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

{ 123 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 ………..

Reply

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

Reply

Ian June 16, 2014 at 8:35 pm

George – mailing you now….

Reply

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

Reply

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. :-)

Reply

Ian July 4, 2014 at 11:51 am

Thanks Kimberly

Reply

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

Reply

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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