Four SURE-FIRE Ways How to Get Signed to an Independent Record Label!
In this week’s video I discuss four ways how to get signed to a record label – GUARANTEED. They work every time. With every developing artist Outerloop Management and Outerloop Records signs, the goal is to accomplish ALL of these. The challenge is actually DOING them. But there’s no magic. You can do them too. You just need to know what these are, set your sights, and execute. So, watch the video to find out what they are!
What does getting signed to a record label mean?
A record label has one function – releasing music to the public to sell or stream. If your response is “well, I can do that myself!” You are absolutely right. The value of a record label’s offer to you as an artist is what they will do beyond this function.
The independent record label team
Some independent record labels are one-person ventures. Others can have a robust staff of full-time employees. All record labels have a team, internal or contracted, who need to work selling your album or EP. Beware any solo project independent labels who won’t or can’t tell you who the team of people will be working your release. Sometimes “starting a record label” sounds like a cool way to introduce oneself at a party. But a record label is expensive and time-consuming in the trenches. If a record label can’t do more than you can do for yourself, they aren’t worth signing to unless under extremely particular and rare circumstances.
The record label team will include talented people who may share many responsibilities between them. A record label should:
- organize and produce the release assets (with artist input)
- release your digital album to all streaming sites
- manufacture physical copies of your album
- release your physical album to distributors / stores
- seek opportunities for visibility on streaming / in physical outlets
- organize your release rollout schedule for maximum sales and streams / momentum
- promote your album to media
- promote your album to radio
- seek opportunities to monetize your album recordings (ie sync opportunities in tv/film/video games)
- seek opportunities for touring (but this is generally NOT their responsibility)
- Much more!
The music industry validation
There is a value to being a “signed recording artist”. But this value is both fleeting and varying. It is fleeting because, while you will be able to leverage your newly-minted status to get booking agents, managers, media, and other industry to return emails and consider you for opportunities, the opportunities will degrade over time. Being signed for a few years having little to nothing to show for it will soon be as much, or bigger, a turn-off as an artist without a record deal.
The value also varies. Strong streaming and social media numbers can be stand-ins for record deal validation. And not every record label is the same. Some will open nearly every door you knock on. Others are unknown to the industry and will be looked upon skeptically.
The leveraging of pre-existing relationships
Every record label has pre-existing relationships with other members of the music industry they can leverage to your advantage. Media, booking and touring, streaming sites, merchandising – there is an infinite number of possibilities a record label can bring you and your band. Make sure to ask about some of these relationships while still in the consideration phase. Being connected positively with a single person who can provide your band the right opportunity can be enough to make your entire career. Of course, you could also make those connections yourself.
Conversely, some independent record labels have pre-existing relationships that are toxic and will taint you and your band by association. Be sure you research every record label you consider signing with to find out any instances of political or social ideas you don’t wish to be associated with. And ask around people in the industry you know to find out if there are significant rivalries or hostilities that could negatively impact your career. Most long-lasting record labels have few to none of these toxic issues. But it’s also hard to be in any business for a long time without upsetting someone along the way. Do your research.
Is signing a record deal selling your soul?
The history of recorded music is filled with stories of artists getting royally screwed by record labels. This was a time when information was tough to come by. Musicians were signing contracts without an opportunity to understand what was in them. And it was a time when artists NEEDED record labels to have a career in music. Due to the democratization of distribution, those days are gone. But songs like Drumshanbo Hustle by Van Morrison are documents of the worst the music industry had to offer talent in the 20th century.
It is still important you have an experienced music attorney review every record deal offer you receive. And you should read the contract, every word, for yourself. This is your potential future. Both challenges AND opportunities can be found in that contract for you. Even if you don’t understand all of it (circle those parts for the attorney), you will understand your deal better than you would if you didn’t read it (duh). Don’t trust anyone. Even your own attorney.
Is it hard to get signed to a record label?
It is hard to get a record label offer if you are not an undeniable artist. When you are undeniable, noone can turn you down. Then, getting a recording contract offer is easy.It can be much harder to actually get to that point. There are a lot of variables in the negotiation process that can sink a deal.
What does being an undeniable artist mean? It is the most bullet-proof way how to get signed to a record label. It means making music that is so good large numbers of people want to stream, purchase, and experience your music as often as possible. This takes more than just writing great songs, although that should be the starting point for every songwriter. It also takes building your audience independently. And this audience should be measurable. Spotify followers and stream counts are perhaps the gold-standard for measurable audience. But Billboard charting, YouTube followers and streamcounts, and social media followers are also ways the industry pre-screens the artists they’ll consider signing.
An independent record label with great resources will sign your band based solely on the quality of your songs and recordings. But this is rare. Like, “I just hit the lottery” rare. Not “I won a dollar on my dollar scratch-off ticket” rare. Record labels willing and able to make a significant investment in your band look for evidence their investment will be a good one. If they can look at an existing audience, verified by third party tools like Soundscan, Spotify, and the social media platforms, and see an opportunity to make back their investment easily and then make a profit, you have become undeniable.
How do I submit a demo to a record label?
The demo recording is not the vital record deal solicitation tool it used to be. Currently, demo recordings are best distributed to a record label when they request one rather than submitting it unsolicited. The demo is no longer the best tool how to get signed to a record label. Generally, independent record labels are signing artists based on referrals followed by listening to tracks on streaming services while exploring the artist’s measurable results. The record label can then request demo recordings to hear what the artist might be providing to the record label for their release.
A demo recording can be the difference maker for a record label undecided whether to sign an artist or not. It can also be used as a negotiation tool once a recording contract is being procured. But most often it is a tool for the record label to preview what it is being considered for release and is a tool throughout the band’s relationship with their label.
Check out Four Things Your Demo Can Do For You here!
How many songs should be on a demo?
Demo recordings should be requested by the record label. Unsolicited demos are no longer an industry best practice.
Unsigned artist for consideration
The guidelines in years past, or for independent labels who are still considering artists the same way they did in the 20th century, unsigned artists providing a demo unsolicited should provide 3 to 5 songs. The demos should be high enough quality where the record label needn’t use too much of their imagination to hear the songs’ and artists’ potential.
Unsigned artist in negotiation
An unsigned artist in negotiation for a record deal may provide demo recordings to demonstrate the value for the record label in signing them. This could be to drive a record label in making an offer they have been hesitant in making. This could also be to increase the value of the record contract in favor of the artist.
A signed artist will be asked for most everything available but how much is provided to the label is dependent on the relationship. The artist should have a relationship with a record label that is positive. A positive relationship treats each release as a partnership with both the record label and artist with much to gain, and to lose, with the release. When the relationship is positive, the artist can want the record label to lend their expertise to the demo recordings, commenting on how they might work better for the final recordings. In this case, the artist should send the record label every demo recording for consideration they believe will result in meaninful feedback from the record label.
When the artist is no longer in a positive relationship with the record label, or in a positive relationship not dependent on the record label’s creative input, the artist should provide no more than they need to.
Can you leave a record label?
A recording artist and the record label formalize their relationship in a recording contract. The recording contract specifies what the expectations for both the artist and label should be. This includes how long the relationship will last before it may need to be formalized again. Recording contracts are often based on a combination of number of releases and length of time. Leaving the record label will need to be negotiated and will often cost you a lot to do so. If you have not negotiated a clause in the recording contract allowing you to leave the relationship prior to the contract’s agreed to length of time and releases, labels will demand compensation for the loss in their investment based on projected earnings. And “out clauses” for the artist are rarely provided for a first-time signee.
As a result, your attorney will usually advise you negotiate as short a term with the record label as possible. Meanwhile, it is in the label’s interest to negotiate a long-term contract with “out clauses” for themselves. The recording contract will favor the artist when they provide the safest investment for the record label. To be a safe investment, see my earlier comments on how to be “undeniable”.
The most attractive reasons for artists to sign to an independent record label are the validation of their work and talent as well as the opportunity to leverage the record label’s relationships to their benefit. So, consider the value of signing to a record label before bothering with how to get signed to a record label. The validation is a short-lived ego boost for the artist. Once the recording contract is signed and the hard work of making the relationship successful financially for everyone involved begins, the ego boost is over. Use your fans for all the ego boost you need.
The validation you receive for being a signed artist within the industry isn’t worth as much as it used to. And it may become less as time goes on. Again, measurable results like Billboard charting, Spotify stream counts and followers, and social media followers are easy to share and provide the validation you need. You can leverage awesome numbers in stead of “Huge Independent Label” Recording Artist underneath your name.
The argument for signing to an independent record label to leverage their industry contacts to your benefit is harder to dispute. You can build your own industry network but, no matter how successful you are at creating relationships with people in the music industry, more is always better. Building a team around you and your band, including a manager, attorney, and booking agent, can help you leverage THEIR relationships and make a record label’s network redundant. And you should always be putting your own efforts into building your personal music industry network.