How Should You Approach A Record Label Or Manager?

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 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 artist 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.

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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Ian

Ian Clifford is the owner of Illicit Media, a music management and consulting company. He is also the owner of Make It In Music, an online site that is the ultimate resource for aspiring musicians offering advice, tips, and insight on all the skills needed by modern artists to succeed in the rapidly changing music industry.

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Danielle - July 14, 2016 Reply

Hello Ian ,
This was a very helpful article since i’m very new to this field. ( Although singing had been a passion for me since i was very young. i only sang at family gatherings and church choirs and never took my voice seriously until a relative of mine suggested i try to make it big). And i was wondering if i could contact you personally(i know its a lot to ask.) but i really need someone to guide me through this as im kinda clueless. thanks a lot.

dante - September 26, 2016 Reply

Hi Ian,
This article was quite helpful for me.
And was hoping and can help me with some doubts that I have in my mind. I am 17 and I’m from INDIA . The reason I say India is because I sing English songs and honestly there is hardly any value of it in India as much as I know. And all the people who have listened my songs have praised me .BUT NOW THE PROBLEM HOW CAN I CONTACT A FOREIGN RECORD LABEL while sitting in INDIA . WELL I know you must be hearing this a lot but I don’t want my singing left behind as a hobby but I want it to follow it as my passion . Now all I can hope is that you can help me in this matter.THANK YOU for your time.

    Ian - September 26, 2016 Reply

    Hi Dante

    Pretty much exactly your question is answered in the comments to this post.

    You need to create a fanbase for what you do and work towards attracting the attention of a record label down the line.

    You can do this from India and concentrate entirely online to find your audience.

    Ian

Zoulo - June 17, 2017 Reply

Hi, Ian.

I’m an independent rapper from Malaysia, 17 years old, currently producing my own stuff, working part time as a music engineer at a local production company and i really need your opinion. I rap in english (local english songs aren’t getting too much support) and the position of local hiphop industry isn’t at a good condition for a rapper to make money on music for living. I’m so confused on who i’m goin to contact to. Is it the a&r of the local music label or the foreign label the best? Music is my passion since i was kid and i had started this when i was 14 and i’m not going to stop what i’m doing and dropping it as a hobby. I really appreciate your help.

    Ian - June 20, 2017 Reply

    Hi Zoulo

    I’d focus on building a fanbase – locally and internationally focused on a sub-genre of hip hop that fits what you do – and then work up from there.

    Don’t worry about getting in front of local industry. Get in front of fans first and go from there.

    I just updated this post today and it should help – http://www.makeitinmusic.com/how-to-build-your-fanbase/

    Ian

Rave.N - October 27, 2017 Reply

Hey lan,

Plz tell me,can an international person or a student make out in record labels or as a singer songwriter
If they are so good in music that they’ll leave university to pursue a career in music
Will there be any immigrational(nationality issues) for signing up to a record label.
But we can change our citizenship after 5 years right? So can I sign up to a record label and tell the gov that I have a job and get work permit then citizenship?

Sorry for taking your time and thank you.

    Admin - November 3, 2017 Reply

    Hi

    It truly doesn’t matter where you are n the world or your nationality these days. You can reach the world through the internet. It all comes down to hard work and great music.

    Read this new post – http://www.makeitinmusic.com/musician-website/

    It will tell you exactly what you need to do – regardless of where you are in the world.

    Ian

Jax - October 31, 2017 Reply

Hello ian,my name’s jax,im 19 years,i’m from nigeria and i’m a rapper,i’ve been doing music for over 12 years now gat my fan base,recorded my music but hv been trynna get a record label to sign me bt all to no avail,i have so many likes on fb,instagram and twitter,gat abt gat alot of crowd,love what u told the others and hw u got them to find the right path,i jst think u’ll be able to use similar tactics to so help me out bt in a different way like directing me to someone please i.e like a record label, an artiste,or anyone you know thanks for your time sir

    Admin - November 3, 2017 Reply

    Hi Jax

    If you aren’t attracting the interest of a label you need to further develop your fanbase and be fully DIY until you do. You can probably build a full time career yourself if you have that level of interest from fans. Look for our new ‘Band Website’series being released in the next few days and especially focus on the first part that lays out the path to building your own career.

    Good luck.

    Ian

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