How to Get Record Labels, Managers and Music Bloggers to Hear Your Music
You’ve got the lineup solidified. You’re writing songs so catchy they get stuck in your own head. Everyone who hears your band—from your sister to your local bartender—thinks you guys are something special.
But you’re still working a job you hate. Sure, it’s flexible and low-stakes enough to give you time to make music, but it pays you absolutely nothing and bores you out of your skull. Music is just a hobby that sometimes gets you free drink tickets and a rush on stage, but little else that translates to real world success. It’s the same story for thousands of bands. So how do you differentiate your music? How do you make sure it gets heard by the people who can help you move your career forward? How do you get Managers, Talent Buyers, A&R Coordinators and Music Journalists to put your album on the stereo and not straight into the trash?
Building a Reputation
There’s a reason it’s called the music BUSINESS, so it’s best to have a smart, strategic plan. The first step to getting your music heard might seem obvious, but a lot of musicians ignore it or downplay its importance. Start by building your band’s social presence online. If you’re just getting started, you can do this before you even have a show. After all, your friends are probably curious about what you’ve been doing for three hours every Thursday night in the practice space, and the people in your social circle are going to be your first fans. Secure Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for your band. If your music deals in a lot of imagery or has a distinct visual aesthetic a Tumblr account is a good idea, too. Invite all your friends to connect by posting about the new band account from your own personal account, and by following them with the band account (on Instagram and Twitter) or by suggesting they like the account (on Facebook). After this initial work, a lot of bands get lazy. You have to post regularly. Do the obvious things, like posting about upcoming shows, if you’re in the studio recording a new EP, etc. Even if you haven’t booked a show in awhile, you can still share candid photos of the band members hanging out at practice, a YouTube video of a band that inspired your sound or a photo or painting which evokes some of the lyrical content of your music. The idea is to stay on people’s radar. Most importantly, make sure the content is relevant and of good quality.
Build a fan base in your own hometown before you set out to conquer the world. Start small.
The idea behind building an official band website is similar. Be professional and create compelling content. You can use your website to list show dates, sell t-shirts and albums, link to social pages and share any biographical info about the band. But the main reason behind having a website is it just straight up makes your band look legit. A website says you’re in it for the long haul. You’re reliable and accomplished, and you have the gig history and the business acumen to prove it. A potential Manager or A&R Coordinator wants to know you’ll do the work and be worth their investment of time and money.
Of course, the biggest part of getting your music heard is to play shows. Build a fan base in your own hometown before you set out to conquer the world. Start small. Sell out gigs at your local bar, then start thinking about booking mini regional tours. (Only after you become successful at home is it time to start thinking about bigger, national tours.) It’s just easier to get written up in your local newspaper or by a local music blog when these people have seen your band’s name enough times and see you’re gaining a following around town. Once you get your name in ink in the local media, you’ll have quotes and reviews to send when you eventually start sending your band’s press kit to national Bloggers and print media. A Music Journalist for a national publication is way more likely to write about you if there’s already information about you available. If there’s nothing about your music, they’ll know you’re just getting started and not yet poised to reach a wider audience. Plus, A&R Coordinator’s look for bands which have already proven they have drawing power and a fan base they can mobilize to spend money on their shows, albums, and merchandise. This is usually the hometown crowd where the band lives, practices, and has friends, as well as other cities close by where the band plays regularly.
Learning PR Skills
Once you’ve started building a name for your band, it’s time to create the aforementioned digital press kit. This is the way to get Music Bloggers to write about your music and get your music heard by record labels. The press kit can be simple and doesn’t have to involve a lot of money. It includes a band bio, a couple quality photographs, and a one-sheet, which is a short, single sheet of paper selling the story you want to tell about your musical product. In writing this, ask yourself why a Music Journalist would want to cover your band. It’s generally for two reasons: you’re about to release an album or you’re about to tour. It’s helpful if you can give them a hook. Are you childhood best friends who started making music together when you were ten? Did a well-known Producer work on your album? Does your live show incorporate a juggler, a guy in a gorilla costume and an accordion player? Put it in the press kit. These days, most labels and Journalists prefer to receive them via email, with a link to a site where they can stream your tracks.
A Music Journalist for a national publication is way more likely to write about you if there’s already information about you available. If there’s nothing about your music, they’ll know you’re just getting started and not yet poised to reach a wider audience.
The next step involves some serious, smart research. You’re going to build a few different target lists. Don’t waste your time hitting up every single music website on the planet or every record label where you happen to find an A&R Coordinator’s email address. If you’re an indie folk singer and you’re sending an email to the head of Death Row Records, you’re just wasting your time and energy (not to mention theirs). So get ready to spend some time behind your computer, finding the right people to contact. You’re going to make three main target lists: potential blogs, potential record labels, and similar Artists.
Although you want these lists to be targeted towards organizations which have a similar vibe to your music, you also want to make sure you’re including smaller labels/blogs/Artists who might be able to give you more personalized attention as well as bigger name labels/blogs/Artists who are a bit more of a stretch for a newer band. For example, if you’re a Rapper, your list of record labels should run the gamut from small indie labels to Roc Nation. Start by finding the organization you want to contact, then narrow it down further to find individual people at this organization to whom you can reach out. Blogger contact info is often pretty easy to find, but record industry execs are going to be harder to track down. Avoid using the general email@example.com email addresses if you can find email addresses that go to specific people at the label. You can save a lot of time online by picking up our regularly-updated guide of Record Label & A&R Contacts. You can also add public Twitter accounts as well as email addresses to your target lists. You can often find Bloggers and sometimes A&R people on Twitter. It’s definitely your best resource for getting in touch with Artists.
Once you have your targeted lists, start reaching out to these people with your digital press kit. Reread your emails to guarantee spelling and punctuation are correct. Ensure you’re providing the recipient with something to help them—either in writing a blog story, finding a potential new label signee or in finding someone to open for their show in Milwaukee—instead of just telling them you need things from them. That kind of email gets deleted immediately. Don’t spam. A general rule of thumb is to follow up two to three times, with 7-10 days in between each email/Tweet. You want to look persistent, not psychotic.
Lastly, make it easy for them. If you’re playing a show in a town where one of your target list record labels has its headquarters, make sure they know this and offer them a guestlist spot. If you’re trying to get a blog to cover your new vinyl-only LP release, send the Blogger a link to the tracks and offer to send him or her a physical copy when it comes out. If you’re contacting Artists about playing a show together, put the show together yourself so all they have to do is agree to show up and play. If you’re contacting well-established Artists, tweet them a link to a remix you did of one of their songs.
In all these cases, what you’re doing is proving you have a fully-finished musical product (whether it’s a huge fan base, a new LP, or an already booked show that needs a headliner) which stands on its own and has proven appeal. Then you’re inviting these tastemakers to step in and benefit from your already established awesomeness. You’re providing a service and building a potential partnership. If you complete these steps, keep building music industry relationships, and aren’t afraid to strike out a few times, eventually you’ll find someone who’s willing to listen and get other industry insiders to listen, too.
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