So you’ve laid down some killer tracks and you’re ready to hit the big time. But how do you get from jamming in your bedroom to signing a record deal? The music industry has undergone seismic shifts in the last couple of decades, but one thing remains unchanged: you’ve got to get your music heard by the right people.
Gone are the days when a demo tape sent through the post could land you a spot on “Top of the Pops.” In today’s digital landscape, aspiring musicians have a plethora of platforms and strategies at their disposal. Yet, the ultimate goal remains the same: to get your music in front of influential ears at record labels.
Whether you’re an acoustic songwriter, an indie band, or an EDM producer, our comprehensive guide has got you covered. We’ll take you on a journey from the old-school methods that shaped the legends, to the digital avenues that are breaking new artists right now. We’ll also delve into case studies, creative strategies, and help you assess whether you’re ready to make the leap into the professional sphere.
Let’s dive into the ultimate guide to submitting your music to record labels.
Part 1: Are You Ready to Approach Record Labels?
Do You Have a Fan Base?
So you’ve got a few tracks up your sleeve, but does anyone besides your mum know they exist? Building a fan base isn’t just for ego; it’s a critical marker that record labels use to gauge your market potential. Your fans are your first customers, your grassroots marketers, and your biggest cheerleaders. So, start local, think social, and go digital to cultivate a community around your music.
Quality Over Quantity
You might be churning out tracks like there’s no tomorrow, but is your music actually good? And we’re not just talking about catchy hooks; we mean professionally produced, well-mastered tracks that can stand up to radio play. If you’re not there yet, it might be worth holding off on that record label email.
Management and Representation
It’s a question as old as the industry itself: do you need a manager to get a record deal? While some artists have struck gold going solo, having a professional on your side can help you navigate the tricky terrain of contracts, negotiations, and industry networking. If you’re struggling to get your emails read, it might be time to consider professional representation.
Chasing a record deal isn’t just a passion project; it’s a financial commitment. From producing demo tracks to networking at industry events, the costs can add up. And let’s not forget the possible travel expenses if you’re invited for label meetings or auditions. Are you financially prepared for the journey?
Part 2: How Musicians Used to Submit Music to Labels
Before the digital revolution transformed the music industry, artists had their own set of challenges and opportunities to capture the attention of record labels. Let’s take a nostalgic trip down memory lane and explore the tried-and-true methods that musicians of yesteryears employed. While some of these methods may seem outdated, they offer timeless lessons still relevant in today’s fast-paced, digital-centric world.
Demo Tapes and CDs
Ah, the humble demo tape—once the golden ticket to stardom. In a time before SoundCloud and Spotify, musicians poured their hearts into crafting the perfect tape or CD. The look, the liner notes, and, of course, the music—it all had to be spot on. Getting your demo into the right hands could catapult you from obscurity to the charts.
Cold-Calling and Networking
Before sliding into DMs became a thing, artists had to hustle the old-fashioned way. Think hitting the pavement, knocking on doors, and making cold calls to studios and record labels. And don’t forget the power of a good old business card. Networking was and still is the lifeblood of the industry.
Let’s take it back to when the radio was king. Securing airtime was akin to striking gold; it was one of the most effective ways to get your music heard by the masses and, more importantly, by industry insiders. Local radio stations were often the first step towards national recognition.
In the era before social media and streaming platforms took centre stage, live performance was the heartbeat of an artist’s career. Venues from local pubs to music festivals were the stomping grounds where musicians could connect directly with fans and, importantly, catch the eyes and ears of industry professionals.
Though times have changed, the magnetic pull of a live performance has not. Even in today’s digital age, A&R scouts continue to frequent live shows, and many artists find their defining breakthrough moments on stage. The spotlight may have expanded to include digital spaces, but the stage remains a critical platform for artists aiming to capture the attention of record labels.
Part 3: How to Get Noticed in The Digital Era
While the old-fashioned methods still have their place, submitting music to record labels has changed considerably. Today, it’s about increasing your visibility online and gaining followers in order to be seen… and heard.
Welcome to the age of tweets, likes, and viral moments. Social media isn’t just for memes; it’s a potent tool for getting your music heard. Platforms like X (Twitter), Instagram, and SoundCloud are the new battlegrounds for artists. What’s your tone? Are you engaging or just broadcasting? Building a following here isn’t just encouraged; it’s practically a prerequisite.
Social Media Tips
- X (Twitter): Leverage hashtags like #NewMusicFriday or #UnsignedArtist to make your posts easily discoverable. Engage with industry professionals by commenting on their posts with thoughtful insights—not just dropping your SoundCloud links. X is a conversational platform; use it to build relationships, not just to shout into the void.
- Instagram: Your Stories and Reels offer a chance to show the human side of your music-making process. Share snippets of upcoming tracks, behind-the-scenes looks at your studio sessions, or even quick tutorials. Remember, Instagram is a visual platform, so make it aesthetically pleasing.
- SoundCloud: Use descriptive tags and compelling cover art to make your tracks stand out. Interact with other artists by reposting their music or leaving comments. A supportive community is more likely to reciprocate and could get you noticed by labels scouting the platform.
In a world dominated by instant messaging and social media, the humble email still reigns supreme when it comes to professional correspondence. Crafting the perfect pitch email is an art form. It’s not just about the music; it’s how you present it. From the subject line to the inclusion of a well-curated EPK (Electronic Press Kit), every detail counts. And please, for the love of rock ‘n’ roll, personalise your emails.
Email Submission Tips
- Subject Lines: Your subject line should be a hook, compelling enough to click but not so sensational that it reads like spam. Something like “Emerging Artist with 1 Million TikTok Streams” can capture attention.
- Use AI: If writing isn’t your forte, you’re in luck. With the rise of AI apps such as chatGPT and Google’s Bard, writing an engaging email and subject line has never been easier. Remember, these tools are there to lend a helping hand and shouldn’t be relied on completely.
- Follow-ups: If you haven’t received a response within a week or two, a polite follow-up can show you’re keen without being pushy. Keep it brief and professional.
- Timing: Send your emails early in the week and during business hours to increase the odds of them being read. Avoid weekends and holidays when people are less likely to check their professional emails.
Music Blogs and Online Magazines
Think you’ve got what it takes to be the next big thing? Convince a music blogger first. Securing a feature on a reputable blog can be a game-changer, offering a stamp of credibility that record labels take seriously. So start crafting those pitch emails and get your music in front of blog audiences.
Digital PR Tips
- Guest Posts: Offer to write a guest post on a topic you’re knowledgeable about. This can be an indirect but effective way to introduce yourself and your music to a blog’s audience.
- Pitching Singles vs. Albums: Blogs often prefer covering singles for quick content. However, if you have an album, pitch it as a full story—perhaps the concept behind it or the journey of its creation—to make it more appealing for a feature.
While the giants of streaming platforms such as Spotify, Youtube Music and Apple Music might seem like just another place to host your music, they offer more than that. Curated playlists, recommendation algorithms—you can use these to your advantage. Just ensure you understand how to work the system to get your tracks in front of new ears.
Steaming Platform Tips:
- Music Videos: A captivating music video can make a song go viral. Think about visuals that complement your music and resonate with your target audience. High-quality doesn’t always mean high-budget – in fact, low-budget videos are usually more likely to go viral than a polished production.
- Vlogs: Share vlogs that detail your musical journey, from writing and composing to recording and performing. Authentic storytelling can build a strong connection with your audience.
- Collaborations: Partner with YouTubers or other musicians to cross-promote content. Make sure the collaboration fits naturally with both parties’ brands to make it more authentic and engaging.
Music Submission Platforms
While social media, email pitches, and online publications are all powerful tools in your arsenal, there’s another route to consider: dedicated music submission platforms. Designed to bridge the gap between artists and industry professionals, these platforms can offer a more structured and targeted approach to getting your music heard. Whether it’s connecting with blogs, radio stations, or record labels directly, these platforms can streamline the submission process and provide analytics to track your efforts. In essence, they act as a digital middleman, making the daunting task of music submission more manageable.
- SubmitHub: Use this platform to target blogs, radio stations, and record labels that fit your genre. A well-crafted pitch and a strong track can result in valuable exposure.
- Sonicbids: Create an electronic press kit (EPK) that includes high-quality photos, a bio, and links to your music and social media. Sonicbids allows you to submit this EPK to various opportunities, from gig bookings to label submissions.
Part 4: Making Connections – The Importance of Networking
Direct Messaging (DMs)
In the digital age, the DM is your new elevator pitch. But it’s not just about sliding into someone’s inbox; it’s about making a lasting impression. Who should you message? Record execs, A&R reps, and even fellow musicians can be valuable contacts. But remember: keep it professional, yet personable.
Music festivals, award shows, and industry conferences—these aren’t just opportunities for a good time; they’re networking goldmines. But how do you make the most out of these events? It starts with preparation and ends with a well-timed follow-up. Have your EPK and business cards ready, and don’t be shy about introducing yourself.
Two heads, or voices, are often better than one. Collaborating with other artists is a tried and tested method to expand your reach. It’s a win-win that labels love to see, as it shows you can work well with others and have access to multiple fanbases.
Networking is often the unsung hero of an artist’s journey to getting signed. Whether it’s a well-crafted DM or a chance meeting at a festival, these connections can make or break your career.
Part 5: Creative Strategies – How Famous Artists Broke the Mould
Before diving into the rulebook, it’s worth noting that some artists didn’t just play the game—they changed it. This section explores musicians who broke the mould, offering unconventional wisdom and inspiration for those looking to follow in their groundbreaking footsteps. From self-publishing mixtapes to turning memes into mainstream hits, these artists show that sometimes, the best playbook is the one you write yourself.
Chance the Rapper
No label? No problem. Chance the Rapper turned the industry on its head by refusing to sign with a record label and still becoming a household name. His secret? A mix of mixtapes, social buzz, and a knack for grassroots marketing. Chance showed that sometimes, the most creative strategy is to forge your own path.
Before she was sweeping the Grammys, Billie Eilish was a SoundCloud sensation. A haunting voice and a DIY ethos caught the ear of the industry, propelling her into stardom. Billie’s journey illustrates the power of platforms like SoundCloud to launch a career.
Remember MySpace? The Arctic Monkeys do. Their early demos caught fire on the platform, turning them into indie legends almost overnight. While MySpace is a relic of the past, the lesson remains: social platforms can be launchpads for stardom.
Memes, viral moments, and a flute named Sasha Flute. Lizzo leveraged her personality and talent in equal measure to break through the industry noise. Her journey is a masterclass in turning viral moments into lasting success.
Local and Indie Labels as Stepping Stones to Major Labels
The Value of Local and Indie Labels
Dreaming of a major label deal? Don’t discount the smaller players. Both local and indie labels offer unique advantages that can set you up for greater success down the line. From a nuanced understanding of regional music scenes by local labels to the creative freedom often afforded by indie labels, starting small can be a smart move.
Whether it’s the local label everyone in your city respects or an indie label known for spotting emerging talent, signing a deal with either can serve as a major credibility boost. It shows you’re not just serious about your music, but that someone else is too.
Local labels can connect you to regional industry professionals, while indie labels often have broader networks that include key players in the global music scene. These connections can be invaluable stepping stones as you look to level up to a major label.
Your Roadmap to a Record Deal
Getting your music in front of record labels is no small feat, but as we’ve explored, there are more avenues than ever to make your voice heard. Whether you’re taking a page from the past with traditional record label submission methods or harnessing the power of digital platforms and social media, the key is to be proactive, strategic, and authentic.
Remember, every artist’s journey is unique—what worked for one musician may not work for another. But by understanding the various paths available, and perhaps even breaking a few rules along the way, you can create your own roadmap to a record deal. Your music deserves to be heard; make sure you’re doing everything you can to amplify it.