As an independent artist, getting your music heard by record labels can be a daunting task. Music labels are busy and don’t have time to listen to all the submissions that indie artists send in. Some recording labels even have a no unsolicited submission policy, making it impossible for artists to contact them directly. However, there are certain techniques to follow to help you get your music heard by record labels that are looking for new talent. Let’s get started!
1. What kind of record labels exist?
Before contacting record labels, you first need to understand how the industry works. There exist three major types of record labels: major labels, major subsidiaries, and independent labels. The three major labels, also known as the “Big Three”, are Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group. Statistics from OMDIA, Music & Copyright in 2020 show that the Big Three account for 69% of all revenue on the recorded music market. Universal Music Group holds the biggest share at 32% followed by Sony with 21% and Warner Music Group with 16%.
The second type of record label is known as a major subsidiary. Major subsidiaries are essentially divisions of the Big Three major labels. Labels like Capitol, owned by Universal, and Columbia Records, owned by Sony, are major subsidiaries that run under each parent company.
Independent labels make up the third category of record labels and represented 31% of the recorded music market in 2020. As you can see, this is nearly the same as the Universal Music Group share! This includes all the labels outside of the Big Three that run on independent funding. Independent record labels range in size and notoriety and include the well known labels like Matador and XL Recordings. Independent labels also include all the small collectives that are founded on college campuses and out of garages.
To get your music heard by major labels as an unsigned artist may sound like a dream come true, but there are also other options. Independent labels could be better suited to the development of your career. Usually, they have more time and energy to devote to your project. There are also more independent labels to choose from and they are more accessible. Being signed by a major record label may seem like you’ve “made it” but it really depends on what stage you’re at in your music career. Unless you know the right people, it can also be very difficult to get your music heard by record labels in the Big Three. Try focusing your efforts on independent labels; they will be easier to contact and more receptive to submissions.
2. How do songs get noticed by record labels?
When record labels are looking to sign new talent, they often do their research in two places: social media and streaming platforms. It is essential to have a strong presence on social media as an independent artist and show that you have already built a loyal fanbase. Record companies are looking for artists with a clear identity, or brand, that they can market easily. Being active on Instagram and TikTok can help artists get noticed- especially if one of their songs goes viral!
Record labels also pay attention to streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer, just to name a few. If an unsigned artist already has music that streams well, this is a good sign for the artist’s potential and thus beneficial to a label. The music industry has changed a lot over the past 20 years and record labels have adapted to the streaming era. Instead of selling as many physical copies as possible, labels focus their efforts on boosting streams. Songs that stream well directly translate to potential opportunities for the artist and the label. This includes playing more live shows, getting your music on the radio or in films, and an overall increase in visibility. In short, more streams means more money!
3. How do record labels find artists?
Apart social media and streaming platforms, record labels find artists through concerts, word-of-mouth, press, and networking. Often professionals in the music industry attend concerts to scout out new talent and potentially grow their roster. If a label is actively looking to sign new artists, they will usually check out the emerging artists music scene. Showcases and concerts reserved for a professional audience, for example, are becoming more and more popular. If you get to play at a showcase, you can meet industry professionals and potentially get a record deal.
Word-of-mouth and press are also common ways that record labels find artists. If people are talking about your project, it’s a good sign. If the press or media are talking about your project, it’s an even better sign. Getting written about on music blogs as an independent artist is crucial to building legitimacy and constructing your image. If you have already gotten exposure on your own, record labels will be more confident in signing you. After all, signing a record deal is a business contract that implies an investment from the label to help an artist advance in their career.
Lastly, networking is another major way that record labels find artists. Those in an artist’s entourage, such as managers for example, can get in touch with labels to pitch projects and labels can solicit managers if they are interested in signing their artists. However, record labels finding artists through networking often implies that the artist already has an established entourage. If you are not interested in contacting labels yourself but still want to get signed, try getting a manager first.
4. How to get the attention of music labels?
Now that you know how record labels find artists and notice songs, how can you get their attention? Here are step by step guidelines to follow if you want to get your music heard by record labels. Most labels have contact forms or emails on their websites that you can use to get in touch. If they don’t, you may have to do some digging. This could include doing research on LinkedIn, for example, to find out who works in the A&R (artists and repertoire) or talent acquisition departments at a certain label.
4.1 Target music labels according to your style of music
Before pitching your music to a label, do thorough research on which labels are most suited to your project. This first step is super important in narrowing down the labels that could potentially be interested in signing you. If you send your demos to a bunch of random people without putting in the work beforehand, you risk coming across as spam.
Think local and think genre. Are there independent music labels in your area that seem to fit with your sound? Conduct research of similar artists, from emerging to established, and make a list of the labels they work with. Do any of these record labels correspond with your values? It is important to target music labels that you would potentially want to work with. Make sure that what they offer is what you’re looking for.
4.2 Write the perfect pitch for your project
After you’ve narrowed down a list of labels, it’s time to write the perfect pitch for your project. Being able to present yourself and your music in a concise and effective manner is crucial. Make sure to include essential details such as where your project is from, the genre, when the project started and previous releases. Don’t forget to include important news such as upcoming releases if relevant. You can also include a couple references of well-known artists you sound like or have been compared to. Be careful when name dropping artists that are already on their roster, however. If you present your project by only comparing it to their signed artists, they may not be interested. Why would they want to sign an artist who sounds exactly like someone they have already signed?
Most labels are also interested in how you originally got into music. Also, if you have a short quote from the press, you can include this as well. Including a personal and memorable anecdote can also spark interest in the reader. The goal is to be compelling and most of all, be concise! We recommend keeping it to around 150 words if you can. Labels receive so many emails from artists so they don’t have much time to read a novel. Here is my artist biography to give an example:
“Mackenzie Leighton is a musician and florist based in Paris since 2017. Originally from the United States, she grew up in a small seaside town in Maine where she studied classical piano at a young age. She moved to New York in 2014 and played in several folk, jazz, and indie-pop bands before moving to France to launch her solo career. With precise songwriting and soft electric guitar picking, her first EP released in late 2017 lulls us into a dreamy indie folk universe. After a solo tour in Italy in 2018 and playing notable Parisian stages, she released her second project “Tourist(e)” in 2020. Now accompanied by her French band, Mackenzie intimately reveals the reality of her expatriate life with modern songs that blend folk and pop, English and French, in “Fleuriste” released in June 2021. As Rolling Stone says, Mackenzie Leighton “should put some sunshine in your weekend.””
Check out our full article on how to write a good biography here.
4.3 Include key elements to present your musical project as best you can
Apart from a good biography, there are other key elements to present your project as best you can and get your music heard by record labels. Including some visuals such as high quality photos and videos is recommended. Choose two or three images that capture your essence and personality. Highlight a live session or a music video that really represents your artistic universe. The best thing you can do is attach an EPK, or electronic press kit, that presents your project in an organized and professional way. Photos and videos can go into your electronic press kit directly as well as links to your music and press coverage. Check out our full article on how to master the press kit to make a good first impression.
4.4 Send high quality and unreleased songs
One of the most important things to keep in mind when contacting labels is the music you’re sending. If you send demos that were recorded on your phone, you may not get any responses. Sending high quality songs, either recorded at home or in a studio, is key in getting the attention of labels. Labels are often interested in finished products that they can easily market and sell. Nonetheless, it is possible to get signed by a label without having a finished project, but you need to at least show them that you have material to record. The more songs you have, the better. If you send just one demo, even if it’s a hit, the label will likely want to hear more.
Make sure you are sending them new and unreleased music. It’s great to include your past projects in your EPK, but labels are looking to sign artists who have exciting new songs to release and not just past successes. Though we recommend sending finished unreleased projects, it’s perfectly acceptable to send demos that have not been mixed or mastered yet. Just make sure to include this detail in your pitch.
| Read also: How to send a Demo to Record Labels
4.5 Write short and personalized messages
Labels know when artists copy and paste an introduction and send mass emails. This is a common mistake that artists make and comes across as spam. Chances are, if you didn’t put time into writing a personalized message to each label, the label won’t take the time to read your email. Write short and personalized messages to each label you contact that is pertinent to why you are contacting them. Have you been following the label for a long time? Do you know artists that work with them? Anything you can include in your message that shows you are invested in what they do can raise your chances of getting attention.
4.6 Sell yourself!
At the end of the day, artists are a product that labels need to be able to properly present and sell. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself to convince them why you could be a good investment and addition to their roster. Talk about your hot news and the exciting highlights of your career. Have you worked with artists that are more well known than you? Don’t be afraid to name drop. Have you played in big venues or festivals? Do you have a big Instagram following or generate a lot of streams? All of these factors play an important role when labels decide to sign a new artist. Be careful not to overdo it however- the last thing a label wants is an overly-cocky artist with a big ego. Confidence is key and you can present your successes in a humble way without sounding pretentious. For example, if you want to talk about your Instagram following, you can say something like, “With x number of followers, I’ve managed to grow my visibility as an artist organically and reach new audiences.” Give them reasons to want to pursue you further!
5. How to get your music heard by record labels with a guaranteed response?
When you take the cold-call approach, there is no guarantee to get your music heard by record labels or even receive an answer. You can contact them through email, Instagram, or Facebook, but the harsh reality is that artists often wait for responses that never come. It would be great if independent musicians could get in touch directly with professionals in the industry who would actually listen to their music and give feedback. Luckily, Groover has the solution!
Groover is an innovative platform that allows musicians to send their songs directly to the best music influencers (labels included) and get guaranteed feedback. It costs 2 Grooviz, equivalent to 2 euros, to send your track to a music professional, with the fee being equally split between the influencer and Groover. The influencer then has 7 days to listen and respond with at least 15 words of feedback. If you don’t get a response after 7 days, your Grooviz are refunded to you and you can use them to send your music to other influencers. A handful of artists have already got a record deal by using Groover. Honestly, for an affordable price, Groover is the surest way to get your music heard by record labels. More importantly, you get a guaranteed response and could potentially land a record deal!