Every aspiring singer and musician considers getting a record deal at some point.
Landing a record deal certainly comes with many benefits, but it can also be quite difficult.
With an oversaturated music industry, the labels don’t take that many risks with new artists.
But although it might seem elusive, becoming a signed artist is not impossible – you just need to put the work in.
So in today’s article, we’ll explain how to get signed to a record label through 10 steps.
These steps might not be a guarantee for success, but they will undeniably increase your chances and put you on the right track.
Getting a Record Deal – What Does It Really Mean?
Before walking you through specific steps on how to get signed to a record label, we want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Of course, if you’ve been performing and making music for some time now, you’re probably dreaming about being a signed artist – and for a good reason.
A record deal would surely open up many doors for you, and it would give you the push and security you need.
But things are not so simple, especially in this day and age.
In fact, many artists decide to fly solo – they crave creative freedom and control, and they want to keep 100% of the profits.
However, established labels provide their artists with all the tools and resources to advance their careers.
The record company also claims the rights and ownership of the artist’s or band’s recordings, so in a typical major-label deal, the artist will earn somewhere between 14 and 18% of the record’s dealer’s price.
That being said, whether you should try to get a record deal or not depends on your goals and priorities.
It’s true – some artists are doing quite well on their own.
And things have changed – musicians don’t have to wait around for a big label to notice them anymore.
You can distribute your music online, find a way of getting your music heard, and build a fanbase.
On the other hand, becoming a successful independent artist is a long and challenging journey, and that’s why getting signed to a major label might be your ticket to stardom.
So if you’re sure this is what you want, let us take you through the essential steps that will help you get things started.
How to Get Signed to a Record Label – 10 Steps
1. Develop your music
If you want to make it in the industry, you need to put a lot of time and effort into developing your sound, image, and musical identity.
Established record labels won’t offer you a record label based on your potential and talent – they want to invest in professional, well-rounded musicians who will earn them a profit.
Therefore, before even thinking about reaching out to a record label, you need to develop your music, improve your skills, and think about your musical personality.
For starters, you should listen to similar music and study bands and artists who are signed with major labels.
Of course, you shouldn’t try to copy their act and style but rather find inspiration and learn what works and what doesn’t and why.
Meanwhile, practice as much as you can, create new music, and polish your existing songs.
You need to be sure of yourself and your music, and the only way to do that is to practice constantly.
You can also tape yourself and listen to yourself playing and/or singing so you can work on your weak spots.
Also, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback – send your tape to someone you trust as well as someone who will give you honest feedback you can use to improve your music.
2. Record a demo
Once you’re satisfied with your songs, you should make a music demo.
If you want to get yourself noticed and eventually reach out to record labels, recording a good demo is essential.
Demo tracks have been used in the music industry for decades now, and they are a staple of the music business, as they allow artists and songwriters to pitch their songs to label companies and music publishers.
In essence, a demo is a draft version of a song, so it’s expected to be rough – its purpose is to demonstrate your skills and showcase the highlights and the essence of your music.
But just because a demo track isn’t a finished record doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done well.
Thankfully, there are ways to record a demo even if you’re on a budget.
You can even do it at home – you just need to get the necessary equipment for recording music.
The essential parts of home recording equipment include:
With this basic recording equipment, you can make a good quality demo recording without hiring a professional and spending a ton of money.
But if you decide to make a demo by yourself, you need to make sure you’ve gone through all the necessary steps, including arranging, recording, mixing, and mastering.
But the most important thing is to show your song’s hit potential – and that’s why you need to pick your best songs.
A good demo will also capture the essence of your music and showcase your songwriting and/or singing skills.
At the same time, it will show your uniqueness and authenticity.
Remember this: record labels are always looking for the next great artist, but they’re also getting hundreds (or even thousands) of demos per day.
And that’s why you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
See also: How to Make a Music Demo
3. Share your music
As we mentioned before, musicians don’t have to wait around for a big label to notice them anymore – they can share their music and build a fanbase without a record deal.
In fact, record labels will want to see how people react to your music – that will be the confirmation that investing in you and your music is a smart move.
That said, your next step should involve sharing your music online and distributing it on large streaming platforms.
There are many ways you can share your music with the world.
But you should conduct a little research first because each company has its own rules, requirements, and policies regarding fees, royalties, artist’s profile, and so on.
4. Create a powerful online presence
Before contacting a label company, you should also create a powerful online presence.
In this day and age, this step is essential.
Most of the artists who get signed with a record label have already developed a following.
And one of the best ways to get people to listen to your music is to become active online.
That said, you should consider the following steps:
- Create social media accounts
- Create a website
- Create engaging content
- Post regularly
- Start a YouTube channel
- Promote your music
Apart from being active online, you need to keep finding new ways of getting your music heard.
There are many music marketing strategies you can utilize, such as sending your music to blogs and playlist curators, organizing live streams, running paid promotions, and so on.
But one of the best ways to get your music heard is to play gigs.
5. Perform live
Performing live is indeed the best way to promote your music and find new listeners.
And that’s why you should do it as much as you can.
Playing gigs will ultimately help you get yourself noticed and build a fanbase, but it will also allow you to improve your skills and performance.
Plus, performing in front of an audience will help you develop your unique features and recognizable style.
If you want to get signed with a label, you need to develop a distinct style, and you need to grab your listeners’ attention.
And it takes time and practice to do this.
Eventually, you’ll find your style and develop your musical identity.
And if you have what it takes, people will notice you, and you’ll start growing your audience.
6. Build a fanbase
Let’s make something clear – building a fanbase is not easy.
There are so many singers and bands out there, and it became really difficult to offer something innovative and fresh.
On the other hand, people notice when someone is trying too hard to be different.
You should always stay true to yourself and to the things you’re trying to say with your music.
If you know who you are as an artist, you will be able to introduce yourself to your listeners as well as record companies in a proper way.
As we mentioned before, record companies seek talented artists who already have many followers and listeners.
So that’s one of the reasons you should first try to expand your fanbase.
Another reason is the fact that there are no guarantees in the music business.
So if you don’t manage to get a record deal, building a fanbase will help you pave your way to success as an independent artist.
Either way, creating a fanbase is important, and there are several ways you can approach this step:
- Develop your unique style
- Identify your target audience
- Promote your music and build an online presence
- Develop an effective music marketing campaign
- Be consistent
7. Make connections
Music is a very networking-oriented business.
And that’s why you should make connections and meet fellow artists, musicians, producers, and other people from the industry.
Networking can advance your career because it will help you access new information, get advice and support, and look at things from a fresh perspective.
That said, making a ton of connections will help you come across new opportunities and generally help you get around in the music industry.
To make important connections, you can visit local events and gatherings, go to shows and concerts, and follow relevant people on social media.
This is the best way to learn how things really work.
Plus, you never know who you’re going to meet next and where that’s going to take you.
Stay communicative and open-minded, but don’t forget to be careful.
Also, don’t forget who you are as an artist – you, your music, and your goals should always be your priority.
8. Research record labels
Once you feel like you’re more confident in your music and your skills, you can take the next steps.
If you think this step includes sending an email to a record label – not so fast.
When asking ‘What do I need to do to get signed by a record label?’, people want to get a clear, straightforward answer.
But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and secret formula to success.
Also, companies differ, and there are different types of record labels out there.
The three main types of record labels are:
- Major labels
- Major label subsidiaries
- Independent labels
So, you should discover more about each label type.
Furthermore, you should learn more about different record label deals.
Record label deals can be divided into five basic categories:
- Traditional Record Deal
- 360 Deal
- Distribution Deal
- Production Deal
- Profit Split Deal
Each deal has its advantages and disadvantages, and there’s actually no perfect record deal that will give you everything: creative freedom, rights, exposure, and financial resources.
That said, you should be ready to make some compromises, especially if you’re just starting out.
And that’s why you need to learn more about how record deals work, especially when it comes to specific companies you want to get in touch with.
Besides discovering more about different record companies you can contact, you should also study the music market and trends.
All of this will help you make an informed decision and get a deal that you’re happy with.
9. Reach out to preferred record labels
Once you’ve finished your record label research, you should make a list of the labels that fit your act.
Needless to say, a record label needs to match your style and genre.
But they also need to be willing to accept unsolicited demo tracks.
If you believe a record label aligns with your style, goals, and priorities, you should go ahead and reach out to them.
Labels usually have a website where you can find contact information.
On their website, you can also find out where to send your demo.
If that’s what they suggest, send them a well-crafted email and your demo and point them toward your music online.
When contacting a record label, don’t forget to include relevant links and/or media mentions.
In fact, you should send them your entire press kit – photos, bio, and any other important information about you or your band.
They need to know who you are and what your music is all about.
You should appear professional and confident, but you should also keep it relatively short and straightforward.
And don’t get discouraged if they don’t respond quickly.
A&R representatives get thousands of demo tracks every week, so it may take a while for them to check out your music.
10. Keep practicing
While waiting for the reply, instead of worrying and being impatient, you should keep practicing.
Create new music, practice with your band, keep improving your sound, and focus on your songwriting.
You can also consider gaining new skills and expanding your knowledge – there are many great online music courses and apps worth checking out.
You can take a songwriting class, learn how to play another instrument, or enroll in a music business course.
Gaining new skills and knowledge will ultimately help you become a more complete musician.
What If It Doesn’t Work Out?
It’s true – it may take a long time to get a response from your preferred record labels.
In some cases, you may never hear back.
So what are you supposed to do then?
Well, you can call or email the representative to follow up on a demo you’ve submitted.
But don’t expect a reply.
Nevertheless, don’t get discouraged, even if you get a negative response.
The thing is, there are other ways you can get discovered.
If you want to make it in the music industry, you can’t give up at the first sign of trouble.
If things don’t go the way you planned, take another route.
And when it comes to getting your music heard and eventually being noticed by a big label, the best thing you can do is to keep making music and performing.
Many artists managed to build a successful career in music without the help of a record label.
It’s a more difficult path, but it can be a very rewarding one.
At the end of the day, you should find your own path.
Every famous singer and musician you know has a different story – some people started out as songwriters or session musicians, and others got discovered on YouTube.
That said, you should focus on your strengths and find your own way to become successful.
For instance, if you’re passionate about songwriting, why not consider a publishing deal first?
Getting a publishing deal means publishers would pitch your songs to the labels, which would ultimately give you more credibility and help you gain exposure.
It all depends on your dreams and goals.
How to Get Signed by a Record Label – Final Tips
As an aspiring musician, you need to stick to your goals and values.
But in the beginning, you should try to find a way to build a good reputation.
Try to put your music out there, seek feedback, network, and play live as much as you can.
Record labels prefer to contact artists who invest in their music and their image.
Even famous artists and bands need to be consistent and productive – nowadays, it’s not enough to have one big hit.
Artists need to produce new music and content all the time to stay relevant.
There are exceptions, of course – but only big stars (like Rihanna and Adele) can afford to take a long break and stay relevant.
If you’re an independent musician or a newly signed artist, you need to produce new material regularly.
Besides productivity, you need to offer something new in your music, image, or approach.
It’s normal to be influenced by your favorite artist though, and there’s no reason to fight it.
By the way, you should know your niche and understand your genre – that’s the best way to start making music.
After all, with so many subgenres and styles, it’s really hard to come up with something absolutely new and innovative.
But eventually, you will be able to dig deeper and find your own unique style and voice – simply because it’s you, and nobody will do it in the exact same way.
As Jack Johnson explained in one of the interviews: songwriting is often based on capturing a very common feeling or idea and conveying it in a new way.
So if you want to make good music, focus on your interests and passions, be honest, and get the message across in the way it feels right and natural to you.
And the more you’re honest about it, the more people will resonate with your music.
There’s no doubt about it – landing a record deal is not easy, and there’s no single best way to do it.
But we hope this article encouraged you to take the necessary steps to increase your chances for success.
The most important thing is to focus on the quality of your music, try to get yourself noticed, and research record labels to make sure they fit your act.
And if you keep practicing and developing your style, you’ll eventually grow your audience and achieve your goals – even if you don’t hear back from the preferred label.
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