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Tuesday
Dec132011

5 Tips on Getting a Label, Sponsor, or Booking Agent

1. Treat it Like a Job Application

I can’t stress this point enough. If you want to get the right sponsor, label, agent, etc., you have to treat the process like you would for a high-end job. You wouldn’t send a generic cover letter filled with typo’s and grammatical errors or an incomplete resume would you? It seems basic but nearly 70% of the submissions I receive lack some of the basics - at least 20% forgot to include the band’s name or a link to the website. If you want a someone to take you seriously, then you have to take yourself seriously enough to make sure the presentation is just right.

It’s often said “It isn’t what you know but who you know.” Just like job applicants who have a mutual contact or letter of recommendation have an advantage, artists that have spent their time networking and building their reputation will have much greater odds. Think of A&R reps as recruiters or the HR department. Put yourself in their mindset, ask someone else to look at your press kit before you hit send. Try not to send unsolicited demo’s (if it is a company you want to work with, introduce yourself and get to know them first).

2. Understand What Makes You Unique

I often write about honing your “elevator pitch.” Although many bands claim to be different, they don’t seem to have any way of proving it. Don’t ever say anything along the lines of “we are different than anything you’ve ever heard,” because it usually means that you sound like the same crap that the last band who claimed that. Find ways of expressing why you are the first or only act of your kind. Also, when describing your music, use other artists to help explain your sound even if or especially if it is in a new and interesting way (i.e, “Sounds like Dolly Parton covering Marilyn Manson”).

3. Use a Laser, not a Shotgun

Choose your prospects carefully. You always want to be wise about who you choose to work with because it does reflect your art (and their business). Spend more time focusing on a few targets and less time copying and pasting generic emails to everyone possible. Most people understand that sending your jazz trio’s demo to a record label that focuses on metal is a waste of time but they still are looking for sponsorships from companies that have nothing to do with their target audience. The more you can prove how working with you makes sense for the company, the more likely they will respond positively. You will be more effective if you spend more time researching the appropriate companies to work with than blasting everyone with a generic email.

4. Build Up Your Own Business

The best way to get the music industry’s attention on your band is to help up our business so much that they can’t help but notice the buzz about you. Labels aren’t interested in acts that can’t sell records…so if you want to get on their radar, you’ll have to sell some. Most booking agencies don’t like to take a risk on unestablished acts, they want to see a strong touring history. Besides, it will always behoove you to learn as much about the music industry as possible anyway, especially if you are hiring others to help you with your work. Building up your business is the best way to prove that you can provide a return on investment for a sponsor or label. Think of it this way: if you had some money to invest into a business, would you want to go with the unproven idea or the money-making one that has a history of success?

5. Leave Them Wanting More

When you first contact someone, your immediate goal isn’t to get signed or securing a sponsorship. It’s to develop a relationship, a series of communications where you can get to know the prospect more. Think of it like “courting” - you don’t want to ask for marriage on your first date. You want to leave some mystery so that they’ll be wanting more. If you want them to be more interested, don’t just talk about yourself. Ask questions, find out what they want. Get permission to contact them more and find creative ways to leave them thinking about you.

——-

Simon Tam is owner of Last Stop Booking, a full service agency that offers tour booking and music consulting services. Simon has appeared on stage at over 1,200 live events and has traveled North America presenting ideas about the music industry. For more information and to see Simon’s blog on music industry advice, please visit www.laststopbooking.com

Reader Comments (13)

This has nothing to do with what you wrote but I'm getting a big kick out of you being named Simon Tam.

December 7 | Registered Commentercole parzenn

I believe #4 is the most (if not only) relevant in this current climate for most artists.

That said, In my experience what attracts a label is different from what attracts an agent, or brand.

December 13 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

Hi Simon,

Just want to say thanks for sharing the info. As a songwriter and musician, its always valuable to hear the flip side's perspective if only to make sure we know how "not" to go about it. Even though I'm sure it's all been said before, they were 5 clear and concise points!

Thanks again!
Zain

December 13 | Unregistered CommenterZain Lodhia

To be fair, I was around first!

Actually, there was someone who recognized the name last week (I guess Firefly fans pay attention to that sort of thing). I was paying for something at cafe when the girl looks down at mt credit card and says "Have you ever heard of a show called Firefly...?" She extended her hand and saying "Nice to meet you Simon Tam. I've always wanted to meet you."

December 13 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Tam

@gaetano - I agree, understanding and building up the business is just as important as providing a great craft.

The interesting thing is that bands who are really goood at the business - booking, selling, promoting, etc. tend to find out that they generally don't need to spend the extra money on unessentials like a record label. Just hire out for the people who might be more effective - publicist, booking agent, etc. I tend to think of a label as a high interets loan with moderate support - support that could probably be acquired with the right manager.

December 13 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Tam

@Simon- Totally agreed. I think we're still in a time when a lot of bands are waiting for "Superman" to swoop down and make the majority of things happen. Whether The Man Of Steel be a label, agent, manager, lawyer etc.

I've seen (and experienced) success a multitude of ways in the past 6 years or so with different bands. Though in the end the only thing they all had in common was quality content (though that can be subjective by listener) patience, and an incredible work ethic.

When all of that was in place it made the rest of the work a walk in the park for said label, PR, booking or management team. The only thing is, the label (while many times hedging their bets with a number of other acts) shoulders a good amount of the upfront capital. Good (real) PR isn't cheap, and booking agents and managers are commission based...so the bulk of their attention and efforts will always go to the breadwinners.

All things to consider as artists make their way through the current landscape...

December 13 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

Great advice even if you're not looking for help from a label, sponsor or booking agent.

I DON'T TRUST ANYONE ESPECIALLY YOU EVERYONE WANTS TO BE FAMOUS BUT NO ONE WANTS TO DO ANY WORK ITS ALL ABOUT MARKETABILITY NOT MUSICIANSHIP SO AS SOON AS I GET MY NIKKI MANAJ BUTT IMPLANTS AND MY BIEBER HAIR AND MY ANGRY M AND M TATS YOU CAN FIND ME AT THE TOP OF THE CHARTS SINGING OUT OF TUNE ABOUT MY HORRIBLE LIFE SO SUCK ON THAT MERRY HOLIDAYS AND HAPPY NEW CALENDAR DAY WOOOO HOOOOO OH THE MAILMANS HERE WITH MY HAIR GOT TO GO TOOOTuLLLS and don't look up scottwarner365 on youtube

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterSCOTT WARNER

These are all valid points for today's aspiring ladder climbers. However, most of us who've been around the industry long enough understand that today's no-risk-to-the-label policy dictated by the major labels has proven to be a recipe for declining quality of the music itself.

The whole point of a record label and its promotions department used to be to administer the business side of what artists didn't have time, interest or talent to do for themselves. It was the job of artists to create mind blowing, spiritually enlightening, audience engaging songs. It was the industry's job to break legs at radio stations if bribes didn't work to get airplay. It was the promoter's job to do the same and get asses in every seat the venue could hold. One is arguably an extremely nasty profession whereas the other side was arguably heaven on earth for creative souls. Even if the fat cats stole all your money, at least you got to make great records, tour and entertain an extensive fan base.

The cream generally rose to the top when the top salaries in the industry were earned by songwriters. when radio was king and record companies hired the best and brightest A&R to scout the next great talent out there. Great A&R were often artists/musicians themselves with a keen ability to recognize talent. This is the age when Bob Dylan signed his first major label deal as a virtual unknown with more people hating his music than he had fans. He was signed because a few musicians and industry insiders "heard something" in him. And the rest as they say, is history. Imagine popular culture without Bob Dylan and imagine someone with his talent having even the same, remote chance today when the industry couldn't give a rat's behind about art and dare I say it...quality. As long as it gyrates a primal emotion (now seen as the common denominator of profits), anything goes today

Hence, why the "golden age" of music is now far behind us. There isn't the same attention given to the art itself anymore. The big studios are now out of business or stripped down to the bare bone basics without that family of professionals lending ears and hands, including session musicians that used to turn the sum of loose parts into cohesive magic.

Artists used to be driven mostly by the art itself and living their lives as art. So what happens when the holy grail of success is now an artist's ability to be a young Bill Graham or David Geffen? When an industry that never really cared about art in the first place and had great contempt for artists now says "You pathetic little wuss artists can take your pie in the sky ideas and stick em up your behind. YOU sell yourselves because we won't do it for you anymore. Sell yourselves like the attention whores you are, bribe and break legs to secure fans if you must, but don't come knocking on our door until you're already raking in the money." Today's labels are actually worse than banks. At least banks will lend money to start ups with good credit, skills/experience, and an intelligent business plan outlining what they're prepared to do for success.

The most obvious result of this new age of music is that sub standard offerings that historically would have never seen the light of day become today's hits and big money generators. The idea today that "different" is somehow better than "great" is no coincidence. Even the indie/alternative music niches use this most conveniently to discourage consumer interest in high standards that have always been a limited commodity. It's much easier to sell cool, ironic, ugly, pretty, second hand, Icelandic, or whatever. It's infinitely harder and more expensive to find and foster new talent creating music as great as anything we've heard in the past.

With all the music piracy, labels make a legitimate argument for how the traditional business model is unsustainable today. Regardless, this is the #1 dilemma of our times that needs to be resolved. The interest in quality has never been greater, which has now, ironically, become a new market ripe for tapping. Anticipation is making us wait.

The industry actually doesn't want you to think too long and hard about what giltters your attention. You shouldn't be bogged down with serious analysis - say comparing your grandparents' records to what's in your download folders. You shouldn't really be buying music for the sake of music, but rather, for every other reason BUT. It's the easiest recipe that gives you the illusion of being full. Kind of like filling up on white bread that lacks the fiber your body really needs.

You should be more concerned with the process that allowed you to obtain that file, the gadget that you put the file on, and how you share that file with friends. How does the song and artist promote YOU as a person? Does it make you appear cool to your friends to be the first to have the new thing? Or are you lagging behind your friends, not even understanding the obscure references to video games in the music videos you watch? Do you buy music with porno star looking people in the videos or geeky Portlandia types with beards and librarian glasses? And which are you exactly? "It's all about YOU" ( is what they are really selling you).

And if you want to be a star and have no talent, you just have to buy this and that to make it happen. As long as you can rig the outcome of a popularity contest in your favor, who cares if you have artistic talent to sing, act or play an instrument anyway? "People who don't like your music are just losers who are jealous of you, don't you know? Most of them are OLD people who don't understand you."

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the promotion of ageism has proven to be a convenient practice to market to young people who lack the wisdom to know when they're being duped. Toys and pretend are more prevalent in children, while tools and serious work are more common among adults. With these groups now effectively separated like strangers, both groups suffer from lack of give and take more common in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s when starry eyed ideas, talent and a hard work ethic were infinitely more important to success than a person's age and membership in a niche marketing group. I suppose we'd have to call Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits the Justin Beiber of the 60s. And yet, even the bubble gum of the 60s had a more adult "chew" in terms of content and maturity. Hermans Hermits were actual musicians...for a start...

Music used to be the daily bread we all broke together as a collective, spiritual consciousness. It wasn't a way to emphasize our unique narcissism as much as it was a way to understand ourselves and each other better. And before you jump up and say "Hey, music today is much better than yesteryear" I have to ask then, why all the interest in classic music and classic artists? If it's so much worse than today's music, it shouldn't be on anyone's radar who wasn't weaned on that period.

And why all the interest in covering great songs from the past if great songs are a dime a dozen today? This is clear evidence that music is a lot more than simple nostalgia about who we were in the car with when we first heard the song. Why the popular consensus I always hear and read that music is really, really BAD now? There is more access to gear and recording than ever before, as well as promoting ourselves in the most tasteless, shameful ways imaginable. So where is all the great music to go along with these "advances?"

Is it possible that less was always more? That limitations to success actually drive the truly creative to higher heights? I always hear "You just have to dig deeper. All the great music is out there online somewhere." Yeah, maybe. But it's also the perfect excuse that rationalizes why we don't hear any of it. Perhaps the last few decades of consumer indulgence has made better consumers out of people than creators? Perhaps art has always satisfied best when stomachs and minds were a little hungry and not so full?

Which leads me to the most obvious question: why is Lady Gaga gagging so many people while raking in such enormous profits? The only thing shocking most people is how bad the music is. Techno Pop generated with computer software. Wow wee, that's really raising the bar. You can watch porn for free online, so who would watch a Gaga video to see a little skin? BORING! Yeah...right. We're all supposed to believe she's the new Carole King or Chrissie Hynde. We're not that stupid yet...are we?

December 14 | Unregistered CommenterAmplefire

wow amplifire your right on the money there . interesting is i have a song called "les is more" a tribute to les paul i had about 40% wrote but on the news they said les had passed so i finished the song that night and posted it the next day. everything old is new again and we can't sell angry music to overweight overstimulated kids who are full physically and mentally maybe if we take all that tech away and give them a slinky they would be angry enough to buy my new angry music fingers crossed woooo hoooo scottwarner365

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterSCOTT WARNER

There´s a huge difference between being a ladder climber and simply trying to promote your project because you believe in it and deem it worthy of recognition. Let´s not try to mix up romanticism and objectivity. Nowadays musicians need some skills to emerge from the ever-growing flow of music who´s been pouring around from every side, since everybody can record his stuff, post it on Myspace, Bandcamp or whatever and get it out there. I think this post provides some insightful advice in relation to that.

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterRJ

Correct me if I'm wrong but if I can do number four myself then why do I need a label/booking artist? Am I missing something?

December 25 | Unregistered CommenterTerrence

Amplefire, I am Keeping the Faith. I never got stuck in my own era, I listen to absolutely everything i can get my ears on now, and I am discerning. But then, I am a musician and have been since I was a little kid.
Guess what, I've had a few stabs at the 'music business' over the years. Behind me lay a trail of failures. Because I simply did not know what to do to promote myself, who to go to, and so on, I had no business ability or contacts, years of gigging, failed to show A&R, demos binned, we've all been there.
But, now that's changed. The Industry now focuses on capturing and publishing music to sell as syncs to other media and are simply not interested in signing anything remotely needing development, anything challenging, anything outside the box. Stuff has the same production values, anodyne lyrics, wow, even the same tried and tested chord shapes.
But the good news is that there is a burgeoning alternative scene where people have realised that a nice long career in your niche, using what you've recorded as a promotional tool and getting out there and actually gigging is the way to go. Let us abandon the arrogant gatekeepers of our industry, let us empower ourselves at last.
Let GaGa and co, a fast disappearing phenomenon, get on with it. Everywhere I play, and I have been out playing, MY material, again for about 3 years, people shyly come up and tell me they've loved it.
People across all age groups, demographics and cultures are quietly getting on with Great music while the dinosaur 'record industry', aided by the greedy X Factor promoters have their last stab at fooling the public.
Music is democratising and at such a rate that the big companies and the Cowell's won't even see it disappearing until it's gone.
Remember, that while many young inexperienced people might just be 'wanting to be famous' and not realising there needs to be talent and hard work, all over the world other young people ARE honing their craft, new musicians are coming through, and old rockers, jazzers, punks, country stars and Indie stars are still out there if you look.
Me? I'm a woman, I am 61 and I'm singing, playing and writing better than ever before, I will play anywhere, to anyone who wants to listen and I am going to give most of my stuff away, I have a short time before I'm probably not going to be able to do it any more, but I am going for it at last secure in the knowledge that finally I can take control and get out there and do it I don't need the permission of any 'suits' who claim to have esoteric knowledge about what sells and I am having a total blast with it.

February 7 | Unregistered CommenterR Hill

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