Navigating To Yes; The Elusive Record Deal

Posted By Brie Austin In Category: Insights , Music

Navigating To Yes; The Elusive Record Deal is a combination of knowing when the timing is right, and having a strategy when that time arrives: luck has little to do with it.

Think of yourself as a product, and the record company as a prospective client. Product, packaging and marketing are the keys for closing the deal. When Beatrice Foods wants to launch a new juice line, typically they don’t develop a new one. They find a company that fits the profile and they buy it.  The same formula holds true for many labels: they look for finished product that they can then package and market as their own.

What’s the number one job of an A & R executive?  It’s to keep his job!

It is far easier for a music executive to take an interest in you if they can visualize the end product, and have others validate that interest: executives don’t often like to parachute alone. Therefore, it always helps if there is a “buzz” of excitement around you and/or your music. You can create your own buzz through a simple series of building blocks:

1)      Get out and test your music with live audiences. If you can’t gain their interest how will you gain a labels?

2)      If you are performing regularly, collect email addresses from everyone who comes to your show who would like to be in the loop of your career. Create a newsletter to that subscriber list, telling them not only about upcoming gigs, but also about your career, how it is developing. If they are interested in you as well as your music, they are more likely to help spread the word about how great you are, ultimately becoming part of your grassroots promotion team. Stimulate feedback from them through questionnaires and letters.

3)      Once you have a tight show and are drawing an enthusiastic crowd, start inviting the press, and industry executives to see you perform. Get people talking!

Network and find reporters that like your work. Publicity is a pyramid: lots of little stories that build one on top of the other until together they tell a big story.  Create a series of little stories that are news worthy, and in time all those little continuous stories will attract larger media outlets. Get into print!

Once you have established yourself as something new and fresh, and have attracted a loyal following, it is time to make the sale. Create a package (for targeted label executives) containing a press kit (all those press clippings, letters from fans), a good 8 x 10 photo, bio with contact info, and a demo (produced as a finished record if possible).  Again, research is key. DON’T send a package to “A & R Director.”  Find out “who” the A & R director is, or the name of a lower level person who has some influence and can get you to the right executive. Do the homework to learn what labels handle your type of sound. Investigate the various labels track record and financial condition. Sometimes a label with good financial resources that hasn’t had a hit in a while is ripe for a new discovery, while a label at the height of success is too busy catering to their existing stable of stars.  (You don’t want to get signed and yet never have the record released.) Ask around to learn who the new up and comer executives are, those with fire in their belly who haven’t yet realized that they need to protect their job, and perhaps, you can help each other.

Another approach that might not require as much preparation is to secure the efforts of a credible producer to make the sale for you. Having discovered a young singers voice, a producer will sometimes package that singer into a recording artist, which they then pitch to the labels on the strength of those recordings and their own name recognition (think Eminem).  Producers are more likely to work with a new recording artist based solely on that artist’s raw talent than would a music executive. However, there are only a handful of producers that have that level of clout. So it should be no surprise that they are inundated with requests. But again, know your marketplace, and in this case, the producer.  What type of music is the producer known for, what labels is the producer affiliated with, what type of artists is he/her interested in working with?  Where can you have the best chances of a one on one introduction? In other words, find the right fit, and a have a strategy to implement it.

If you get the opportunity to pitch yourself to a producer, that pitch should include; a photo, a 3-song CD  — stripped of fancy musical arrangements, thereby highlighting your voice, not the production. Producers have their own imagination, allow them to use it.

There are no hardened rules in the music business, so don’t be afraid to be creative. It might be as simple as being in the right place at the right time. No, that’s not luck, its homework. Being in the right place at the right time requires knowing where the right place is.

Of course the best way to get a deal might be to become successful enough (as an independently distributed artist) that you don’t need a deal.  Remember, record deals are like bank loans, and they are easiest to obtain when you don’t need one. But, that’s for another article altogether.

(PUBLISHED in American Songwriter Magazine 2005)  

Copyright Brie Austin 2005 – All Right Reserved.


About Brie Austin

Co-author of I'd Do It Again, he is a columnist/reporter for a variety of magazines in the areas of music, lifestyle, nightlife, travel and business. He also writes business documents and creates copy for websites.

Leave a comment