How should you approach a record label or manager?

by Ian on March 24, 2009

What’s the best way to get the attention of a music industry executive when sending in a demo? 

Just picture their usual response – a cursory glance at a web page or a CD tossed in the bin without being listened to. I can’t begin to tell you how many thousands of demos I’ve not listened to – and I’m confident that I have never missed a great demo in doing so. 

If you’ve sent us a demo or a MySpace link in the last few months, you may well be reading this post. That’s because we have pointed all people approaching us in our usual job as artists managers to this blog as a shorthand way of telling them some of the basic, but often hidden, information that we think all aspiring artists need to know. If you haven’t already, you should sign up for and download our free guide in the sidebar on the right. It’s really very good and will speed your journey to fame and fortune immeasurably! No, really it will. 

It was only when I started writing the blog posts for here that I realised that one of the things that we get asked all the time is whether it’s OK to send us a demo, how should we send it in, who to, is a web link OK, and all possible variations on that theme. 

So, not only does that question need answering, but unique amongst Internet Music Marketing folk, I can answer it from the perspective of the submitter and the receiver of the demo! 

Is it OK to send a demo? Well, yes of course, and you should be pitching your demos to as many people as possible. But, the failing that we most often see is that what we are sent just isn’t good enough. The two main flaws are that, firstly, it simply isn’t good enough in terms of songwriting and performance. The recording quality shouldn’t matter too much if the material is good enough, but everyone in this industry does suffer from not hearing past the production to a degree, even if they deny it. So whilst it’s not a killer, try to make the production good too. 

Svengali How should you approach a record label or manager?Secondly, it’s always too soon. Again, almost without exception, we get sent demos or MySpace links to material and a band that haven’t been playing together long, have recorded a hasty demo and don’t really know themselves yet what they are aiming for. The main symptoms include the aforementioned poor quality songs, appalling photographs (see our MySpace guide for what to avoid!) and a general lack of focus. A band that have been playing together for less than a year or so are unlikely to have worked out a world beating line-up, a catalogue of quality songs, a blistering live show and some sense of where they fit in the pantheon of rock and pop. These are the things you need to succeed and it’s what we and all of our ilk are looking for. 

So, assuming you’ve got that stuff straight, how should you approach a manager, an A&R man, an investor (just as likely these days), or anyone who can raise your career a notch or two?

Well the most important thing is to do your research and make sure that the person you’re sending something to will receive it and have some kind of affiliation to your genre. That means, in short, there is no point sending your Rap demo to a Metal manager. Obvious, but so rarely followed. 

I, and my kind, don’t want to see an email that doesn’t address me by name and that I know has been sent to 100 or so people at once. I want to see that you know who I am and what I do, who my clients are etc. If I can tell that you have bothered to find out why we might be able to help you (you are similar to a band we rep, or something), then I am immediately more likely to listen. This is going to hold true for all people that you approach. So, use a name to address the mail or letter, and start off with a reference to what makes us interesting to you – not ‘we like your roster ‘ but something like  ‘we loved what you did with Nine MM Slayer X and how you broke them through MTV’ ….’and we think you might be able to use similar tactics to help us out’. It not only shows me that you’ve done your homework but also that you’re thinking about how to win the game. 

Next, send me something that tells me all I need to know. And, as I have already had to defend on the blog, I need to know what you look like as well as how you sound. I’m not going to dismiss you out of hand if you look like the back end of a bus, but I need to know so that I can balance all the factors. Please, please, please have photographs that aren’t laughable. 

Let us hear the best song first – ask your mates what that is and tell them to be honest. And then ask a few people in your age and peer group that you don’t know – test it at random on people in the mall to get an honest feel. 

Although I want to know how many friends and plays you have on MySpace, I also want to know where you play, how often and what kind of crowd you get. Virtual numbers can be manipulated, which I’m all for, but real world numbers need to be real. 

Something that people don’t often think about, seeing as most now email a link, is when to send the email. Over a holiday or at the weekend is just dumb. My inbox and everyone like me, is so full on Monday morning that I reckon you have halved your odds before you start. For me, make it Tuesday early afternoon. I’ve just got to grips with the week and I’m predisposed to hearing something new. 

I’d also recommend reaching out when there is good news to report. You’ve got a self financed single coming out, or you’ve made it to the last three of a local Battle of the Bands contest. These days, I’ll also be impressed if you have a track being used on a commercial or in a TV show, or if your weekly podcast is getting 5000 listeners. 

At the very least, I’ll be hoping that you’ve contacted me when you have three or more shows lined up within a fortnight that you know are accessible for me. That way, I have a real chance of coming to see you before I forget about you. Don’t ever send someone an email if you are a live band when you don’t have shows coming up – that’s just stupid. 

Lastly, and this is the killer, can you get someone who knows your target person to pitch it for you? This is the harsh reality. The reason that I am fairly sure I never missed a diamond in a demo pile is that 99.99% of the things that hit are picked up by a recommendation. Managers, promoters and A&R men are to some extent filters of what is good and bad and one of them can filter out acts that will never make it so that only the half decent ones even get in front of people who have decision making power. 

You need to get your stuff in front of one of these people at some point, so you need to cultivate relationships with people who can help you do that – all of the above applies to getting even those people to listen and help – it’s like a vicious circle in reverse – in fact it’s a vicious funnel! 

But, when someone they trust recommends that the people in power listen to your demo and that person’s view has some weight, then you are getting somewhere. Whose opinions count? – venue owners, small-time promoters, local indie record shop owners, music store owners, bloggers, anyone at the front end of the music business. 

Go and find them, polish your act and make your pitch!

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Comments

{ 132 comments… read them below or add one }

Yasir May 28, 2014 at 9:53 am

Hey Ian ,I m an 18 year old singer, can I get a chance to sing with any record labels ,I just want a chance ………..

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Ian June 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Yasir

You need to read all the advice here. It is virtually impossible to get in front of a record company and show you can sing by just trying to get a meeting or similar. You need to create a plan to record tracks and build some fans who love what you’re doing and go from there.

Ian

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Em May 31, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Hi Ian–

Thanks for the informative piece. I’m sending out letters to record companies around the country for a musician for whom I’m doing PR. I have a link to a single, and I’m contacting labels who live in locales where the musician will stop on his national tour. Do you have any recommendations on how I phrase the cover letter?

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Ian June 2, 2014 at 11:13 am

Hi Em

I’m guessing that these are smaller indie labels given that you refer to them as being in locales that the tour will visit (most major labels would be based in NY, LA or Nashville), so the main advice I would give is to get on the phone and speak to someone there to find out who would be the person at that label to send some material to. Try to get a number and email for them and send out the package a couple of weeks ahead of the tour. If the label release different genres you need to make sure you’re sending to the person who works your genre.

Put simply, if you have had a 20 second conversation with the person who should be receiving your package they are WAY more likely to listen to what you send them. I’d guess that 95% of emails or packages sent do not get listened to.

That call needs to be simple and quick and have something in it for the person you’re talking to – an element of intrigue that they might miss out without being over hypey – ‘Hi, I have an artist who’s just won the [home state] Battle of the Bands and been on the Ellen Show last week (or some such) playing in your town next week and would like to find out who at the label I can send some music to’ – Make the reference current and urgent.

Follow up a few days before the local show and ask if they want to be put on the guest list.

You might find that a posted package is unnecessary – a link to SoundCloud where they can hear music (or Bandcamp or similar) and to a website for info plus YouTube channel and Facebook may well tell them enough to pique their interest.

I get very few physical packages now and prefer a simple list of links by email. As we have mentioned – NEVER mail mp3′s as it just annoys people.

Hope that is of some help.

Ian

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George June 4, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Hey Ian,

This was exactly the type of information I was looking for. It’s funny that it was on Page 8 in google, I guess it shows you the best stuff is always sitting at the bottom (hint hint).

The main problem I’ve been having is getting the gate-keepers to give me a listen. Following your logic, somehow an even lesser gate keeper would have to recommend me to a gate-keeper and then I can work my way up from there, but so far I’ve encountered a phenomenon where there’s a disconnect between even the lowest of the gate-keepers and total outsiders such as myself and all the people that have dug my music.

I have done a variety of creative things to get their attention including creating a worldwide viral phenomenon earlier this year, however in all cases I was disregarded before getting an open minded listen.

I believe I am undiscovered gold, and I’m not the only one that believes it, everyone I show my work to agrees. I get that you probably hear that all the time, and it’s never true, well at some point it’s true, and with me it’s true.

George is not my real name obviously (why would I put my real information in the comment of an article). I’ve got gold, if you want it, hit up my email address. If you don’t think I’m worth the 5 minutes… cool, go read some Bieber tweets or something with that 3000 seconds.

Obviously Different,
George

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Ian June 16, 2014 at 8:35 pm

George – mailing you now….

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BayLee June 23, 2014 at 7:03 am

Hello Ian
Well you obviously already know my name is BayLee but still I feel like I need to formally introduce myself. Hi I am BayLee and I guess you could say I’m an aspiring artist. I’ve read through many articles but yours has probably helped the most. I’ve been contacting record labels and some potential managers but they so far they have all started asking for money straight off the back. Then any of the bigger-named (I hope that makes since) record labels seem to be uninterested. I’ve tried many ways to get them to notice me. Everything I seem to do has gone unnoticed by the record labels. I was thinking maybe doing a couple of YouTube videos might be good but then again I don’t want to be like all of the other potential professional singers out there, who are still going unnoticed though some clearly have talent. Do you by chance have any ideas of how I should try and get my music out there? I have been writing lyrics and singing for as long as I can remember. I would like to consider myself a good singer and the people who have heard me can agree. I even made it into Madrigals as a freshman, which is the highest choir to get into at my high school and it takes dedicated effort to get into. I realize this might sound as if I’m bragging and maybe I am a little bit. I just want to get my music out there and I’d love to opportunity to sing and perform for people. I want to aspire people who are in the same boat as me. I want to give people hope and happiness. I just want to sing really. I am greatly sorry about how long this is. It might’ve been better if I emailed all this too you. Is it possible if you could email me? I know you probably talk to a million people a day, but I have many questions about the industry and I would really appreciate answers to some of them. If you would prefer me to ask the questions on here, I could also do that. Thank you for taking the time to read all of this.
BayLee

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Ian June 23, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Hi Baylee.

My advice is already here in this comments on this post and elsewhere on the site.

As a singer (or any type of artist) you need to make the noise that will bring managers and labels to you. That means building a fanbase and putting music out there for people to find. YouTube is a great place to do that – as is your won site, Facebook, Twitter and SoundCloud.

If you’re having problems getting music recorded we have a very detailed piece on working with songwriters and getting producers to collaborate with you coming up soon.

In short, make some great music and put it in front of people who will care and there are many, many ways to do that.

Ian

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Kimberly July 1, 2014 at 8:54 pm

I am the owner of Lets Talk Entertainment for Upcoming Stars. I believe this post is very valuable to those seeking a career in the music industry. The point you made about “name recognition” in an email really touched home for me, because I receive unaddressed emails all of the time. Great post!! Thanks. :-)

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Ian July 4, 2014 at 11:51 am

Thanks Kimberly

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Calvin July 4, 2014 at 7:13 am

Hey Ian, I’m a singer and 17 years old. I’ve tried to contact a&r and labels but I never get any responses. I also saw where you said that following a&r on Twitter or connecting with their followers is a good idea. What do you think I should say to get them to help me get connected with those a&r representatives. Could you also listen to a few of my songs? Thanks. http://www.tatemusicgroup.com/epk/?id=20505

Reply

Ian July 4, 2014 at 11:54 am

Hi Calvin

I think you need to build a fanbase and online profile before you reach out to the A&R folks – so that when they come and check out your music they are already aware that people are supporting you.

It’s a long road and takes a lot of hard work but lots of ideas on how to go about it are on the site.

Good luck.

Ian

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Hahna July 13, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Hello Ian,

Yesterday, I had a pretty depression phone call with a “kindof” secretary of the LA studio skylerlexx
Supposedly working with Rihanna, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande Bieber …
Her name was Ashley Camden, I don’t know if you may know that studio, they say everybody know each other in the music industry.

She painted a pretty depressing picture of the music industry saying that nowdays, the industry is not what it used to be, souncloud / youtube / FB / Myspace advertisement simply would not work, because you could just buy off your followers / comments … etc.

She offered a rate of 5000 / song.
She said if you don’t know anybody in the music industry, if you dont have 5000 $ to lay on a track, then forget it, saying that labels dont accept “unsollicited material”, you need to know people or to have daddy on board with one of them.

Wow, she was also kind of a b*** but I guess thats just the way it is in LA.

So I just wanted to have your opinion on this.

Thanks !

Reply

Ian July 14, 2014 at 9:50 am

Hi Hahna

What you’ve been told by the woman at the studio is, frankly, total crap.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Going to a pro studio and laying down $5,000 to record a track is a TOTAL waste of time…unless you have a world beating track and some way to market it in place. There is a small chance that doing that could bring you to the attention of someone who could give you a big break.

BUT, equally if you have a track that good, you simply don’t need to spend that money to get it produced and then get it to people that matter. It can be produced for 1/100th of that cost to basically the same standard on a Mac in a bedroom. You just need to find someone who has the chops.

Then, a great track can be promoted easier today than ever online and if it’s truly great it will be noticed.

The fact that idiots can and do buy pointless followers and plays for SoundCloud and Facebook etc does not mean that using them properly doesn’t work. In fact, EVERYONE in the music business does look at those numbers to see if an artist has real support. They can also tell when a profile has fake bought followers!

The bottom line is that a studio that wants to take $5000 for you to cut a track is caring about its profit, not your career. If they had a hit track that they would provide, they wouldn’t give it to you for $5000 – they’d hit up some signed artist they know.

So, if you don’t have great material of your own yet, they’ll give you a cast off from an in-house producer, and if you do have the material yourself, you don’t need their expensive polish!

What you do need is to build a real fanbase online and connections at blogs and in the industry so that when you have a great track it can be exposed to people who care and people who can make a difference to your career.

Ian

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Andy July 22, 2014 at 1:32 am

Hey Ian,

Like ‘George’ a few comments up, I’ve being doing the groundwork (and then some) with my band The Connectors, for over three years now, and the only real problem seems to get our music in the hands of those who can TRULY make a difference.
Sure, you could debate that we’re just not good enough, but I’m gonna go ahead and say (although anyone would about their stuff I suppose) that we are, and many have agreed with us on that. We’ve recorded quite a bit of material, and released some of it ourselves online, and have played hundreds of shows, in front of crowds of all sizes.
We’ve put a music video out, and had very positive reviews for both the music and the live show, and yet somehow that industry link-up seems to shy away in the distance, and we’re still lurking in virtual obscurity. I’m not talking the big time you know, but some proper exposure (festival slots, radio play that isn’t online) and a little spending money wouldn’t go amiss.
Anyway.
I’ll admit I had some problems researching what your specific field of expertise is (i did try to do my homework, I swear), but all I can say is that if you’re willing to give us the time of day, and take 5 minutes to take a look and a listen, you won’t be disappointed. If then you can take the next step and give us even the tiniest push in the right direction, then we might really have something going, and I’d be wildly grateful.

I’m not gonna try and be edgy and insult you now, as sometimes the industry seems to prefer, and actually I look forward to hear from you very soon..

All the best, and thanks for the very helpful thread. (If more people in the biz were as open, things would be much easier, and I probably would’t be trying to get a career break by commenting on a random blog I only found today)

Sincerely
Andy

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Ian July 23, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Hi Andy

I’m afraid it’s the same story as I’ve posted her before.

Although , having listened to your material, I disagree with you and think that you’re not ready to attract the attention of a label that will invest in you – I could easily be wrong about that as your genre isn’t my thing and I am definitely not your target market.

BUT, that said, you simply haven’t done enough to show that you have people who love what you do. You need to build online followings at all the relevant sites – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud and have your own site that shows you are active and building some heat.

Your Facebook profile shows some activity and a number of followers that indicates a band yet to gain any traction.

Basically, you need more to happen and then that will attract the attention. If you can’t do that it means that your music is, for some reason or another, not connecting with a potential fanbase. In which case you’d need to look at that first.

Only if people of the right demographic embrace your music fervently can you expect to attract the attention of a label.

I’m trying not to sound negative. The point isn’t to believe whether I’m right but to trust the reactions you get from strangers. If it’s there, then you need to build that into a following and our advice here on the site tells you how to do that.

Good luck.

As to our expertise – some information is here – http://www.makeitinmusic.com/about/ and here – http://illicitdigital.com

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Andy July 24, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Ok, thanks – I appreciate the criticism.
What I do find though, that without the necessary funding to be able to move BIG, so to speak, there’s only so much that we can do as a band to be able to build that kind of attention.
I’m talking about advertising in the press, PR campaigns, etc – all things that cost a fortune (for them to be of any substantial level).. Other ways are of course available, but the internet is so saturated that it’s really hard to make a splash with limited means. I’m sure you know all that.
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to look into the band, and, well – if you did happen to know anyone that could be interested, maybe keep us in mind? ;)

All the best
Andy

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Ian July 24, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Hi Andy

I don’t agree. You don’t need advertising (other than small scale on Facebook and YouTube – the price of a pint every day is enough) and you certainly don’t need PR campaigns.

You can build a very engaged and expanding fanbase online simply by dedicating time and effort. That is way more effective at the stage you are at than trying to get magazines, blogs/sites or radio to push you. That will come when your avid fanbase have driven people’s attention to you.

Honestly – that is how it is.

Don’t push your music to people until it is undeniable. Pull them towards it.

Ian

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Barby Collins July 28, 2014 at 4:51 am

Hello Ian,
My name is Barby Collins I am a Singer/songwriter from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
I have recently been to Nashville twice and recorded a 5 song EP. The title track of the EP is called “We’re Gonna Love” it is a wedding song. As there are not many wedding songs out there I believe this song stands a chance in making it out there in the BIG WORLD. As of now I have nothing on you tube. I am getting ready to shoot a music video for this song, which after that I will put the video on you tube as my first thing on you tube as a solo artist. I would like to send it to some record companies in Nashville as well as here in Canada. Any advice on how to prepare a package for the record companies?

Barby

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Ian August 1, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Hi Barby

Really, in this situation it’s going to be about the music doing the talking. The key thing is to not email people directly with a large mp3 file. I would suggest you either send a link to a SoundCloud stream (private if you wish and also trackable if you use bit.ly for the link to see who clicks) so that you don’t block up people’s inbox.

Failing that, at least zip up your package and send it by wetransfer or yousendit/hightail.

I cannot over emphasise how important it is to not annoy the recipient with huge files!

Also in there, on this occasion I would consider sending the lyrics because of the nature of the song. A press release and well written bio and some photos would round it out.

My preference would be to build a simple one page site and put the stream, the lyrics and all the photo and PR stuff on there and send that link. You could then get some good data from anyone who visits that page.

All that said – that isn’t your challenge here – assuming that the track is good enough to get a response, your issue is getting it to people who will bother to listen. That’s why having a growing online presence matters – you can leverage it to attract attention at this moment. Otherwise you are going to be sending mails blind.

Do your best to get introductions and make sure that the people you are targeting are the right people for the material.

Ian

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Barby Collins August 1, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Thank you Ian!

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Carrie Harding August 1, 2014 at 11:44 am

Hi Ian

I found this blog a few years ago, at the time I had plenty of written material but absolutely no way of recording them… I have done gigs in bars mixing original material with really good covers. Given that nobody in these venues knew who I was, they stopped and listened and loved what I was doing.. Never have I bored anyone, in fact, quite the opposite.

Since last year, I have written recorded and produced at least two albums worth of music.. I have trial tested this music over and over and it has genuinely been appraised as the most enchanting and different music.. I get names like massive attack and Kate bush/bjork thrown in… It has genuinely been said to be incredible… I absolutely have full confidence in it… I got to record all this (not all of it is finished of course) but it is so wonderful in it’s original form it wouldn’t do justice to play it to an audience acoustically, given that some of it is electronic.. It has huge all the way potential and it’s All deliciously different.. I have been offered a write up of it by hotpress when it is done. That’s a good thing. Anyone who hears it wants involvement.

Main issues are… I work with one other, very talented guy who is a musician and has a home studio but his time is precious these days.. He needs money coming in.. I don’t have an online fan base firstly because this music has not been put out yet except for one track written with another, which is very pink Floyd like.. I can give you the link to it.. It’s very difficult to get musicians in who are committed to the process an to learn this music as it is… I have been a dark horse and I do know and there’s plenty of arrogance out there so although I’ve set up pages I’m not gettin the support even from those I know.. I have also been approached by music people who can help but a lot of the time they don’t do anything to help and ask you to raise money to record.. Recording has cost me nothing so far.. I’m not deluded and I know if the right people heard this music, they would be all over it. I want a deal at this stage because I know with that, you will be given good musicians who are paid for their time and all I will have to do is keep creating (which I can do at a rapid rate).

I would be eternally grateful if I can send you on my material so you can see why I find this so difficult.. I am presently working towards getting the EP finished so I can book a venue to do my launch (which is going to be spectacular) I will have it filmed and I will continue to build an online presence and keep pushing it out… I know you say you need an online presence but I’ve done my homework and I’ve seen plenty of awful music being promoted…

I would really appreciate it if you do listen to a few samples Of what I have done and I can send you photos too that you tell me what you feel I should do, who I should get in touch with..

Do you think you can do this for me? I can email it to you today or by Tuesday afternoon if this suits better?

Thanks Ian

Carrie

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Ian August 1, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Carrie

Send me the track (tracks) and photos and anything else relevant to ian@makeitinmusic.com. Please DO NOT send me large files in email. Zip it up and send by wetransfer or yousendit.

You should have been and be building an online profile and presence. I agree that 99% of the music that people make and build a presence for is awful, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work for the 1% who have great material. More and more artists are now discovered online by just doing this and if your material is as good as you say then you have probably missed a great opportunity to get discovered and then signed.

I really look forward to hearing your material.

Ian

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