Are There Still Indie Record Labels That Accept Demos?
Stop Stressing About Getting Signed to an Indie Record Label
The cliche is, when a record label got a demo they didn’t like, their response would be “don’t call us. we’ll call you.” It turns out this was prescient. Contrary to what you might believe, most indie record labels ARE actively seeking artists to sign. But what they aren’t doing is spending their time listening to unsolicited demos. Indie record labels that accept demos are few. Those that listen to them are less. Those that sign artists on an unsolicited demo are almost nill.
What is an unsolicited demo?
An unsolicited demo is a single, EP, or full-length sent to the record label without them asking for it. If you have ever emailed a link to your EPK or YouTube video or bandcamp page or, worse, you have popped a CD in the mail with a copy of your bio, you have sent an unsolicited demo. Frankly, you wasted your time.
How do songs get heard by record labels?
If you are seeking a list of independent record labels who have an email address or weblink for all the unsolicited demos to go, please let me save you more valuable time. The label will not listen to your demo. And, even if they do, they will not judge the quality of the song fairly because of HOW you presented it. You have done your music a dis-service. You have not launched above the line of super-credibility.
Until record labels are soliciting YOU for recordings, it is too soon for you to get signed to a label. You shouldn’t call them until they call you.
How do you send demos to record labels?
Indie record labels that accept demos unsolicited are more than likely using your submission to add your email address to their database so they can market to you. Or they are a label too lazy to find great bands themselves. And you don’t want to sign to a lazy record label. It’s simply almost never a good idea to send an unsolicited demo to a record label.
How to Get a Recording Label
If they won’t listen to my demo, how do I get signed?
Getting Signed to an Indie Label Through Referrals
Modern Indie labels sign and discover artists a number of different ways. First, the traditional method, is through referrals. Indie labels are constantly talking to other industry people. They talk with managers, booking agents, publicists, other artists, and even other labels. It is in those conversations that a label is introduced to an artist they haven’t heard of before. These conversations are the foundations of “industry buzz”. When your band is being talked about by several people in the social circle of your dream label, you are bound to develop their interest.
This approach takes a lot of networking and persistence, but it’s worth it. Develop relationships with promoters, other artists, publicists, and everyone else you meet in the industry. This can be challenging when you don’t live in an industry hub like New York or Los Angeles, but it isn’t impossible. Plan on attending industry events like South By Southwest and Launch. You’ll need to combine your charisma with a convincing story your band will make the recording label money. The most convincing story is one you can prove.
For a detailed strategy on how to network in the modern music industry check out our awesome course Connected: Strategies for Modern Music Business Networking.
Getting Signed to an Indie Label Through Stream Counts
The second method indie record labels sign artists is through data. Modern labels are combing through Spotify statistics to find undiscovered artists experiencing a “pop” in streams. They may also be looking through Facebook, Instagram, or other social media statistics. Or combing statistics from other streaming platforms. But Spotify is the big one everyone is looking at.
Indie labels pay attention quickly when an independent artist has demonstrated an ability to find an audience on their own. Make sure your profiles are up to date on all your streaming platforms and spend time every day building your audiences. Labels will come calling when you’re generating huge streaming numbers and social media follower counts. You don’t need a label to build an audience.
Getting Signed to an Indie Label Through Representation
The third method indie record labels sign artists is similar to the first, but has a significant difference. Indie labels will take phone calls and in-person meetings with people in the industry they work with for the purpose of being pitched. When a manager has an unsigned band, and has built a team around the band, and feels like the label would be a good fit for the band and the relationship will benefit everyone, the manager will pitch the band to the label.
For this pitch to be effective, the manager has to demonstrate to the label the audience exists for the band to thrive on and the label to profit from. The relationship the manager has with the label will sour when a manager pitches too many artists that don’t fit the criteria of what the label is looking for, or gets one or more artists signed that don’t work out for the label. A good manager will make sure the band is ready before pitching them to the label.
Other industry people can represent the artist to the label. Producers and booking agents are two great examples of other industry folk who pitch artists to labels semi-routinely. It is not uncommon for a label to pitch a signed artist to a manager almost as often as vice versa.
To better understand the way each person in the music industry works with each other, I highly recommend Mike Mowery’s Music Management Primer. It’s free!
What do Labels Want to See In An Artist They’ll Consider Signing?
What is an EPK?
An EPK is an ‘Electronic Press Kit’. It is the web-based version of the press kit artists and publicists would send to the media to get reviews and articles written about them. An EPK contains a bio, images, audio and video recordings, press clippings, and sometimes more, like tour histories, merchandise galleries, and lyrics. For more info, check out our detailed walkthroughs of a great EPK here and here.
When approached by a label, you will need to have an excellent EPK to send them. Make sure your bio tells a compelling story of growth for the band. Be sure your recordings get to the hooks quickly with your best songs available to click first. Lastly, make sure your images and press clippings support the story and recordings well.
YouTube and Spotify Have to Tell a Story
YouTube and Spotify are the two big platforms in music today. With all due respect to bandcamp and soundcloud and all the other platforms out there, Spotify and YouTube are the places the industry wants to see traction. “Traction ” is a growth in stream counts and subscribers/followers on your channels.
Invest time every day in growing your audience on these platforms. Employ a logical strategy and set ambitious, yet achievable goals to grow your stream counts. Employ an aggressive use of social media, creative and regular content, and any other means at your disposal.
A label will have to see growth in your audience over time to a number they believe they can monetize. When you have done the hard work of building the audience that can support you as an artist, the label will be interested in investing their time and money into growing that audience larger. The label will look at you as too big of a risk to sign if you don’t yet have an audience.
An indie record label is making an investment into the artists it signs. Labels don’t want to hold an artist’s hand while they decide what work they do or don’t want to do. Be professional and courteous, punctual and cool. Show you are an individual worth making an investment in by having a clear vision for your band and your music. Be willing to accept guidance and advice from those with more experience but trust your gut when something doesn’t feel right. Be willing to be reasonable. And be able to say no.
Getting Signed Isn’t the Goal
Getting signed to a label is not your goal. Either your goal is to make an impact on more and more lives every day, or it’s to generate enough income to make your music your career, or it’s both. You don’t need indie record labels that accept demos to reach those goals. Be clear as to what you want to achieve with your music and design a strategy to get there without the help of a label. When you’re ready for a label, they’ll call you.