Our regular feature for beginners. This month, Harold Heath looks at what to do - and what not to do - when submitting your demo to record labels
Whatever anyone might tell you, you don't have to be a producer if you're a DJ - and you don't have to be a DJ if you're a producer. But it's true to say that most DJs these days are also trying their to get their very own bangers out into the world. If you're one of them, then when you finally come blinking out into the sunlight and attempt to get your tunes signed, there are a few simple steps you can take to help ensure that your precious productions get a sympathetic hearing.
Obviously there's quite a bit of competition, and it sometimes can seem that everyone you meet is a producer or starting up a label. The upside of that is that if your music is good, if you approach labels professionally and if you're tenacious, there's no reason why you can't get your stuff heard, signed and released. It's not like there's any shortage of labels out there!
WHAT TO SEND
The very first thing to do is make sure that the label you're approaching actually releases the kind of music you make. This should go without saying, but if you're running a minimal techno label there's nothing more annoying than finding your inbox clogged up with clownstep demos. No matter how good your track is, if it's not the kind of music that a label releases, sending it to them is a pointless process for everyone involved. Speaking of which, don't send unfinished work to labels: you may love that loop you're working on but there is literally no point at all in sending anything unfinished.
Next, find out what format the label prefer demos to be submitted in. Do they want you to send mp3 files? If so, what kbps do they prefer? Or do they want you to submit via Soundcloud, Dropbox or carrier pigeon? Find out, and fit in with whatever format they prefer. Labels get sent an unbelievable amount of music, so make the process of listening to your tracks as painless for them as possible.
Don't forget to correctly label your submission, which includes making sure the metadata is correct if you're sending digital files. The amount of people who spend weeks, perhaps even months or years, crafting their musical odyssey, only to then send it off with no contact details is astounding. At least now that people send music around electronically a label might be able to work out who sent what - but don't make a label hunt through several demos all called 'master V3' trying to work that out. In fact, don't send a file called 'master V3' at all. Make sure you tag your files with your artist name and track title.
Don't send an entire double album's worth of music, at least not until you've built up some kind of relationship with a label. Remember, they may be getting sent hundreds of demos every day, so will really struggle to listen to 12 tracks from one artist, and your beautiful productions may not get the hearing they deserve. Limit what you submit to two or three of your best tracks, and always lead with the very strongest - you need to make an impact.
WHAT TO SAY
Don't begin your communications with "please like and share my page" - there's a time and a place for aggressive self-promotion, and this isn't it. Basic politeness and professional courtesy are prized assets in this industry, so try to be the kind of person you'd actually like to work with.
Sell yourself - don't send in your music accompanied by a message saying, "It's not really very good, but I'd appreciate your feedback." Faux humbleness has no place in the world of electronic music. Either your music is good enough to be out there, in which case say so, or it isn't, in which case get yourself back to the studio and make something better!
Equally though, don't try and make out that you're bigger or more successful than you actually are. Long lists of DJs you've 'appeared with' (translation: been booked to play the same festival - them on the main stage, you collecting glasses in the bar) and clubs you've played at tend to be a little dull after reading a few hundred of them. At this stage, a little info about yourself and what's unique about your music will suffice.
Chatting to labels and A&Rs is easier now that we're all on Twitter and Facebook, and while stalking label contacts online is never advisable, you can at least approach them and begin to build a relationship. This is perhaps the element most neglected by electronic composers and producers working by themselves in their home studios. Making brilliant music is obviously essential to success, but so is building relationships in the larger music community.
Of course, it should all be about the music, and in an ideal world you'd have a team of interns and agents who could run around taking care of all the networking and promotion for you. But you haven't. So essentially, you need to put the same level of care and attention into the process of getting your music heard (and hopefully signed) that you put into producing it. Get this aspect right, and if your music is good enough then success, while not guaranteed, is certainly a lot more likely!
Words: Harold Heath Pic: G Sakketos/Creative Commons