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« Buzz: Creative Merchandising at Warped Tour | Main | Musician's Arsenal: Killer Apps, Tools & Sites - Limelight »
Tuesday
Sep062011

So, You Want a Label Contract?

 “I wanna get signed!”

How many bands or musicians say that? Perhaps not as many as in past years. These days, an independent musician has access to tools that allow them to self promote through a giant web of online resources and then sell their music through the same. Certainly some musicians have no desire to sign to a label contract – their musical style is one that may not be saleable to mainstream audiences, or they prefer the self-control of handling their musical career independently. Some major artists were label signed, and having already gained a large audience share, they feel their own team can now market and sell to those same fans, without the controlling relationship certain labels may offer.

As one who works in the music industry, I would never tell a musician that either choice: sign to label, or remain DIY, is the right or wrong one. It is really a personal choice. I do try to educate musicians on the pros and cons of each side, encourage them to see signing to a label as a “tool,” not an ultimate “goal,” and then ask what they want to pursue.

Over the past few months, I have met with representatives from major labels (Sony, Avex, EMI), mid-size sub- labels (labels which are run as though they are independent, at one time were independent, but are actually owned by a major label), and also mid-size independent labels. I wanted to find out, what do labels look for in an artist/band to sign?

So, what do label reps have to say when it comes to considering a band/musician? Here are some of their informational nuggets:

1. We don’t sign “newly formed” bands.

Labels do not want to sign a band that just formed last week, last month, or even six months ago. Labels want to know that the band has been together long enough to have developed a good working relationship. The members can handle internal problems on their own. They have learned each others’ quirks and know how to write music together. Time together gives the label some intangible evidence that the band isn’t going to break up right after signing and receiving a possible advance.

Check a band’s bio: you will usually see that the band was together for 5-7 years prior to being signed. The few times a band is signed after only 1-2 years together, most

times the members were “together” longer than that as they were school or university class mates.

2. We don’t sign undeveloped bands.

Ah, the innocence of a newly formed band! “We just need to get signed and then we can start making great music!” or “When we get signed, then we can play some cool gigs/live shows.”

If you do not already have great (“greatness” evaluation is subjective, of course) music written, you won’t get signed. Labels no longer have a huge development budget, and cannot afford to sign the garage band they heard practicing last Saturday, with the idea that they can be developed after signing. To get signed, you need to have at least 10 well-written original songs, already in your band’s catalog. You need to have gotten your “live performance chops” from performing at every bar, festival, event, and house party that will let you play. The label hasn’t the time, desire, or money to sign you and then wait for you to learn.

3. We don’t sign unknown bands.

What counts as “known” depends a bit on size of the label. A major label may want to see that your band can draw at least 200 people to your shows, on a regular basis. They may want to see that you have self-sold 10,000 units in the past 18 months. Perhaps they want to see that you were able to get enough fan votes to get yourself on a major “indie artist” stage at SXSW. Possibly they want to see that your streaming music sites are getting 500 plays a week.

A sub-label or independent label may feel that you are “known” if you can regularly draw 40 people to your shows, self-sell 500 units in a year, you got good write-ups the past 3 years running for your excellent performances at the state fair, and you average 15 new fans each week on your reverbnation profile.

Again, this is also where length of time together is crucial. Drawing 40 people to your first two shows as a new band may be simple. Drawing in those 40-200 ticket buyers to your shows when you play once a month, over 2 years, is more difficult. Can you do it? If not, you aren’t going to get signed.

4. (a) We don’t sign people/bands we meet at parties.

One executive stated, “When I’m at a social function, I’m at a social function. Don’t come up to me and tell me you’re in a band and try to give me your demo. I might take it to be polite, but your band’s name will be noted, and the demo will go in the trash can. Submit your demo the right way.”

Readers, please assure me that you know the “right way!” If not, it can be addressed in another article. After all, there is some flexibility and a few ways to do it the “right way.”

4. (b) We don’t sign based on oral “favors.”

Ah, it must have been great to live in the 1960s-1985! Pretty girl with a certain skill – recording contract!! Sorry, no more – there is no unlimited budget for signing and maintaining artists. Labels have to sign based on music quality or the perceived saleability of that music, not on “favors.”

Actually, I was rather surprised that this was even mentioned, but girls still try to gain meetings, demo reviews, and signings based on sexual favors. The two reps who brought this topic up said that 85% of the “executives” who accept such a favor are not even in a position to make a signing choice. Of the ones who might accept the offer, and do have the power, they won’t sign you based on their own professional reputation - and you have also just shown them how little you actually believe in your own music as being a product worth signing. Also, in general, reps from one company are likely friends with reps of another. So, the EMI guy you met, will tell a Beggars Banquet guy, who will tell a Universal rep, who will tell…You get the idea. Basically, it won’t get you signed, and it will make you AND the rest of your band members lose any respect they might have had for you going forward.

Lessons gleaned?

Certainly, this one article can not give you every bit of advice on what a label does or doesn’t want. But one thing is clear, getting signed to almost any size or type of label is not going to happen magically. While there may be, upon occasion, the story of a band/musician who was signed after a label rep saw them one time playing to a crowd of 5, in front of the bus station, this situation is so rare, that to base your rock-and-roll dreams on the same hope of a “lucky” signing, is asking for disappointment.

Just like any other goal, the path to a label contract, consists of persistence, practice, professionalism, creative development, and hard work.

***

Inter Idoru is Apryl Peredo. She resides in Tokyo Japan, organizing music events, promoting artists and music, and providing artist development and management services.

 

Reader Comments (17)

perfect, thanks for the post.. one thing is missing; labels also don't sign teenagers just because their dads/friends/teachers say they are a star... ;)

September 6 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

Great article and it certainly resonates with me as I have signed two recording contracts (so far) in my time as a musician and they were hard to find!

I've just created a comparison chart for "song pitching" websites, which I think are potentially very useful tools to reach industry people who are currently (and actively) seeking new music.

You can view the comparison chart here: http://songpitching.wordpress.com/

September 6 | Registered CommenterPhillip Scott

Really awesome article! The sooner musicians/bands realize all this the sooner they can realize you got to work your ass off to get anywhere in life. Really great points. Thanks for the article!

September 6 | Unregistered CommenterALP

O.kay, good article. BUT don't forget Japanese businessman NEVER take their own risk. What if you talk to Japanese A&R guys, you should know what's behind. My friends (2 bands, 1 singer) who signed, contract agreement with Label but had been messed up also nothing couldn't released.

September 6 | Unregistered Commentertsuyoshi

Regarding point number 3) - if it goes like that, then it would be a good reason to stay independent!

September 6 | Unregistered CommenterFabrizio

Julia; guess I need to get my next article online - one dealing with the dilemma of the free guest list. There is mention that just cause your friends will come see you, only when they can get in free, doesn't mean you're that good!

Phillip; will check out your chart. Thank you for reading my post.

September 6 | Registered CommenterApryl Peredo

thanks, great stuff. bands starting out in the biz, should understand why they are in the biz. as you note, record companies want to build on momentum, not create the momentum from scratch. even at the indy level. if you want to make great music and make a living at it, you can without a record company or their publicity machine. and you can plow your own money back into your career by hiring your own publicists, indy radio promotion people, and the like. at your own deals, not the inflated deals that record companies will BE CHARGING YOU BACK FOR against your pittance of a royalty rate. Check out http://themusebox.net/about-us -- a cohort from my daze at Rykodisc is the VP of Marketing, allowing bands to take advantage of high powered marketing. also, i know more than a few indy publicists and the like. here is one, who is doing jon anderson (of YES) publicity and really kicking butt: http://glassonyonpublicity.wordpress.com/ as noted on the website, they do publicity for the rest of us.

September 6 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Greenberg

Check out my YouTube page... www.Youtube.com/OfficialJTime

September 6 | Unregistered CommenterJTime

Great article! I was actually wanting to know the 'right ways' of submitting to a label that you mentioned above. With the digital age of today is it still good to send in packages or are labels just looking for links to pro websites, EPKs, etc. If there are other articles already talking about this can you please let me know. Thanks!

September 6 | Registered CommenterBen Harris

Thanks for your informative article, Apryl!

However, I disagree with "4. (b) We don’t sign based on oral favors."

Labels don't always sign based on music quality or the perceived saleability of an artist's music. Pretty girls and boys with very limited musical skills still sign contracts just because they are pretty! It is pathetic, but it still happens.

Sakis Gouzonis
www.SakisGouzonis.com

September 7 | Unregistered CommenterSakis Gouzonis

Great article, thanks Apryl. I have seen so many bands hoping for the elusive record deal when success could be on their doorstep. As you say, success is possible given the tools that are available. I would add however that the magic ingredient which may be missing is finding the right audience. My new book, The Fan Formula, helps musicians figure out what they want, who they are and where their audience is. It is possible to make a living away from the ‘mainstream’.

Check out http://www.thefanformula.com/

Eliza Michaels is a music career success coach and the author of The Fan Formula - how to attract and keep a large loyal fan base so you can get your music out there in a big way

Sakis; this is in regards to the executives actually saying "we do NOT sign a band because a girl offers us a blowjob or sex!" Apparently some ladies think that will still get them signed!

As for signing, just based on "the pretty" - that is a different situation. A "band" must actually work hard, and most solo performers as well.

However, labels will often "make" a group - they chose the required number boys or girls based only on looks and then teach them to sing/dance/etc. The members of this "group" are strangers prior to being put together in the made pop package. In that case - yes - its just based on "the pretty."

These girls or boys are usually spotted early by same "make an idol group/make a new n'sync", and are under the age of 22. No talent needed. Just the willingness to do what you are told. Sing others songs, dance others steps.

But for a band of rockers - all over the age of 24? That want to continue writing their own music?

"Pretty" won't get them signed.

September 7 | Registered CommenterApryl Peredo

Excellent information! However, I am tired of hearing the same thing! Take a good look at the artist out today.. Need I say more.... Labels, AnR's are full of B.S.! Majority of them don't belong in the position their in .yet , knowing someone or the skin color gets them in.. Who have them the authority to decide who's hot and who's not! $hits got to change!
Check me out: Top Los Angeles hip-hop Artist on Reverbnation.com PheNom

September 10 | Unregistered CommenterPheNom

Great article!

I have a teen daughter who is an upcoming Artist, Songwriter and Musician. She has just completed her first CD and she is ready to start on the next. She is ready to take her game to the next level.

Reading this article and the posted comments was an eye opener. Check her out at:
http://www.myppk.com/PPKs/indexC.aspx?PPK=9291

September 14 | Unregistered CommenterJim

But it´s a pitty that labels DON´T sign artists who have not sold 10000 units!!! Because the best music sleeps Underground!! Not only RAP!!! Every Genre!!! Look, I´m a musician and i know a lot of artists, who make damn good music, but they have to work, kids, wife, and so on!!! Where should these people take the time to promote themselves????? There is NO possibility for that!!! LABELS should search for Music not for sold units!!! The Truth :))))!!!!

September 16 | Unregistered CommenterCROP

CROP: If you use the variety on online sources such as - your website, reverbnation, CD Baby, facebook, twitter, podcasts, music blogs, etc., etc....to introduce your music - not just locally - but nationally - globally - you can sell a lot of units!

Also, the 10,000 is if your goal is MAJOR label. In truth, in most cases, you are better off with a reputable, mid-size independent label. They use a larger portion of their budget for promotion, and offer better percentages to their artists. They also usually give their artists more freedom in their musical style.

September 19 | Unregistered CommenterApryl Peredo

Hey Apryl,
Great insights! Musicians who want this a career have to be entrepreneurs. We have to be the marketing department, the finance department, our own PR agent (for a while), our own booking agent and manager.

As hard as it is - there are no "days off" - it's far better for me than being told to change everything by someone who doesn't care about my music.

If I succeed or fail, it's all up to me. And I love that!


Rock Hard! Rock Sexy!
† The Deacon †
www.MamasDirtyLilSecret.com

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