Finding a record label is crucial in a band's success. So, you've mastered the instrument, written the songs, have stellar music and finally come up with the perfect name. Now the only thing standing between you and quitting the day job is finding the right record label to take your music to the top. Before you max out your credit card buying stamps or get sent to 1,000 junk email folders, remember that there is a method to the madness. Here are a few rules to keep in mind to help your indie band's demo rise to the top of the pile.
Are You Ready To Find a Record Label?
Sure, it sounds like it should go without saying, but are you REALLY ready? Record labels are more inclined to pay attention when you have honed your craft a little bit and put in some of the groundwork. Get out there and play your songs in front of an audience as much as you can. You can start out at the local coffee house or open mic night. If you live in an area that has some small to mid-size clubs, call them up and find out who books the bands. Try to get on the bill for local talent nights as well as trying to get some opening band slots for touring bands. When you get a show, call the local college radio stations, hit the independent record stores, get in touch with the listing guides in your area and let them know what you'll be doing.
By doing some shows, you might spend some (a lot) of time playing your songs for your mom and your best friend, but also you'll become comfortable with being in front of an audience. You'll find out what works and what doesn't in your set, and it will give you a chance to get your name out there. Get people at shows to sign up for a mailing list, and invite them along the next time. When you then get in touch with labels, you can tell them you have already built up a following in your area. Besides, you never know who will be at those shows.
Also, if you are in a group, make sure everyone in your group is ready for what happens if a record label does pick you up. You'd be surprised how many "next-big-things" never were, because when it came down to it, Susie couldn't really take that time off of work, or Billy's girlfriend doesn't want him to go on tour.
Do Your Research
When you are ready to send your demo out, don't just type "record label" into Google and start addressing packages. Make sure the labels you are contacting are into the kind of music you are doing. Look at the labels who work with artists you like, and start there. Find out whose name should be on the package.
You also need to make sure the label you are approaching accepts demos, and how they accept them. Some labels, especially bigger ones, won't take anything they haven't agreed to hear, for legal reasons. Some labels won't accept any MP3 clips. Some want them exclusively. The best way to get all this information is the label's website - make sure you use their website as the resource it is. You won't start off on the right foot if you call them and ask them questions that are answered on their website.
Don't Waste Your Money
A label understands that a demo is recorded on a very minimal-to-non-existent budget. They don't expect it to sound like the finished product, and you shouldn't waste your money on expensive studio time trying to make it sound that way. If they like your songs, then your songs will shine through.
Also, don't spend your money on expensive runs of multi-page, multi-color sleeve notes. Anything from a one page insert to a Sharpie on the CD-R in a plastic sleeve will work just fine.
Keep It Brief
The sales notes that go out with a new album are called a "one sheet" for a reason - they are one page. Keep your introduction to the label the same way. Avoid starry eyed prose detailing the way in which music moves your soul. Instead, tell who is making the music, where you're from, any success you've had playing in your area, and any upcoming shows you have planned. Include your email address. You can include your phone number as well if you want, but never put your phone number exclusively. You're very unlikely to get any feedback that way.
Keep the demo brief as well. Three songs or so will do it. If they want to hear more, they will let you know.
Be Realistic When Finding a Record Label
Remember how many people are out there are approaching record labels. Be prepared to hear some rejection, and be prepared to not hear anything at all from some labels. Keep in mind that smaller labels don't have the kind of money to pay you an advance that will let you pay off all your bills - or sometimes even an advance at all. But the most important thing is, don't despair. Slow and steady wins this race. Keep playing your shows, writing your songs and letting people know you are out there. Every time you hit a bump in the road, just think of what a great addition that story will make to your memoirs.