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.

21 Comments

  1. Nate Valentino says:

    Let the record agencies come to you with their million dollar contract and refuse it. You’re more likely to owe them money than to make money from them. A fair amount of record companies don’t pay the artist from the CD sales, and if they do its very little. Also some big name record companies will contract you to still pay them up to 10 years after they have dropped you. If you have a fan base of a few thousand and are touring a fair bit, your probably better off.

    • Simon Tam says:

      I actually refused a million dollar recording contract for my band a few years ago. Not all deals are bad, it’s just important to hire an attorney and understand what is being offered. Often times, it’s more like a high-interest loan than an equitable offer.

      • Nate Valentino says:

        Yeah, an attorney is a must when signing a recording contract. This article is great advise for those wanting to sign to a label. I think also perseverance is key. If you don’t get accepted by one, go to another until you find one that will. I think also it’s important to be signing to a label you feel comfortable with and that you know understands what you or your band is about.

  2. Neil says:

    Simone, I hope this finds you well. I have an artist that is already signed to a major Internationally (EMI South Africa ).Only for the territory . I am finding it quite difficult to break him into the US. (caucasian, No accent when performs). Currently having internal issues with the recent Universal/EMI/Sony Merger. Will I have to go through the same process again before the majors here in the US will take offer another deal? Its quite a perturbing prospect to consider after the previous push. Its seems not to matter when I tell them that he is currently signed to a major they still wont accept us as solicited and refer us to the “RPK Shopping Cart”. Any guidance/advice would be much appreciated.

  3. Neil says:

    BTW Awesome site!

  4. Smart Drugs says:

    It’s enormous that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from our argument made at this time.

  5. Soblanc says:

    Hello 🙂 i find this article very informative. I was offered a record deal a few years back at the age of 16. Having Christians parents they declined. Now legally able to make decisions on my own its been soo hard getting the right person (label, AnR etc) to listen. Im confident in my music (reverbnation.com/soblanc)and work so hard and collab with other local artist (reverbnation.com/bsmithmj) but still cant catch that opportunity again. What am i doing wrong? I guess thats the question… Im currently looking for a manager. Last manager supposley got me an opportunity with Sony but smh long story. How do i find a good manager? Plz help 🙂 thanks n Bless!

    • I have played lead guitar, bass, rhythm and drums and writing music for almost 50 years. I have a cd I’d like to have listened to by a lable co. I don’t gig anymore and it looks like I’m gona have any luck. I still play rock and also easy listening music.

  6. lez-lee says:

    hy my name z lez i also find it interesting but mi and my band have been as a group for a year and we are struggling to get in the label.People say we the best and we wrote songs but people love them even though thy dont have beats but thy luv it we ar tryn to find a persn who can hlp us doing a demo and find a great record label tht could tyk us. But we still struggling can u help or give us som ideas plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  7. lez-lee says:

    hy i need help my band is great everybody luvz it but we cant find a record but we havn’t tried them we scared they will rejet us please help

  8. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

  9. Richard thompson says:

    I have always wanted to sing. Not for the money or fame. Just cause it’s fun.

  10. lil m says:

    check out my video on YouTube type in lil m take a step bck u will like it n I cn come the number one hit I want to do some business

  11. Honey Baka says:

    My name is Honey Baka and i’m a EDM artist. I’m not exactly sure how i would pitch my type of music yo a record label that isn’t: Hi. My name is Honey Baka and i does music stuffs. I really need a way to describe my music without giving them a demo. Also,On Astralwerks it says under their email box; General Inquiries, Publicity, licensing, radio, and internships. Which one should i choose? And this is the link to my soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/honeybaka

  12. Dmitry says:

    Who are you, child? Just ordered some SEO services to top the search engine results with “unsolicited records” words and now you think you can teach us how the whole music industry works? Stop your phony promotion campaign of your useless services “boutique talent agency & artist resource center”. Stop lying to people.

  13. LIANA says:

    Dear Simon,
    We are two sisters Lia and Lena and together we are LIANA. Our music is dark, raw, mysterious, arabic and dreamy. At times it sounds like Lana Del Rey is covering The XX. We came across your tips just randomly, but we are glad we did! It made us realise that we are in the right direction on how to approach labels etc, but with your tips and tricks it just got that little extra that it needed. At the moment we are in the studio, recording our second EP. When that’s finished we will be contacting new people, because we think that it’s better to do when we have new material. We saw someone saying that you only have one chance, so it better be the best songs you have. How do you think about that? Can you approach a label just once or do they give you a second chance when you send them new material? Thank you for sharing your advice!!

    In case you’d like to hear our music for yourself:
    http://www.theyareliana.com
    http://www.facebook.com/theyareliana

  1. […] record companies that take demo submissions, and so on. As I mentioned in a previous article, Unsolicited Music Demos: How to Get in the Door of a Record Label, the reality is that no one is soliciting to these […]

  2. […] on this post: Record Labels That Accept Unsolicited Demos. Other times, it might be this one: Unsolicited Music Demos: How to Get in the Door of a Record Label. Or, it could be […]

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