Monday, May 4, 2009

Musical Etiquette: Approaching A Label

Hey Musical Etiquette:
I've just wrapped up the mastering on my latest album, XXXXX. I've been sending demos out to a bunch of different labels and I haven't heard anything back. I've been sending full press kits, demos, glossies, DVDs and t-shirts to every label I can think of and I haven't heard anything back. What's going on here? Why haven't any of these labels written me back?


Approaching any record label, corporate or indie, requires a deft hand. You are entering into the mysterious paradox of humility and arrogance that is music promotion. Often times the path seems unclear, should you send a follow up? How long should you wait? Should you send a full album or just some samples? Should you send a video along? How about a hat? Approaching a label is like courting a lady. Every one is different and you will need some experience and confidence to get this done. A fur coat isn't going to impress PETA girl.

Indie labels in many regards are no different than huge, soul sucking, evil corporate monstrosities. They both publish and promote music and are constantly looking to expand on their catalog. An Indie label generally has two or three people working part time and digging through your full press kit is simply not a priority. They have to answer email, go out and buy lunch, ship product and go to the restaurant to pull some extra shifts to make rent. Giant Art Destroying Corporation has just as busy of a schedule, but it looks very different. A major label rep has to set up appearances on the Disney Channel for their latest Clone Rock band, testify in a copyright infringement hearing against a three year old with the wrong IP address and kick at least a dozen puppies before lunch. Suffice to say, puppies don't kick themselves and Mr. I'll Sign Anything That's Called "Core" is very busy.

First Off, Fuck Major Labels
The fact is you don't want to sign to the One Label To Rule Them All. Take it from me, you'll never achieve anything remotely close to artistic or financial success on that sinking ship. Stick to the indies, they'll treat you like a human being and you won't be crying yourself to sleep every night. Besides, the chances that one of these dinosaurs will notice you is directly proportionate to the amount of beautiful, absurdly trendy looking people that comprise your act. Unless you're prepared to completely reinvent your clothing, sound, lifestyle, ethics, equipment, finances, family, and hairstyle you're better off without these people running your life. Honestly, fuck these people. So let's get you signed to an indie label.

Postal Etiquette.
Look, this is really about music. It's not about how much money you've spent on things that end up in the recycle bin. If you've ever seen the inbox of an indie label you'd understand why. It is a never ending stream of posters, promos, announcements, solicitations and weird shit that makes no sense:
  • A hand made promo cover that looks like someone let their three year old do it.
  • No track listing on a burned CD.
  • A CD mailed with candy. (Seriously, this happened to me. The candy sat in the office for three weeks labeled "sketchy".)
  • A DVD containing a fluff piece arranged and produced by the band.
  • Forty glossy fliers in a package with no music.
  • Air in an envelope.
I can personally guarantee you that most of this crap never gets a second glance. Only the truly absurd even pops in on their radar and you really don't want to know what people say about this stuff. Ask me about "The Print Shirt Crew" sometime.

Give the People What They Want.
What anyone who spends a lot of time listening to demos really wants is an accessible format. They're not interested in clever packaging or a book of bio and promo material. Get to the point and give them what you're selling. Music.
Mailing CDs:
  • Clearly labeled, burned CD with track listing and times.
  • No extra material on the disc itself, no one is going to watch your video, no one will dig for hidden tracks.
  • If it's a sampler and not a whole record, come on strong and don't let up. Put your best song first.
  • If you want to include a bio sheet, make it one page, laser printed and without any flashy crap all over it.
  • Don't expect this to be returned.
  • Make sure it will survive the hell that is the postal service.
Internet media:
  • Do not send obscure file formats. FLAC might be better, but not everyone will be willing to figure out how to play it.
  • Send MP3s, 320k stereo with correct ID3 tags and album art in a single folder. If this is a language you don't speak, consult a geek.
  • Send an email that is concise, short and well formatted. Do not fill the thing with ten thousand links or a hundred pictures.
  • Feel free to send along links to your Myspace page, but make sure it's properly formatted. If your Glitter Bomb crashes my browser, you've lost my attention. Again, ask a geek.
Don't Be Pushy.
Now that you've gotten the music to the label it is your job to wait. Patience is essential at this point, it may take several weeks for someone to get around to listening to your work and harassing them about it will not endear you to them. As I said, a lot of indie labels are tiny and there are times when the two people who actually pay themselves to do this are simply far too busy to get around to the promo stack or the Inbox Monster. It is perfectly acceptable to send a follow up email or note after about two weeks to ensure that they received your package or email. At these times it is best to be polite, concise and professional. A simple "Did you get this?" is sufficient. For the love of all things holy, don't accuse someone of being a dick if they don't start slobbing on yours. It might be the most brilliant thing ever conceived and yes, it's gathering dust. Be patient grasshopper.

Prepare For Rejection.
The fact is, you're not going to get picked up by the first label you inquire with. You probably won't get picked up by the 15th. Keep working, keep pimping as hard as you possibly can. Send requests and demos to everyone you can think of. Send in a demo to a label you think you'd never have a chance in hell of getting on. Be bold but never obnoxious. Thank people for their time if they send you a rejection notice and listen to what they have to say. If a label that you thought you were perfect for rejects your demo based on some artistic differences, learn from the experience and try to find one that matches what you're up to. This is a long process but eventually you'll find a group of people in promotion and distribution that you really want to work with.

Indie music isn't a top down process, you'll be getting to know these people pretty well and working alongside them to achieve what you both want. They're not your boss, they're not your employees, they are your partners and if you treat them well in the query process it'll pay off down the road. Treat them like what they are, busy people who would love to listen to your band when they get a chance and they'll give it a fair shake.

Good luck finding your label!
Eriq Nelson.

Is your band suffering a complete meltdown? Awesome! Tell me all about it:


Tom said...

Eriq, saw the link to this on Twitter - awesome article, lots of good points. Keep up the good work, this kind of info is great.

The "how to submit your songs" article on KEXP.ORG is also a great insight from DJ John Richards - concise, polite and patient is the golden rule (or is that three rules?).

Eriq Nelson said...

"Concise, polite and patient" are all manifestations of The One True Rule. Wil Wheaton says: Don't Be a Dick. It's my guiding principle.

Goldie Davich said...


Some of it applies to submitting music for review.

No one likes a cocky little rocker.

Amber Dawn said...

I know I always say this - but keep it coming!