how to get a record deal

4 Ideas on How To Get A Record Deal In Today’s New Music Industry

The music industry has changed dramatically in the past decade, and to many who have been in this game for a long time, it is almost unrecognizable. In fact, the business has changed more in the past ten years than perhaps in any other period in history, but not everything is completely different from how it used to be.

While it’s been proven signing a record deal with a major is no longer the only path to superstardom and serious success (just look at Chance the Rapper, for example), many artists still want to work with those major corporations, as they have the money and connections to turn almost anyone into a household name. Or, even if that doesn’t happen terribly often, it’s still incredibly tough to do so without the backing of a major label.

So, how does an independent musician get a record deal in today’s new music economy (if they decide that’s what they want)? Here’s how to get a record deal using the changes the music business has faced as an advantage.

1. Become a Social Star

People who didn’t set out to become musicians getting record deals is nothing new, though it never ceases to simply feel wrong on so many levels. The music industry has a long history of signing anybody with some sort of fame or following to record deals and then pairing them with Producers and Songwriters who can help them crank out tracks and albums the masses will buy. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can be highly lucrative, which means the business won’t quit this practice anytime soon.

For many years, it was all about Actors and Actresses turning to music, and while this still happens today (look at people like Ansel Elgort and Hailee Steinfeld if you need some reminders this is still taking place), many major labels have shifted focus, and they are now looking in other fields for potential talent interested in crossing over to the music charts.

Social media celebrities are a relatively new creation, but some have wasted no time in capitalizing on their online success in order to become popular musicians. While not many social stars have been able to claim major smashes, it’s only a matter of time before someone with hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter or Instagram rockets up the charts and proves this type of success is possible.

Singer-songwriter Maggie Lindemann was a social celebrity before any of her music garnered real attention, but once she had a massive following, a label signed her, and the young artist’s single “Pretty Girl” made it into the top 10 in the U.K. and various European nations. Beloved duo Jack & Jack saw their first EP hit No. 12 in the U.S. thanks to their viral fame on Vine. Notorious social media phenomenons Jake Paul and Logan Paul have both collected platinum records for songs that became minor hits. Cameron Dallas was recently signed by Columbia Records, and he may be the next act to make music one of his biggest money making businesses…and this is to say nothing of people like Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes, who got their start on social platforms, but who didn’t release music until they had the backing of a major label.

Becoming famous online certainly isn’t easy, but it is one strategy you can try out…and the bonus is even if you don’t collect millions of followers, you’ve still put in a lot of work that will pay off. When labels look at you as a potential act to sign, they will click on your social media profiles to see how many followers you have and how engaged they are. Those running the show at major companies might not choose to give you a deal based solely on your following, but accruing a large audience certainly won’t hurt your chances.

In today’s all-viral, stream-driven world, the right music video can make all the difference. For those who are already successful, it can take a catchy song and turn it into a smash hit, and for those who have yet to make a name for themselves, a stunning visual can be the big break any band or artist needs.

2. Make a Viral Video

For a while, it looked like music videos were going to disappear entirely, as not many people outside of those with the backing of major labels saw a reason to invest the time or money into creating them. MTV stopped devoting airtime to the art form, and before YouTube took off as the new way for billions of people around the world to watch, it seemed like they might completely disappear…but now all that has changed, and they are perhaps even more important these days than they were in decades past.

In today’s all-viral, stream-driven world, the right music video can make all the difference. For those who are already successful, it can take a catchy song and turn it into a smash hit, and for those who have yet to make a name for themselves, a stunning visual can be the big break any band or artist needs.

This idea was proven over a decade ago when rockers OK Go released their video for “Here It Goes Again,” and things changed dramatically both for them and the industry. The clip, which features nothing more than the four members of the group executing fairly simple choreography on treadmills, went viral, racking up millions of plays and earning an incredible amount of media attention. The song itself ended up breaking into the Top 40 on the Hot 100—something they failed to do when their label was properly pushing them in the years prior—and the video won them a Grammy.

OK Go showed how much the right video could still do for a group and even just one song in the age of YouTube, and things have never been the same since.

Now, artists work hard to not only create videos that look great and fans will love, but which have a shot at going viral. Major stars like Drake and Childish Gambino have collected No. 1 hits this year alone thanks to the right music video, and plenty of newer acts have rocketed to popularity they might not have achieved on their own with eye-catching, funny, heartwarming (or breaking), or simply must-see music videos.

It’s tougher to come up with something that fits into these categories and has the potential to sweep the world and become a phenomenon with smaller budgets, but it’s certainly not impossible. If you’re able to film a clip that gets everybody talking, you have a very good shot at grabbing the attention of a record label and perhaps signing a deal. You don’t necessarily have to go all the way to No. 1 to make this happen, but the better your video performs and the more people who end up sharing, liking, and talking about it on social media, the better off you’ll be, deal or no deal.

3. Stream Your Way to a Deal

Streaming is king these days, and labels are paying very close attention to what does well on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. People at the biggest companies in the space spend enormous amounts of time pitching those who compile playlists and jockeying for a better position for their artists when it comes to certain genre pages and even the home site everyone sees when they open these streaming platforms, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for newer acts to break through as well.

Either by yourself or with a company that specializes in placing music into playlists, work to see your new single is featured on one, or several, of the most popular options for discovering new tunes. If you can plan things well and get your songs onto the right playlists, you might see your stream count explode. That’s good news for you as an up-and-coming act, as it means you’ll earn more money…but it could also have positive implications for your future.

When you can claim a song has tallied up, say, a million streams, that’s a big selling point for a label, for brands who want to work with young talent, for booking people, and even for the media, who love when numbers can back up someone they might be interested in covering.

Like everything else I’ve mentioned on this list, a sizable stream count may help grab the attention of top people at labels or A&R folks, but even if it doesn’t, it still puts you in a great position to continue to succeed.

Critics don’t always end up speaking for the masses, but if everyone gets into an act, it’s certainly worth looking into, and many of those at the highest positions at record labels know this and continue to scan magazines and blogs to get a sense of who is coming up in the world.

4. Become a Critical Favorite

Of the ideas I’ve discussed already, this is the least surefire way to grab the attention of those in decision-making positions at record labels…but it is worth mentioning. Receiving praise from Journalists and Critics used to be one of the major ways labels would break new acts, and the right review of an album could convince many to rush out and buy a record from an artist they might never even have heard of. Now, those days aren’t necessarily gone, but the media doesn’t hold the same kind of power it once did.

People still write about new talent and there are many who love to review music, but with streaming taking over, it’s easier for people to listen to anything they’ve heard or read about without committing to buying it, which makes reviews a little less powerful, and, perhaps even a little less necessary.

Having said that, the industry does still pay attention when the musically-inclined media begins covering an artist and saying great things. One positive mention isn’t the key, but a successful sweep of the blogosphere all around the same time (typically when an album is released) can get those at labels talking. If Editors at major, respected publications are falling all over a new release and the person behind it doesn’t already have a deal, perhaps it is time to put a deal in front of them. Critics don’t always end up speaking for the masses, but if everyone gets into an act, it’s certainly worth looking into, and many of those at the highest positions at record labels know this and continue to scan magazines and blogs to get a sense of who is coming up in the world.

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