How do I get signed by a label when I am an independent artist?
Being an independent artist does have its advantages, but it can be difficult to get to the next level in your career. Being under a label helps boost your music career.
Many artists, producers, rappers, singers, and songwriters ask the same kind of questions:
- What is the easiest way to get signed to a Record Label?
- What happens when you get signed?
- How hard is it to get signed?
- How long does it take?
- Why have a label?
- What can you expect from a record label?
In this article we will discuss:
- how to think like a label
- important groundwork before getting signed
- how to present yourself and set yourself apart
- important fundamentals of a record deal
- how to send music to indie and major labels
- how to pitch yourself and your music
- how to build relationships with labels
- how to get signed by a record label
This guide will help you navigate the process as smoothly and quickly as possible so that your music career is taken care of from start to finish.
Thinking like a label to get signed
A record label is a business. We have to make ends meet. This doesn’t mean we are cruel greedy money machines. Companies need money to reach their vision long term. For an artist this means a couple of things:
- There are limited resources which a lot of artists compete about
- The label has to earn back what’s being invested meaning if you are an artist in your early career you can’t expect to get everything served for you
- It’s like a service you pay for by a combination of royalties, your own time, your own budget and your already-built fanbase.
Labels get tonnes of demos submitted to them each day. We at Rexius Records receive around 30 demos per day, every single day, all year round. Sometimes up to 50 demos, and we are not even a major label. This means that it’s hard to keep up with the demo inbox and we have a system in place to take care of all the demos.
We’ve seen some advice to track down email addresses through Hunter, LinkedIn, etc. It might work on some A&Rs that prefer email but for us when an artist sends an email outside our system will just result in a deleted email. Follow the guidelines!
Hits vs long tail
Some record labels are looking for “hits” but some use a “long tail” strategy. We are currently using both however, the strategies differ.’
When looking for “hits”, you invest a lot into a more or less established artist trying to make a hit and then recoup everything. The budget is set by the artist’s already built-in value (fan base).
The “long tail” strategy is more about signing a lot of upcoming artists with less already built up value and having systems in place in order to reach out in a cost-efficient way. Here we look at niche artists in obscure genres to find gems.
The groundwork of setting yourself apart – before getting signed to a record label
Goal: Be the kind of artist a record label wants to sign
Looking for driven artists
As an independent label, we are looking for independent artists. The best signings are often those artists that could make it on their own. We are looking for hard-working artists that would continue their careers on their own path, even though they didn’t end up with a deal together with us. You will come a long way just by doing hard work, every day, taking small steps.
Record music the best you can
You don’t need a record label to produce great music. To send a demo you don’t need the perfect recording, we are listening for potential. However, the skill of writing an awesome song is really important.
We talk about the importance of getting the right feedback in order to create as great music as possible in this article.
If you are about to mix and master your songs make sure you go to the best you can afford, but first, make sure to record them professionally. Even the greatest mixer can’t do anything with a half-done production. It’s better to skip the mix/master part if you don’t know any great mixers. If the record company is interested, they can connect you with a proper one and you haven’t spent money unnecessarily.
Attract a label
We mentioned earlier the two strategies of a record label, “hits” and “long tail” and since most labels are working with the “hit” strategy it becomes more and more important to get to a certain level and fan base on your own. That means distributing and releasing music on your own, getting listeners and fans until you attract record labels that will come to you and show their interest. In that case, you are in a much better position when negotiating a record deal.
Oftentimes the record label can help you with branding and visuals but in order to attract a label, you have to understand why you are unique, who is interested in your brand and how to reach out to the right audience.
Building a fan base
There are so many different ways in order to build a fanbase and get listeners. This would be a whole chapter on its own so we will just drop some keywords and refer you to some resources in order to get you going
- Link to the Ultimate Social Media Guide for Artists
- Get listeners: Submit Music to Spotify Playlist
The most important thing to focus on which will make everything else more simple is to CREATE AWESOME MUSIC. If you have that, the rest will come naturally. Then there are algorithms on Spotify that will work for you, fans that will listen to your music again and again generating revenue, and labels that can see the potential to polish the rest of the stuff.
Some things to avoid
Don’t fall into the trap of buying fans on any social media or music platform. A record label can easily see through this and it will also hurt your career. You don’t need to worry about having too few followers if your music is great and if your music isn’t great no one will be interested anyway.
Don’t use payola in order to get into playlists or bots in order to generate streams. If you have used any of these methods, please be honest with the label. Similar to buying followers, these tactics will only harm you. We will go into more detail in another article.
Submitting music to record labels
Most labels use a mix of scouting externally and internally (the demo inbox).
Where do labels look for music?
Depending on the genre, label, and size the label will look in different places. The larger the label the larger the outlet. Focus on what you can control and release your music following the strategies advised in “Building a fanbase”.
A great tool to submit your music both to blogs and record labels is SubmitHub. Here you can pay a small fee for each blog/label in order to get an A&R to listen to your music and give feedback. This may be the conversation opener you need.
There are less obvious ways that some labels find music. Major Labels sometimes own a distributor Universal / Spinnup, they sometimes team up with distributors that more or less work as A&Rs for them. Not sure they still do but Record Union used to be a springboard to Sony Music labels. Then there’s Amuse, which is a distributor platform and label at the same time. These are just examples of the varieties of how a record label finds music.
How to submit to the demo inbox:
Since all labels are different, the only great advice we can give you is to follow the guidelines. One label might prefer you to send them an mp3 to their email inbox and another (we for example) would delete it immediately.
How do Rexius Records find new artists?
We are using a mix of algorithmically scouting via Spotify API, collaboration through music producers, artists referring other artists, reading blogs, and listening to Spotify Playlists. And of course our Demo Submission.
There are tools such as Chartmetric that will discover trends of artists increasing followers rapidly
Some things to avoid:
- Avoid sampling copyrighted material you don’t have a license to use
- Make sure the links to your music work (no broken links!)
- Don’t send more than one song. The label won’t listen to more. Send the one you are most proud of.
- Don’t break the label’s submission guidelines.
- Don’t send mass emails
FAQ on getting signed by a label
Why have a label?
A Record Label might not be the ultimate goal to achieve in an artist’s career that many seem to believe. It might be useful to see its purpose for what it is rather than putting a halo around the term.
With that in mind, being under a label, independent or not, can help you boost your music career. Finding structure and working in a team – Producers, A&Rs, Art Directors, Promoters, and Managers – is crucial. It’s hard to do everything on your own. The music industry is, more than ever, a unique artistic enterprise. A Record Label is a hub of different skills and brings together many types of virtuosos whether it’s legal, economic, or promotion.
How hard is it to get signed to a label?
Very hard to answer. You also don’t just want to be signed you would also like to have a good deal. It really depends on two factors:
- How far you have come in the music industry
- What kind of deal you are going to get.
If you are an artist making unique and great music, streaming 1 million streams per month. It won’t be hard and won’t take long until you get a decent record deal. However, if you just started out, you might lower your expectations on what kind of deal you will be offered if any.
How long does it take to get signed?
Just as the question above, it depends. But generally, when you have reached the stage where you are in talks with a label, things can move quite quickly. Usually for us, from the moment we show an interest in an artist until a signing takes place, it takes around 1 – 2 months. There’s a process to go through and it has to feel good for both parties. Sometimes new demos need to be reviewed and so on.
With that said, just because we show interest doesn’t mean an artist will always sign our offer. We work in a way we believe in and that is just not for everybody.
So again, if you just started out, don’t expect to get signed immediately. Go out and start releasing music and build yourself up.
What happens when you get signed?
This of course varies from label to label. Based on what we are doing and the labels we have worked with during the years this is a rough blueprint. Have in mind this also depends of the kind of deal you are doing:
- Some kind of start-up and planning phase
- A production phase where music, branding and visuals will be set.
- A promo phase
- Evaluation phase
Then everything is reiterated depending on the deal, how many releases you are supposed to be doing and how well everything is going. After a while when the contract term is near its end, there may be negotiations about a new deal based on where you are in your career at that moment.
What can you expect from a record label?
- Hopefully, a record label will help you speed up your career and reach your goals faster
- Counterintuitively it will probably slow down the production process. Suddenly it’s not just you or your band members anymore to decide everything. There’s a team to have in the loop and you’ll get feedback. This slow things down, but trust the process. The end result will probably be better.
- Miscommunications. Since not all artists are used to working in a team there will always be miscommunications. Stuff like, why does the art director have to say anything about the old photos on my Spotify profile? Why can’t we set the release date for tomorrow? Why does the A&R give feedback on the mix when I am happy with the result already?
- No instant path to success. Since there is some kind of glorious halo effect surrounding a record label it can be really hard to manage expectations towards artists. Not even the major labels can promise a wide success. Actually, the “hit-making” strategy of labels is almost built-in with a 9/10 failure rate (monetary). The idea is that one success will cover all the failures. So get your expectations handled. Work for the goal you want to achieve but don’t expect the label can do much more than provide you with:
- Get network, expertise, resources, and strategies that you might not be able to utilize on your own. The real advantage a Record Label has over the DIY artist is that it is an aggregator of other artists and releases. This means that they can promote a whole catalog at the same time, they can build playlists that will benefit all artists within the label, and so on.
- Work harder when signed than before. Some artists think that once they get signed the label will take care of everything. This is a bad strategy. The label needs and expects you to work harder than before.
How to find record labels?
It is really important to not just find a label but find the right label. For some artists, the perfect label is the major label with everything that comes with that. For others, an indie label is a better option with more freedom, and for someone else, a PR Company would be the best way forward.
There are many ways to find record labels:
- Google record label database
- Google Submit Demo to record labels
- Look at the copyright line of your favorite artists (on Spotify for example) and see where they are signed.
Then you might want to do some filtering based on the region. Do you want a label working internationally or locally in the USA, UK, or Nigeria? Or maybe a record label near you.
Artist Type specifics:
Some labels are focused on artists, singers, and rappers, while others only work with producers. If you are a songwriter, you might want to look at publishers instead of record labels to help you forward in your career.
Then you want to do your research:
- What kind of artists are signed to the label
- What values do they seem to have?
- What people are working at the label?
- What resources do they seem to have?
- Submission preference (email/submission form)
- What submission guidelines do they have? (and what things do you need to prepare to fulfill the guidelines?)
Make a list of the labels you are most interested in.
As always by now you should have a list of your favorite labels and their guidelines. Write down all the things you need to prepare in order to send your pitch. It’s better to prepare everything in advance so you can focus on pitching when pitching. This could be:
- Music files in certain formats and/or uploaded to specific streaming platforms
- Visuals such as press photos, artwork, etc
- Artist Bio
- Short pitch
- Social media links
When you have gathered all the things you need, it’s not hard to do the actual work of pitching.
It’s very likely this approach of sending demos either will take a lot of time before you get an answer or that nothing will happen at all.
Therefore you are lucky we are in the digital era of the music industry:
A new way to promote your music
Back in the days (before Napster, The Pirate Bay, and Spotify) the labels had a similar role as of today but did very different things. You had expensive studios, production teams, physical production, lead times, storage, physical distribution, etc. This was costly and as an artist, this was nearly impossible to do themselves. You had to send a demo and play live to get the attention from a record label in order to reach out at all.
Since it will take time, or nothing will happen after you have submitted your music, you should go on directly and release music on your own and utilize the new digital era.
Don’t waste your time waiting on labels!
Self-releasing and label pitching goes hand in hand. Even though it should take 6 months and perhaps the label would like to meet, then it doesn’t matter if you have released the music or not. At least not for us. If we want to do an extra push for the already released music there are ways to handle that. Or we will just focus on the music you are creating right now because you probably won’t stop doing music right?
Want to start distributing music? Here is a discount to the distributor we use and we recommend to most unsigned artists: DistroKid
Building relationships and other ways to get in the backdoor to a label
The people who are working at a record label are just humans. We have twin kids going to pre-school, bills to pay, help out parents, and some of us looking forward to a promising date, perhaps just like you. So don’t put us on a pedestal if you do.
If you have a question or request and send a polite email (just don’t send a demo, or ask how to send a demo) we may be able to help you if we have the time.
Here are a couple of ideas that might or might not work on us or others in order to get attention from a record label:
- Call the label
- Get an internship at the label
- Work with producers connected to the label
- Some labels are also working as studios. Book studio dates with their producers and you are almost in.
- Attend events that the label is participating in
- Play live in the area of the label
- Play live together with the artists of the label
- Get to know others and get friends with already signed artists
- Make a great Spotify playlist connected to your artist profile where you include the artists of the label and make sure it will stream really well. Chances are they will notice it in Spotify for Artists.
- Release music together with an artist on a label. For example, you could reach out and offer to do a topline for a signed producer, or make a cover of a song on a label’s roster.
Does the genre matter when getting signed? The approaches we have written about here should work generally and there might be some nuances and characteristics for certain types of genres. For example, some labels within the metal genre still require you to send a physical demo. Labels focusing on Christmas songs might have certain deadlines to keep in mind.
Also, generally speaking, mainstream genres such as pop, EDM, hip hop/rap, r&b, and country might be more focused on the “hit” strategy. Niche genres such as indie-folk, metalcore and so on, might focus on “the long tail”. The more popular a genre is, usually the harder the competition but there might be higher budgets involved for the few that get the chance. So this might shift your expectations in different ways
However, following the submission guidelines will help you manage this.
Artist and music licensing contracts
There are of course different ways to be signed. Here’s some information on what kind of record deals there is.
And when you are about to go into negotiations with a record label, we have made an article about how to negotiate a record deal and what you should think about before signing a record contract.
Download a simple checklist on how to get signed to a record label.
To get you started, here’s how to submit your demo to our record label.