Labels are deluged with music from hopeful producers on a daily basis. We can't promise to get your tracks signed, but we CAN help you avoid some schoolboy errors...
As a label owner, who has many friends who also own labels, I've spent many a whisky-soaked night talking about the ins and outs of running a label, and demos are a subject that has often cropped up.
The problem is that, with so many people making music and sending out links to their latest 'killer trax', A&R people experience extreme demo fatigue. Wading through 100 emails a day is a genuinely dispiriting experience: on many occasions I've been going through my inbox, skipping through tracks which can only have been sent in error, only to realise I've actually been weeping for the last 10 minutes.
So with that in mind, here are a few pointers on how to send your music and improve your chances of getting signed...
1. Do your homework
Only send your music to a label that actually releases that style of music. This should be obvious: there's little point in sending your future D&B anthem to a label that specialises in deep house. I can guarantee you, that will only excite the chagrin of the bemused recipient. Listen to some of the label's back catalogue on Spotify, YouTube or Beatport to get a feel for what they're about, and ask yourself honestly: would your music make a worthy addition to the label roster?
2. Send demos in the right format
Many imprints have a CD-only policy when it comes to submitting demos, as the online deluge makes it far too easy to send music in a scattergun fashion. The rationale here is that you would have to be committed to go to the effort of sending a CD, and will have hopefully done your homework. So find out what the demo policy of the label is and follow it! Sending emails with MP3 attachments darkens moods and clogs up inboxes; a private link is by far the most preferable way of sharing your music online. Speaking of which…
3. Keep it private
If you're using Soundcloud to submit tracks, please don't share the track to 9,678 people. This will only give rise to snorts of derision from A&R people who dislike the idea of a track being all over the internet before they sign it. Using this approach is demo suicide: for the love of the little Baby Jesus, make the link private!
4. Introduce yourself
Send a short bio with a decent photo and include any press clippings, reviews and anything that shows you in a positive light. Don't waffle on too much about how you were listening to Larry Levan as a foetus and wrote your first opera at 18 months old; just a flavour of what you and the music are about will suffice. Oh, and don't forget to include your full contact details (and write them on the CD itself, if you're sending one) - you'd be amazed how many people forget to do this!
5. Keep at it
Every artist you admire will, in all likelihood, at one point have sent out a demo only to be told "no thanks", or most likely never heard anything back at all. Often, when a label turns you down, it's simply because the music doesn't fit the output of that label, rather than because the music isn't any good. So don't be despondent: move on to the next one and keep going.
6. Keep it brief
Only send out three or four of your best tracks. Attention spans are short with A&R types. Ask people whose opinion you value which are your best tracks and get a general consensus of opinion. Never send tracks that are incomplete, it's insulting, and likewise don't ramble on about them being unmastered or 'needing a touch-up in the mix'. Image is also key: the more you can appear as a fully formed artist, the more seriously A&R peeps will take you.
7. Don't forget the personal touch
Introducing yourself at a gig or other function can work very well if you are charming and don't bore the backside off them. This is always going to be a judgment call as some people really don't go for being hassled when they are 'out of the office', whereas others are happy to chat away merrily. Get it right and there's a good chance you may get your music heard; shamble up like a witless buffoon and there's every chance you won't. Try, if at all possible, not to use the word 'bro'. It rarely helps.
8. Be patient
With smaller imprints, it's often very much a labour of love for the owner and they will probably be doing most of the work themselves, including press, distribution, A&R and everything else. So it can take a little time to get back to you. There's certainly nothing wrong in following up on your demo, but don't pester. Smaller labels are generally more approachable and will often work with you in developing your music before you release it with them. In general, if you don't hear anything back, try again - just don't nag.
9. Follow-up on any potential interest
Keep in touch with any label that gets back to you, as most won't. If someone extends you the rare courtesy of saying something such as, "It's good, but it's not right for us", they may see you as potentially promising for the future.
10. Get the tracks right first!
Demo quality is key, no doubt about it. In many cases, you are pitching the final product, as small labels don't have the budget to re-record. So be sure that you're completely happy with the mixing and production before you send your creation out into the wild. Remember that competition is fiercer than ever and your music, production and image should be bringing something new to the table in order to get any attention.
Following these 10 tips won't guarantee you'll be a globetrotting superstar this time next week, but it should at least help you avoid falling at the first hurdle. And if you are sending out your tunes to labels any time soon, let us be the first to wish you the very best of luck!
Words: Chris Lyth