In the music industry, your first impression matters; and you’ve got one shot to make it. While there’s no doubt signing onto a record label can be a life-changing experience for an artist; spamming record labels with your songs will most likely ruin your one shot at making a quality impression on these companies.
In this post, we’ll explain why submitting music to record labels is no longer useful and bring you up to speed on the best strategies to get the attention of a record label today.
What is a Record Label?
A record label is a company that provides a wide variety of services to artists and musicians, primarily services that promote and distribute an artist’s music.
The artist typically signs an exclusive agreement with the label, giving over certain rights to songs they create in exchange for mass promotion, distribution, and marketing.
Depending on the details of the deal, the labels will receive a percentage of music sales until the advances previously paid to an artist are recouped. They also get paid through other ways like licensing the artist’s music, running tours, and selling artist merchandise.
Many artists dream of getting signed to labels because they can catapult your music career, expand your fan base, get you into rooms with top-list producers, and mass-market your music to listeners around the world.
Record labels accomplish this mission through a variety of different departments within the record label.
Most labels provide services like:
- A&R support and funding
- Marketing and promotion
- Specialist support
- Label deals
- Licensing deals
- Distribution deals and more…
(Keep in mind that labels may differ in the exact services offered depending on their size.)
In the past, the traditional way to get the attention of a label was to simply show up in Nashville or L.A with a demo tape and work your way into an A&R office or inbox.
However, simply submitting your music to record labels is no longer the best way to be discovered by labels, and here’s why…
Why You Should Stop Submitting to Record Labels
Discoverability has become easier than ever.
Thanks to modern technology and social media, most labels have their own in-house search and discovery team constantly scouring platforms like Spotify, TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube for stand-out performers.
Some even have data analysts looking for musicians with “number anomalies.” So if you’re putting up competitive numbers on Spotify streams or TikTok follows; you’ll get noticed. (Assuming the numbers are real and organic of course).
Record Labels are always looking for talent, but are extremely picky about what is a good fit for their company. So if they’re not already reaching out to you, submitting your music to record labels .
The competition for a label’s attention is high.
Most record label’s today only end up signing about 5 – 40 artists a year.
They receive dozens of submissions from artists every day, whether talented or not, they rarely have the time to sort through the masses.
This is not to say that it is impossible to submit music to a record label and get signed, it is just highly unlikely. However, if you are looking to increase your chances, you need to focus on getting the labels to reach out to YOU.
With that being said, the new way to get signed to record labels is to get their attention and then prove you are a worthy investment.
How to get a Record Labels Attention
Know What Labels Want
The first and foremost way to increase your chances of landing a record deal begins with having the right mindset.
You need to think of your artistry as a small business, and yourself as an entrepreneur. Learn the language of business, and that means speak about everything in relation to profit and low risk.
Record labels are essentially investors looking for talent that is not only unique but worth their investment. Today, record labels look to invest in small businesses (AKA your artist career) that are already working, because that suggests profitability.
This means a label will not simply sign an artist based on their level of talent, they need to see that you have fans chasing after you and a lucrative music career ahead of you.
Most of the successful artists you see have a team of people handling this business for them or are either music industry savvy themselves. If you can’t afford a team, you can begin by educating yourself with the surplus of free resources available online.
Check out our 20 Best Podcasts for Musicians for some of our most recommended music industry podcasts.
Not only are consistent releases important for optimizing Spotify’s algorithm, but it is also important for growing a fan base and finding momentum.
If you only release a project once a year, you will not have enough relevance to make waves in the industry. Record Labels are always keeping an eye out for new artists, and if an A&R does happen to notice you and see nothing released since last year, they may not take you seriously.
This lack of presence, unfortunately, could make you appear as more of a music hobbyist than a professional artist.
A great way to have consistent releases is to start by focusing on singles.
If you are a brand new artist with no significant fan base, it’s not necessary to release an album or E.P yet. You will more than likely end up investing a ton of energy and money only for no one to hear it. Instead, trickle that content throughout the year and release at least once every 2-3 months.
If you feel like you don’t have enough music, think outside the box.
Try releasing covers or new versions of the same song. For example, put out a remix or an acoustic version of a prior release.
Whatever you choose, make sure your release is something you would be proud to have an A&R from your dream record label listen to.
Build Good Numbers
While there is no official benchmark for what numbers make or break it for a record label’s attention, there are certain numbers that will perk their ears.
Here are some monthly ballpark figures below:
100,000 – 250,000 streams
Develop Your Story
Nothing draws in press coverage like an artist with a polished brand carrying a song with a compelling story.
One of the most essential aspects of music marketing that many indie artists fail to practice is that of building their brand and story. This will help you gain media attention; which also increases your chances of gaining a label’s attention.
One huge aspect of a label’s job is to market an artist, and a unique story can give them a reason to pick you over the thousands of other talented artists.
This is because in marketing; good stories sell.
So what’s your story?
What makes you unique?
Why do you make music?
What inspired you to become an artist?
What do you want your legacy to be?
Having a grip on your message, purpose, and niche will be a huge benefit in the long run.
Once you have your story down, create a great bio, EPK, and press release to pitch it to tastemakers, blogs, etc.
Don’t overlook this step; it will distinguish you as a professional.
Start an Email List
Here’s a marketing secret many independent artists don’t know:
Build up a solid email list.
Many artists know the importance of having a social media presence and following. So we won’t go into too much detail about that besides remembering to post content regularly, study hashtags and trends, and create engaging videos. (Video is king in content right now).
However, what most artists don’t know is that social media is only an awareness and branding tool. It is actually not a great converting platform. That means social media will not directly generate any substantial revenue for an artist. And if you remember from reading previously in this post; labels are driven by profit.
So here’s one of the best tools for making money online as an artist, or any entrepreneur: Email marketing.
Yes. Email is still relevant.
A list of engaged email subscribers is much more valuable to businesses because it is a list that you own and can send out information to whenever you want.
Think about it; when you post on social media, you have no real control over how many of your followers even see your content.
When you send out an email, you can almost guarantee it has reached their inbox, and a person willing to give you their email, is much more likely to buy merch or music from you.
It is one thing to be able to show a label you have substantial followers on Instagram, however, it is a game-changer to show a label your booming email list.
Having an engaged email list is one of the most desired assets in marketing and if you want to think like an entrepreneur, thinking about growing an email list is a pro tip.
Pack out Small to Mid Size Live Shows
The ability to put on a stellar live performance is undeniably one of the most important factors when it comes to landing a deal with a record label.
But, if you are not at this level yet, here are some ways you can level up:
- Develop your craft.
- Get vocal lessons, basic dance classes, and practice.
- Exercise and stay in shape to increase stamina for shows.
- Perform regularly, even at smaller events, like church services, bars, festivals, etc.
- Perform live on Instagram for free to build a fan base digitally, and practice performing in front of people.
- Research where your fans are. Pay attention to the demographics in your social media insights and analytics. Who’s listening and where are they?
Serve Industry Gatekeepers
All it takes is one relationship to witness one of the quickest elevations in your music career.
Once you have established yourself as a professional artist, it is a great time to begin building relationships with professionals in the music industry. Specifically music industry gatekeepers.
What are gatekeepers?
They are the big decision-makers in critical areas of the music industry like radio, press, touring, publishing, and more. Having relationships with them can open doors to major opportunities.
But remember: The key is to focus on serving these gatekeepers; not asking for favors. Building relationships is all about trust, and you build trust by helping people without any hidden agendas.
Find ways to serve in the industry and go above and beyond to support the dreams and visions of others.
This doesn’t guarantee anything, but in the music industry relationship is everything. So make sure you practice being a trustworthy and reliable person.
And like many other successful artists who once were where you are, you may just find the right person who can help you scale your business to the next level.
Focus on the fans
Although being knowledgeable about the music industry is important, the key is to focus your efforts on the fans.
After all, that is who it’s all for right?
The music, the shows, the stories are not for the industry, but for people who love you and your music.
Your fans are the engine behind everything you do, and once you value the connection you have with them; your career will take flight.
A great example of how impactful a fan base can be is the success of Taylor Swift. During her early career, she and former manager, Rick Barker, worked together to nurture and monetize her growing fan base. This was a huge factor in catapulting her career to where it is now.
Hear Rick discuss his journey managing Taylor Swift here.
So who are YOUR fans?
Where are they?
And what do they want from you?
Take time to think over these questions, and use them to connect with people who support your music.
The energy you put into getting the attention of record labels should never outweigh the energy you put into establishing real connections with your fans.
Here are some great ways to do that:
- Meet and greets after shows
- Personalized merch or giveaways
- Going live on Facebook and Instagram to interact with your audience
- Asking questions and engaging with fans on social media
- Telling stories and making connections online and at shows
- Feature fans in your projects or on your social media pages
- Encourage fans to share your work in cool ways like Instagram Reel Remixes, and social media challenges
- Write lyrics that speak to the audience you want to create for
Today getting the attention in the music industry requires a lot more than just submitting your music to a record label. It’s important to establish your artistry as a business worthy of their investment, and that means understanding how to do a lot of the artist development and groundwork yourself.
And once a record label finds you a fit for their company, they will reach out to YOU.
Don’t think they aren’t out there looking for talent; they are.
In the meantime, keep building your story, developing your business, and connecting with your fans.