Unsolicited Music Demos: How to Get in the Door of a Record Label
When looking at the top search terms for my blog today, I noticed a number of searches about “unsolicited music demos” and even “what is an unsolicited music demo?” So let’s talk about them and how to make them work for you:
What is an unsolicited demo?
If you look under the FAQ’s or contact information of most record label websites, you’ll see some kind of variation of a note saying “we’re not accepting unsolicited demos at this time.” Basically, an unsolicited demo is one that isn’t asked for. For example, the junk mail you receive at home is considered unsolicited.
Imagine that you were applying for a job at a company that you knew was not hiring. Without any contact or conversation, you mail them a resume in hopes of it going to the right person who would be interested in your exact qualifications. Now imagine that you were the company and received about 500-1,000 unwanted resumes every week for a nonexistent job opening from some people who were desperate for a job. Replaces resumes with CD’s or press kits and now you can see why 99% of unsolicited demos go in the garbage.
No one is listening to the demos
It’s true – when I recently visited Sony BMG and Capitol Records, they had entire shopping carts full of press kits mailed in. The only press kits being looked at were ones being sent from management companies or booking agencies with a solid reputation. Most of the A&R agents would take the CD’s to sell at the store down the street, most ended up being tossed.
Other websites offer you a service where you can pay to “pitch” your music to record labels or music licensing agencies. Usually, that’s a waste of money too. If you want to pay someone to give you a chance, you might as well do pay to play shows, where there’s an audience who will listen to more than 45 seconds of your music. It’s rare, but some independent labels do accept demos or have an inbox on Soundcloud that you could submit to. However, those are few and far between.
So how do you get their attention if they won’t listen?
Let’s revisit the job example. If you wanted that unavailable dream job, what would be more effective than mailing a resume in? For starters, you could use social media or networking events to meet key members of the staff there. You could create some hype about your work and show a good fit by getting some media coverage in industry publications. You could get their competitors interested in you. In other words, rather than “push” yourself onto them, you would “pull” them towards you by letting them discover your value on their own.
In the music industry, people have become less risky on new acts. As a result, it takes much more to prove that you are a good investment. The reason why major labels only take submissions from well-established acts on reputable booking agencies is because they want a sure-bet. Don’t be an act that is desperate to be signed by a label. Instead, be an act that labels are desperate to sign.
The keys to getting their attention
These are the tried and true steps to take in order to get anyone in the music industry’s attention
1. Tour often: After that, keep touring.
2. Get plenty of media hype: reviews, interviews, show previews, etc. You’ll need a publicist for this and, often times, a lot of touring.
3. Build a large following: That usually comes from step 1 & 2.
4. Get Licensing: Most licensing agents are looking for acts with a lot of momentum. In other words, acts who are touring often and who get media attention.
5. Learn how to pitch your band
6. Run your band like a business and prove you can make money, that you are a good investment
If you do this right, have a niche market, build a hardcore fan base, and run your music career like a business, often times you won’t need a record label. No one ever said it would be easy – but if you aren’t willing to put the work in now, most labels won’t think you’ll be willing to do the hard work later when they are paying you to do so (that is, if they have any budget to pay your tour expenses at all).
You might also find this helpful: 5 Tips on Getting a Label, Sponsor, or Booking Agent or these articles on Breaking Into the Music Industry.