How to get a record deal
For decades, artists have been sending demo tapes to record companies, hoping to get a record deal and thus to become famous. A long time ago those were actually tapes, as people were sending music cassettes. Since the 1990s, artists have been sending mostly CDs, and today’s it’s often either a CD or simply some YouTube or SoundCloud link for example. Some artists have been very creative, sending big boxes filled up with funny things or even gifts in order to get the attention of the A&R executive. But in the end you will have to face reality:
No A&R manager will ever listen to all of the demos that artists will be sending.
Major record companies get hundreds (if not thousands) of demos a week, and most of them are so bad that it doesn’t really make sense to listen to all of them. The chance for SETI to find alien life forms sending messages to Earth may be bigger than for an A&R manager to find the next big superstar among all of those demos.
IF you send a demo or if you ever get a chance to play a demo to an A&R, then you have to play YOUR VERY BEST SONG, and this song will have to convince the guy within 20 SECONDS that you’re worth taking a closer look at.
Never send more than three songs, and always make sure your best song is on the first position. If your best song has an intro that’s longer than 10 seconds then cut it, remix it, or forget about sending it. But maybe you should just stop dreaming and face reality, by accepting that the entire demo strategy never works. The following Wikipedia citation makes it quite clear:
A&R executives rely mostly on the word of mouth of trusted associates, critics and business contacts, rather than on unsolicited demo tapes. They also tend to favor the bands that play in the same city as the record label’s offices.
If you really want a record deal, then there will be only very few valid options:
- You personally know an A&R executive or one of his talent scouts.
- You personally know someone else in the business with direct connections to an A&R executive.
- You personally know an artist who already has a record deal.
- You play a gig and an A&R executive or one of his talent scouts will be present.
- You play a gig and some artist who’s already got a deal will really like your music.
- You get a positive review in a big music magazine.
- Your song or video goes viral and / or you get tons of clicks.
- You take part in some awkward talent show. Please don’t.
Word of mouth is the very most important way to get a record deal.
An A&R manager will not only want to hear what you sound like, he also wants to know if you’re working hard, if you’re reliable, or if you’re an asshole for example. That’s the kind information that cannot be found in the bio you’re sending with your demo, and he will want to know who you are before signing you and wasting some of his limited budget.
So if you want to get in touch with an A&R or a talent scout, then try to make a direct connection via music professionals.
Ask friends, studio owners, or other musicians you’re in touch with. The world is small and there are only six degrees of separation:
Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 and popularized by a 1990 play written by John Guare. – Wikipedia
Do not try to call the A&R people in the office or even at home. You will only be wasting their time and if they remember you, then probably not in a positive way.
The chances that there will be A&R execs or talent scouts on a gig you’re playing are quite small, unless you’re playing in a larger city.
Try to get gigs in cities where labels have their offices and see if you get a chance to open for a well-known artist, or try to get a gig at some popular festival. But don’t calculate your chances too high if it’s your plan to get a deal this way. If you’re lucky, then you’ll be noticed by a musician who’s already got a deal, this guy may talk to you after the gig (always get in touch with the audience after a gig, as this is a great way to meet interesting people), and if you’re very lucky then this guy will even remember you and tell his A&R about you.
Getting a positive review in a magazine is always nice, as you may add this to your portfolio.
Chances to get a record deal this way are small however, unless reviewers will really go crazy about your record, which means that it will have to be exceptionally good.
This is great news however, as producing an exceptionally great album will be our strategy in the following chapters.
In the days of the internet, A&R execs are also checking out YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, and other social platforms, hoping to find new artists. They will mostly check out videos that go viral on Facebook and / or Twitter, and they will want to sign artists that get lots of clicks on YouTube. This may look like a great option and a fair way for great artists to get a deal, but unfortunately it isn’t. First, the videos that go viral and that get most clicks are usually not the ones created by the best artists.
Videos that go viral are often the ones that attract the masses, and the masses are generally attracted by all kinds of low quality crap.
A high number of clicks is no guarantee that the musician featured in the video will ever become something like a great artist. The second big problem is that all A&R divisions now seem to be after those amateur artists getting most clicks, which forces them into a situation of competition that’s usually called a bidding war. Each record company tries to quickly sign this new amateur artist to take advantage of the current popularity, and the competition between the labels forces them to offer highly favorable deals and to pay way too much for the artist. Good for the artist – at least for a short time – but not good for the industry as such. The last option you have is to take part in a TV talent show. We will discuss talent shows soon, so I won’t go into the details here. For now just follow my recommendation and don’t do it. Don’t even think of it.