gauge your needs.
There is also a tendency to exaggerate your accomplishments – everyone has done it, including myself. Avoid exaggeration. It leads to a sense of deceit in the relationship and could lead to you looking untrustworthy.
Do not buy streams or followers or other fake hype. Anyone with a brain can spot this from a mile away, and it is a bad look.
Instead, be straight up about where you are at. There is no shame in being self-managed, in being a beginner, in not being experienced. Nobody came out of the gate with experience.
Labels are looking to find someone with potential, with great songs, original ideas, and a good plan. If you have these things, you are in a good position.
Be Ready To Discuss Goals & Plans
On that note, be prepared to discuss goals and plans as you reach out to industry. Nothing will impress an industry person like an artist with great songs that knows what they want.
Nobody likes being the only person with ideas. Work to create your own release strategy and brand, and work hard to learn as many elements of building a successful music career as you can. This can only help you in the long run.
In the short term, having a solid plan will allow you to release music and create music with or without a label or manager or anyone else. When a label does want to partner, having a strategy allows them to elevate your plans.
In general, you need to be ready to talk about yourself. Be able to talk at length about a track you love. Talk about the themes in the record. Give them something to connect with.
Be Ready For Rejection
The reality is, most demos that are sent to labels are rejected. This is not personal, it is business. It has almost no bearing on your artistic merit.
Labels can only take on so many projects in a year. They need to focus on the artists they already have. Most labels will only pick up a couple artists in a year.
If they get back to you and say it was not for them, send a polite email thanking them for their time, and feel free to ask for feedback, advice or suggestions. They may not answer, but it is worth a shot.
If you make something new, feel free to pitch them again. The fact that they already know who you are may help next time around.
Have More To Show The Label If They Are Interested
You should have your own plan for your artistic career. Building up a backlog of content is a brilliant thing to do.
Write as many songs as you can, and make little demos. They don’t need to be fancy, and you don’t need to show anyone, but if somebody is interested and asks, you can share your work. This shows a depth to your artistic career labels are looking for.
If you tour and play shows, that is a positive from a label’s point of view. Showing that you are booking your own shows and tours, and trying to secure live opportunities is a huge win for you.
Having an online presence is powerful. Labels are not just looking for content, they are also looking for engagement. If you have 500 fans that are constantly sharing and commenting, that means more than having thousands of fans that don’t care.
Dos & Don’ts For Record Label Submission
Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind with record label demo submission:
- Do your research. Email labels that excite you and are stylistically and culturally aligned.
- Don’t send emails to every single contact at the label. That is annoying.
- Do follow the label’s preferred demo submission policy. You can also emails contacts at the label, if you have them.
- Don’t send attachments, send links instead. Emails with attachments often land in the junk folder and don't get opened because recipients worry they might be infected with a virus.
- Do send a follow up email after seven to 10 days. Some of the best opportunities are on the other side of a solid follow up strategy.
- Don’t send them more than two follow up emails. That’s annoying.
- Do build relationships with anyone that shows interest. Keep them updated on your career.
- Do be concise, detailed, and friendly. Keep your emails short. Identify the mutual benefit as much as possible, and offer just enough detail to get the point across.
- Do have a solid image, brand, and plan for your music. You can learn to do it all without the help of a label.
- Don’t wait for someone else to do the work for you – start now! An informed musician can come up with a better plan than labels who are too busy managing many artistic careers.
Final Thoughts On Record Label Demo Submission
Submitting to record labels can be daunting and discouraging. I hope this guide equipped you with the information you need to succeed.
I have been through this process several times over, and I learn something every time. Getting good at pitching and releasing your music is important. Look at it as a creative process that you can get better at.
Remember, the worst-case scenario is that nobody gets back to you. If that happens, you can always try again – your life is no different than before.
Best-case scenario, somebody loves your music and wants to work with you or get to know you. This will happen if you keep at it.
Don’t give up!