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How To Get A Record Deal in 2022 (Or At Least A Lot Closer To One)

How To Get A Record Deal

It’s an old cliché but one that doesn’t want to die. Band forms, writes songs, plays gig, gets “discovered”, gets signed, releases album, gets famous. Overnight success. We all know that isn’t how it works, but it sure as hell seems that way when some new artist emerges and storms onto the scene. They seem to have everything that record labels are looking for – the sound, the swagger, the self confidence. And so it seems they are just destined to get a record deal.

But that, my friends is not how the world works. The emergence of a new artists from the primordial pool of mediocrity into the sparkling sea of signed artists is a long swim through shark-infested waters. You want the world to take notice, you’ve got to be willing to put in the hard yards.

But that being said, it is possible – of course it’s possible –  to get the gatekeepers to take notice and haul you up onto the next level. You’ve got to have something worth investing in, a bit of talent, perseverance and a solid work ethic. Do all or most of the steps listed below and you just might beat the statistics and get signed to a record label.

1. What Record Labels Want: New, Exciting, Unique

Put yourself in the shoes of someone in the music business. They probably started out like you. A musician or someone who loved being surrounded by artists. They tried their hand at making music but at some point or another realised they weren’t cut out for it. Weren’t talented enough. Or needed more security and a job. So they decided to immerse themselves in music rather than create it themselves.

But they still want the fame and recognition. Of course they do. Everyone craves attention and importance. They put their head down and worked their way into the music business and landed their own record deal. A job that most would trade theirs for in the blink of an eye.

They jet around the world from concert to festival to showcase and back, seeing new, unknown artists play day in day out. They know the scene inside out – their niche anyway.

So how do you impress someone at a record label who is immersed in great music?

Give them something they don’t know.

You want to get that golden ticket? You want that record company to invest in you and your music? Give them something they can’t refuse.

You need to be a cut above the rest. New, exciting, unique.

Quit worrying about what others are doing. What are you doing to stand out? Are you pouring your soul into your music? Are you the next step in the evolution of your genre?

We can spot frauds and fakers a mile out. Be yourself. Be authentic. Be bold. Take music where no one has taken it before. You get the idea.

You’re reading this now because you already have a set written. Your album might be finished, it might even be recorded, mixed and mastered already.

Don’t change things up now. Just be honest with yourself. Are you holding yourself back? Trying to fit in with what you think people, fans, peers expect of you? Or can you open that valve a little further and bring forth some kind of monster that will be your momentum that pushes the boulder up the hill, and keeps on pushing when you get knocked back 99% of the time.

To get signed to a record label, you have to stand out as someone that they can’t pass up on.

They’re actually sick of mediocrity, you know. So give them something that excites them and tickles their ego. They can be the one that discovered you. Make them feel special by being exceptional yourself.

That’s the first and most important step.

2. Submit Music Too Good To Be Ignored

So you’ve got new, exciting and unique music. Your band is exceptional. You have put in the hard work honing your tracks, getting those transitions between parts smoothed out, all the while intriguing the listener to stick around for more.

Each instrument compliments the other, it’s a world heritage contender, every song a masterpiece.

You’ve got to get it pumping on the stereo. Like that old Supergrass song. From 1999. Oops, I feel old.

Make sure your performance, recording, mix and mastering is top notch. You have to be the real deal.

You have to have nailed it in the recording studio to get a record deal. Gone are the days that you could slip the old cassette to the label guy at a gig and land a three album deal. No sir, you’ve got to invest. Invest your time in your craft, your instrument, and your money in your album production.

You need a studio and a recording engineer who understands your vision, your path, your destination. You need to perform at the highest level in the studio, not only nailing your parts with perfection but pouring your soul into them with raw emotion. Everyone can perfect something if they stick at it long enough. You want to be exceptional.

Once recorded, you need those tracks fixed up. No matter how tight your drummer is, no matter how slick your guitarist, no matter how precise your singer parts his or her lips while vocalising, avoiding any smacking and sucking and spitting. You need those tracks edited so that only the best of the best parts get to meet the mixer.

And your mixing engineer is maybe the most important person in the entire process. You can, to some extent “fix it in the mix”, but you haven’t heard the term “fix it in the master” have you? It is the single most influential stage of the entire music production process, including recording, artwork, marketing and splatter/speckled vinyl production.

What emerges from the mixing stage is the main focus of the current stage of your career as a musician. Don’t skimp on this.

Music production costs cash. And it can get steep very quickly. But if you’re serious about getting signed to a record label, you need to invest in yourself before you can convince someone to invest in you.

Resist the urge to get a “mate” to master the album. Even if he does have rad speakers ‘n’ stuff. Even if he’s cheap. Or free. Send your album to a professional and get it professionally mastered.

Now, once you’ve got your killer product, you can start selling it…

3. Grow Your Fanbase Organically

There’s no point being exceptional in your bedroom. You probably left your bedroom before becoming exceptional anyway.

A record deal is a business investment. A label will only give you money if they think you will earn it back for them tenfold.

Sure, they care about your music, your talent, your image. And even if they don’t know if they can sell you, they will try to find a way if your are intriguing enough.

But give them your own customer base to build on and they will see you have a product to sell and buyers to buy it.

You’re probably at it already. Playing gigs – in your hometown, a tour here and there, load up the car and off you go. Keep going. The more people have the chance to see you live, the more potential fans attach themselves to your upward trajectory.

But you might be struggling to stand out amongst the thousands of gig requests raining into the inboxes of venue bookers around the country.

Here’s how to give yourself a massive leg-up.

Organise Gigs For Better-Known Bands

Every summer, wherever you are in the world, bands flock to their respective meccas – the festivals that have booked them a slot and a chance to showcase themselves in front of thousands of rabid fans.

Every spring, bands begin this trek, slowly but surely making their way along the curated currents of the music scene towards the festival they’ve been booked for. International acts fly in from all over well in advance and play gigs up and down the country – gigs that are hard to come by, even for a band that has been given a lucrative festival slot.

Get these bands gigs in your home town and you will not only be able to support them, but level-up your own project. When you share the stage with bands that are important enough to be booked at a festival, you automatically join their ranks and will from then on be regarded as equals, or very close to it.

All I did was write to this band and tell them how I loved their music and if they were ever back in my area, I’d be glad to help them out with a gig. We ended up sharing the stage together and have stayed in touch long after.

You will make friends with these artists. Keep in touch between meet-ups and the next time you are in their area, they will pay you back with a gig of their own.

The more active you become within your local and regional music scene, the more contacts and credibility you gain for your band. Keep it up over several years and you will be well on your way to gaining not only recognition amongst your peers as a serious group, but fans will come flocking to your gigs.

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BOOKING CONTACTS FOR CONCERT VENUES WORLDWIDE

Over 150 venue and booking contacts in one spreadsheet.

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4. Get Out And Network

Once you have built yourself a decent following and a profile as a serious musician, it is time to step up your game and start meeting the people who could lift you up another level and offer you a record deal.

You should try to get amongst industry types as much as possible. Head out to gigs, festivals, events, meetups and conferences in your vicinity and just start talking to people.

Ask them about their projects, their job, their role in the music business, their band. Get them talking. Show genuine interest in every person you meet and they will reciprocate by turning their attention to you.

Then you tell them about your band, your latest recording session, album or tour. Mention any bands you shared the stage with – name-drop, but do it subtly. Be authentic, humble, but don’t be afraid to hide your achievements. You’ve put so much work into your band’s trajectory, share it with the world!

Showcases/Conferences in Europe

Reeperbahn Festival (Hamburg, Germany)

Waves (Vienna, Austria)

The Great Escape (Brighton, UK)

Brighton Music Conference (Brighton, UK)

BBC Introducing Live (London, UK)

AmericanaFest (London, UK)

Output (Belfast, UK)

Yorkshire Music Forum (Leeds, UK)

FastForward (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

by:Larm (Oslo, Norway)

m4music (Zürich, Switzerland)

Showcases/Conferences in the US

SXSW (Austin, Texas)

Winter Music Conference (Miami Beach, Florida)

MUSEXPO (Hollywood, California)

ASCAP Experience (LA, California)

LAUNCH Music Conference & Festival (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

Music Biz Conference (Nashville, Tennessee)

Canadian Music Week (Toronto, Canada)

Make Music New York (New York City, New York)

NXNE (Toronto, Canada)

CD Baby DIY Musician Conference (Austin, Texas)

AmericanaFest (Nashville, Tennessee)

Mondo NYC (New York City, New York)

A3C Music Festival & Conference (Atlanta, Georgia)

5. Research The Labels For Your Genre

The following steps can be completed from the comfort of your own home. Heck, you don’t even have to get out of bed. That being said, I would never recommend ticking off these ones while ignoring those above. You want to make it in the real world, you gotta get out into the real world and bust your proverbial.

That being said, we live in a digital world and the internet is connecting us like never before so get online and start hustling too.

Find labels that are likely to give you a record deal.

There is no point going out and applying to every single record label you find and blanketing the industry. Going about it in a generalised with a copy/paste email text won’t save you time, it will only waste your time. And the time of those sifting your email straight from their inbox into the trash can.

Find out which record labels fit your band. Take a couple of weeks to research a record company with bands of your ilk on their roster.

Find a label with bands that fit the following profile:

The same or similar genre to your band.

This one is a no brainer. An indie/folk label isn’t going to want to sign a metal band. A post-rock label won’t really care for reggae bands. There are some exceptions, but generally, the smaller labels have specialised into a few niche genres closely related to each other.

Look at your own music collection. What labels are they on? The bands you’re playing gigs or touring with. Who are they signed to?

The same or similar fan base / profile as your band.

You don’t have a manager but are asking Warner for a record deal? Fuhggettaboutit. Don’t badger the woman at the reception at Sony/BMG.

You want to move up a level but you’re not going to get the elevator to the top floor in one go.

Recently I realised about 50% of my record collection from the past 5 years are signed to Sargent House. Now that’s not necessarily attainable from the get-go, but finding out which labels these bands were signed to before they moved up a notch is a good strategy.

Do some research into bands who have already taken a few steps upwards and you will find suitable record labels to apply to in their first few records.

Start Local

We all want to break into the US/European/UK market ASAP. We’re worth it, we promise. But jumping the gun isn’t sustainable and will probably fizzle out quicker than we can release another album. Start with a record label in your home country, even your home city.

Use the momentum you have gathered playing gigs locally and within your local music scene and find a label that can see the hard work you have put in. They will support you all the more if they’re just down the road or the next city over.

You can always cross the pond once you have a solid fan base and profile at home. But having to get on a plane to play a showcase in their local scene every time they book you with their contacts isn’t necessarily going to work out long term. That’s an expense that will eat up any revenue you might be making for a label real quick.

FREE RESOURCE: LABEL CONTACTS
label contacts
Click on the image to get a spreadsheet with over 300 label contacts sent straight to your inbox.

6. Make Sure The Record Label Is Currently Looking for Artists

Forget about it. All labels are always looking for new artists to sign. And all labels are currently not accepting submissions.

Of course they are. Aren’t.

They’re in the business to sell music and so music must always be forthcoming.

But they don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Rachel, Naomi and Sue) filling up their inbox with submissions, keeping from discovering the diamonds in the rough that only they have an eye for. They busy, man.

That being said, if you can find a way in, and have honestly and to the best of your ability completed all the steps above – hit them with everything you’ve got. You may just be the artist they were looking to sign.

The most successful people on this earth will always tell you – don’t ask for permission. You can give it to yourself.

Go and apply to every label you want to be signed to, your band is suited to and you have the contact details to submit your pitch to. There is nothing to stop you and the worst that can happen is that they won’t respond.

So just remember, every label is currently looking for artists and no label is. Make them make an exception.

7. Find the Right Person To Apply To

That being said, there is a right way and a wrong way to apply to a record label that is accepting submissions [or not accepting submissions. Or both].

The Wrong Way

TO: info@creationrecords.com
SUBJECT: Please sign my band to your label.

The Right Way

TO: a.mcgee@creationrecords.com
SUBJECT: Please sign my band to your label.

(I hope that’s not Alan McGee’s real email address. If it is Alan, let me know and I’ll take it down.)

You know what I mean. Go straight to the gatekeeper, not the gatekeeper who controls the gate to the gatekeeper.

You probably don’t want to start with Alan McGee either, he’ll probably come to you if he thinks you’re worth it.

If you can research and find (or better yet mingle at a conference with) the person at your chosen label who will be most interested in signing your band, you will be a lot closer to your deal than if you just send out an email to the general inquires address.

With social media these days, people love flaunting the fact that they have the perfect job at the perfect record company signing the perfect bands and having their perfect albums go platinum. Look them up. Follow them. Find out where they live. Camp on their lawn. Actually, no, don’t do that.

I once got a very lucrative support gig once because I saw I was in the same Facebook group as the drummer of a well known band about to play in my city. A booker friend of mine mentioned in passing that they didn’t have a support for the gig a few nights later. I said we’d be happy to play and he said he’d get back to me. He ended up turning me down later that night as someone else had got the slot already. Little did he know that I had already contacted the drummer who had already confirmed we were playing. We ended up the first of two supports that night and rocked the house.

Get online and do some digging. Find out who works where and what role they have. Don’t go stalking, just gather some information. And when you chance upon an email, send them your pitch.

Find Music Label Reps Online

Example: I just logged onto Linkedin.com and searched for Fluttery Records, a label I know would suit my own band.

record-deal-reserach-LinkedIn1
See all 3 employees on LinkedIn. Click.
record-deal-research-LinkedIn2
Turns out the label manager is Taner *****. OK!

Plug that into Facebook, and it turns out we have a mutual friend! Now I don’t think I’ll go and befriend him straight away as I have no history or innocent reason to. So I might get in touch with my mutual friend first and see if he can slip me a personal email and give the man a heads up before I contact him. Having him become aware of my band this way is far less intrusive than DMing someone with no prior contact.

This took me a whole 5 minutes. I went from a generalised email approach which could be swatted into oblivion at the click of a mouse (into the folder marked “Later”) to a 2nd degree contact who will set me up with a direct email address.

Do this with 20 or so of your chosen labels and you could be in business, my friend!

8. Submit An Application That Is Heads Above The Rest

Wait! Don’t click send yet!

You’re not quite ready to land that holy grail of a record deal. You’ve got an Exceptional Band, with an Exceptional Fan Base, with Exceptional Connections, you’ve done Exceptional Research and have found the Exceptional Contact at Exceptional Record Labels.

Let’s make an Exceptional Submission.

You want to be taken seriously. You want all your ducks in a row and you want them on display for all to see. You want to come across as a professional. Creative, but professional.

So create an email submission that stands out from the rest.

What do you think will work better to convince your Exceptional Professional at your Holy Grail of a Record Label to delve into your back catalog and see if you’re worth a record deal?

THIS?

Record deal Email Submission

OR THIS?

record-deal-email-template
I whipped this up an half an hour.

There are a myriad of free tools out there with which you can craft insanely attractive emails that will get your recipients snorting into their café lattes at the other end, so shocked will they be at your poise and business acumen.

You act like them! Like, professionals! But you’re just an unsigned band!

Maybe not for long, folks. Maybe not for long…

All  you need to to is turn your submission, your record deal application into a one page pitch that a savvy silicon valley venture capitalist might be proud of.

It doesn’t take much to impress. Just present the information about your band in a way that is captivating and interesting and you still stand out above the rest.

Just build a visual email with a free tool like Mailerlite and include the following information along with a nice introduction note.

Band Name
Image
Subtitle: Application
Text
Album Cover

Link
Link
Link
Website
Image
Contact details
Quote

That’s it. I guarantee, you will get 10x the responses than if you just send an old plain text email.

And how do you make such a fancy document?

Click here for a free email template like the one above.

9. There Is No Overnight Success – Success Is Hard Work

Do these 8 points seem like a lot of work just for a little exposure for your band? A bit too much for someone who has already put in months and months of work into that album that is ready to go?

You’ve hardly started, mate! Success is hard work, no one got discovered by strumming the guitar in their bedroom and (pretty much) no one was approached after their first, fifth or 20th gig and signed to a major label.

You’ve got to put in the hard yards. I can’t promise you that you’ll get signed to a record label by diligently working through the steps above. But if you don’t try, I can promise you’ll fail.

So watchya waitin’ for tiger? 😉

About The Author

Nick Braren is an audio engineer and musician with over 15 years experience in the studio, on stage, back stage and front of house. He is the owner and operator of Upaya Sound, guitarist and vocalist of Vandemonian, father of 2 and husband of 1. When he’s not in the studio or in the band room he’s either travelling in his van or at the beach – or both.

Mixing Engineer

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