It used to be simple. You record a demo and shop it around to the major record labels -- and maybe some indies depending on your goals -- through the mail and wait for the head A&R lady or gentleman to call with an offer to pay for your studio time. Next thing you know you’re a star.
Alright, it was never that simple, but the process of getting noticed is much more complex these days because of the sheer amount of technology available to every artist looking to get a foothold in the music industry. And it’s easy to question the best way to get the attention of labels.
The unfortunate truth is there is no best way that applies to every artist, and it depends on your goals and your sound. However, there are a few tips you can follow to put your best foot forward with the labels.
It should be noted here that we’re looking purely at shopping songs to labels, and not gaining attention through touring and marketing efforts. However, those two aspects should always be combined in a campaign to get the attention of labels -- after all, the more you can show labels how much attention you can draw from fans on your own, the more they’ll be interested in helping you draw even more.
As mentioned above, it used to be more common to record an album or EPs worth of demos and then shop those around to record labels. However, with the rise of digital recording, more artists have access to inexpensive yet professional sounding studios that can produce a professional sounding product with little to no money.
In this case, an album of demos may go unnoticed, but that doesn’t mean you have to record a full album. A great idea is to fully produce and record two or three of your best tracks. This can give a record company an idea of what you sound like on fully produced tracks without you having to break the bank.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t record your demos, as well. After all, we’ve just mentioned how inexpensive it can be to record songs these days, so it may be worth it to record all songs other than those two or three best ones accompanied with just an acoustic guitar or piano (or whatever instrument you play). This way, if you do have label interest, you can easily provide them with additional examples of your work. A great song is a great song, no matter how it is recorded.
Here’s another topic that unfortunately doesn’t have a concrete answer. In the past this typically meant using the mail, but now many labels are saving you postage, themselves headaches and the environment in general by requesting you email your submissions. Some even have upload forms that make it easy for you to send in submissions.
The only real advice is to make sure you find out the preferred method of submissions at labels, and whether they accept unsolicited material at all. This usually can be found on the label’s website. Nothing will get a demo tossed in the trash -- whether actual or virtual -- faster than one that doesn’t follow directions.
No matter how you record the songs you submit, your songs should be professionally mastered before submitting them to a label. While it used to be somewhat inconvenient and expensive to have a project mastered, it is now affordable to submit your songs for online mastering and have them back in about a week. Even a great recording and mix can fail to make an impression if it isn’t properly mastered. This can be because the volume is too low or a number of other factors, though the most likely reason is that it just doesn't have that “finished” sound.