Getting a Record Deal
What You Need To Know To Get A Record Deal
Getting a record
deal gets harder every year. The
days of record impresarios like Phil Spector discovering a group,
taking them into the studio and making them famous overnight are
the music business is sometimes more about the business than it
is about the music. While record companies and music publishers
still rely on hit songs falling from the lips of superstars to make
their profits, the way they find their talent has changed a lot
from the past.
was a time that an artist, band or songwriter could send their demo
tape in to a record company as "unsolicited" material--meaning that
nobody from the record company had requested the material. It was
somebody's job to open the tapes and give them a spin with the hope
they would find a winner.
As more and
more people began making demos, the task of listening to unsolicited
tapes became too formidable for the average label. The labels also
became aware of the legal ramifications involved in listening to
tapes that came in from the general public because of copyright
infringement suits that often landed them in court.
labels and publishers would only accept tapes from music attorneys
who were well-connected or managers who had a reputation in the
business for aligning themselves with "hit makers."
While it may
seem like a daunting task for someone in middle America to find
themselves an "Angel" who can get them through the pearly gates,
it's not impossible.
One sure way
to get your band noticed is to become more businesslike yourself.
Everybody loves a winner--especially a record company. Take Hootie
and The Blowfish for example. Hootie couldn't get arrested by any
of the major labels. They had all heard the demo, and passed on
the group. It took a 22 year-old researcher at Atlantic Records
in New York to get the band a deal. How? Simple. His weapon of choice
was a telephone.
made it his business to call small town record stores to see if
any local groups were selling any product in their own "backyard."
When the diligent young man found out that Hootie had sold a whopping
number of CD's in Columbia, SC, he immediately went to Atlantic's
vice-president of A&R. The V.P. told the kid to take a hike.
stop him. He went to the chairman of the board of Atlantic, who,
as the story is told, went to the V.P. of A&R and mandated that
Hootie and the Blowfish be signed immediately. The moral of the
story is that if you can't find a heavy-weight lawyer or manager
to stand in your corner, you can still get the big guns to come
to you by doing the right kind of self-promotion.
But don't let
me mislead you. It takes serious planning and execution to sell
enough CD's to get the labels crawling to you. Rumor has it that
our finned friends from Columbia, S.C. sold between 50,000 and 100,000
units. That's a lot of CD's for a group to sell on their own.
To perform such
a feat, you need a few tools. The first of course is an incredibly
good record. "As good as" isn't really good enough. You need to
sound unique and have incredibly catchy tunes. Great timing doesn't
hurt either, and letting the public know who you are on a regular
basis is crucial. By that I mean touring.
start out small and grow. I recommend playing gigs within your general
area and once you begin to reach saturation in those clubs, start
widening your circle. Play clubs within a hundred mile radius. Then
200 miles, then 300 and so on. If you get press in those towns,
send an advance person to hang posters in every conceivable place
and work with local radio stations to promote your shows, you might
get lucky enough to draw some serious crowds which will in turn
allow you to sell a lot of CD's.
I definitely don't recommend making is to press up a thousand CD's
without having a marketing plan firmly in place which outlines how
and to whom you will sell them.
your tour, remember to start out small and grow. Keep your day job
and just do as many gigs as you can find that are within a three
hour drive of your home base. Once you hit the saturation point
with those weekend gigs, start thinking of creative ways to take
Fridays off of work so you can plan longer trips.
When you start
making enough money from your gigs (which is pretty hard considering
most clubs pay peanuts for original music), you can start to think
about quitting your day job. But don't act too hastily. First do
the math. Total up the cost of gas, van maintenance, road food and
flea bag motels before you take the leap. You may even want to think
about sleeping in your van. Ahhh, the glamour of rock and roll.
Oh yeah, don't forget, you'll need to pay the rent back home. And
the phone bill. And the cable bill. And your Mastercard monthly
payment ... you get the idea.
My point: It's
still a business. It takes a good business head to make enough noise
for a major label to find you instead of you getting frustrated
trying to get to them. Hey, if it was easy, everybody would be a