How to Get Signed to a Record Label


Songhack is all about making your own way in the music industry, and increasingly bands don’t need record labels to succeed. Nonetheless, there are still many reasons your band would want to seek a record deal, even in this age of direct-to-fan digital patronage. The first step to getting a deal is understanding what it is and why you would (or wouldn’t) want one. Technically, you don’t “get signed” to a label, you sign your rights over to them to exploit. You are signing to a record label, not the other way around. The secret is to avoid the common mistakes all the other bands are making in trying to get offered a label deal, and focus your energy on creating as much value around your music rights as possible… you’re about to sign them away, probably for life. Please educate yourself about label deals thoroughly… this is one area where you need more than a blog post’s worth of info. Here are the hacks:

Label Deal Hacks

DO IT YOURSELF – Believe it or not, a great way to attract label attention is to start your own label. The role of the modern record label is primarily to finance the production of your record, and then promote it. There are many other things labels do (especially if you sign a 360 deal), but we won’t get into that. Ask yourself if you can crowdfund your next record, and do your own marketing and promotion online via social networks, YouTube and other digital platforms. Labels want you to demonstrate a certain level of success anyway, and a successful crowdfunding campaign is one way to show the marketability of your music. The point is, you’re not going to get “discovered” out of the blue (it’s a music industry myth). You need to establish yourself and your fan base to be considered for a record deal, so the first step is to forget about the record deal and focus on building value around your music. Being your own label is a great way to learn the ropes — after releasing your own record, you’ll better understand what you want out of a label and how to get it. Who knows? Maybe bands will start coming to your label asking for a record deal.
KNOW YOUR LABEL – First, you need to make a list of the labels you want to sign to. Then, make a list of the bands on each label you think might be into your band. Add to the list every staff member you can find contact info for at each label. This is your list of people to get to know. Most people know the music industry is all about who you know. Few consider that it’s also how you know them. It breaks down to value. What value can you give a label, or a manager, or a booking agent? Giving value is the way to get value… this is true throughout all of life. So many bands make the mistake of treating a record deal like a job interview. They send their resume (one-sheet or press kit) and their portfolio (music) and then wait to hear back. Don’t waste your time! Instead, make personal connections. Signing a band is a huge commitment. The people you’re trying to meet will want to get to know you before talking deals. Associate your band with the music scene the labels you’re targeting are a part of.
SET S.M.A.R.T. GOALS – Maybe you’ve heard of the S.M.A.R.T. goals hack, it’s one of our favorite life hacks of all time. If you want to accomplish something, it helps immensely to set a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. Applied to getting a record deal, we’ve already addressed the Specific part: set goals to get signed to specific labels, not just ‘a’ label. You need to be able to measure your progress to toward this goal. For example, if you make a connection at a label twice a month, you’re progressing toward your goal. If you’re a coffee shop singer/songwriter, don’t start by trying to get signed to Warner Bros., shoot for a more Achievable indie label. What kind of success is Realistic to expect if you get a record deal? Don’t think you’re jumping on Warped Tour if you’ve never played outside your hometown. Finally, and most importantly, give yourself a Time-Bound deadline. “We are going to sign a record deal by X date or else we’re releasing the album ourselves” can work well as a motivator. Awareness of the negative consequences in failing to achieve your goal is one of the keys to motivation.
HAVE PATIENCE, GET HELP – Here’s the truth: a band on their own trying to get a record deal is a nightmare. Most deals happen with the help of managers and/or lawyers. The person who brokers the deal on your behalf will get a percentage. They’re motivated to find you a great deal. They also might already be connected to the people you need to know. If you don’t have anyone representing or managing you, the label will not have as much faith that you’re going to be a reliable or profitable act.
TOUR – Even with a record deal, your band needs to tour to make money. Most labels are going to want you to tour as much as humanly possible. Many labels will ignore your band outright if you’re not on tour, just came off of tour, or at least are available to tour a lot in the near future. You need to tour to build a fan base, and you need a fan base to be attractive to a label.

Record Deal Video Hacks

Artists House Music – Band as Business: Labels

Watch parts 1 & 2 of the Artists House Band as Business course to get a good sense of how labels operate.

(photo CC-BY Pamla J. Eisenberg)