In this episode of Pick Yourself, you’re going to learn how to submit songs to labels like a pro. I’m going to show you the secret behind successful demo submissions and what you can do to increase your chances of getting signed.
The art of sending demos to labels
Submitting your tracks to labels can be a frustrating experience. You’ve worked so hard on your latest EP, all your mates are padding you on the shoulder and you’re truly convinced that this time, you’re going to get signed to a big label.
You’ve collected hundreds of contacts in a spreadsheet and you’re now ready to send your tracks to label owners worldwide. The email you’re sending contains a detailed description of your style and talks about your influences. Since you want to show them why their label should invest in you, you’re sketching out your big plans for the next years.
Confidently, you’re hitting the “send” button. The next days pass by and all you’re receiving are automatic responders and failed mail delivery notices. A week goes by and finally, you get the first response:
“Many thanks for sending your tracks. We currently don’t have any release slots available. Feel free to send us future demos. If we like one of your songs, you will hear from us.”
Hm, just another standard reply. Who knows if they’ve even listened to your songs. It doesn’t sound very personal. Another typical message you’ll get is:
“Thanks for your submission. Your music is good but not exactly what we’re looking for. Good luck for the future!”
Well, this one at least sounds like somebody has listened to your songs. But still, you were at least hoping for some honest feedback, right?
Weeks go by and sadly, you’re not getting a positive message. You’re starting to doubt yourself and you don’t have any plan B. What should you do with your songs now?
The problem is, you haven’t properly strategized your demo submissions.
Sending songs to labels is an art-form because it involves creativity, patience, relationship-skills, and analytical thinking. I’m now going to show you which typical mistakes you should avoid and how to submit your tracks to labels successfully instead.
The three biggest mistakes when submitting demos to labels
There are many pitfalls when it comes to sending your tracks to labels. I’ve picked the most common here since this will already help you avoid the biggest mistakes.
1. Picking the wrong labels
Sending your tracks to the wrong labels is probably the biggest mistake of all. I don’t mean to crush your dreams here but I believe it’s healthy to put your feet back on solid ground.
Scenario A: Labels that are too big for you
If you’re an upcoming artist with less than at least 500 true fans (see episode 12 on how to build a fanbase), forget about getting signed to Afterlife, Ostgut Ton, Diynamic, Monkeytown, or whatever else is on your wishlist. Labels with years of history and regular releases of big artists are not waiting for you, no matter how great your music is. They don’t even have the time to listen to the thousands of demo submissions they’re getting every week. Imagine the poor intern that does nothing but listen to kick drums for eight hours per day. Even if their website states that they’re accepting demos, it still is a waste of your (and their) time, considering the current stage of your artist-career.
Scenario B: Labels that don’t match your style
This is surprisingly common. Just because your favorite artists are releasing on a certain label doesn’t mean that it’s a good fit for your music. Every record label specializes in a certain sub-genre of music and a type of artist personality that they like to sign. There’s maybe a 5% deviation from time to time, but if you’re further away than that, you can forget about releasing there.
2. Sending non-personalized demos
Let’s say your submitting songs to labels that match your style and also the current state of your artist career. The single most important mistake that will guarantee a failed submission is sending non-personalized demos. The label owner (or the assistant) wants to understand why you’ve selected their label for your submission. If your email sounds like a mass-mailing (sent in bcc to hundreds of label contacts), you’re faster in the trash bin than the sandwich from last week.
3. Not following the label’s submission guidelines
Many labels use demo submission guidelines as a filter. They’re giving you a few tips on their website on how they’d like to receive demo submissions. If you haven’t read them (or simply ignore them), you’ve just qualified for the trash bin again. So make sure you follow the guidelines 100% when you submit songs to labels.
To give you a quick example, here’s the demo policy of STEYOYOKE RECORDINGS:
– We only accept private soundcloud links shared exclusively with us.
– We do not accept less than 2 songs.
– We accept only originals, not remixes.
– Please do not attach mp3s.
– Include links to your Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter, Beatport page or website.
– Demos which do not respect our policy will be ignored.
– Demos or questions regarding demos sent to us will not be answered or replied to via Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter or any other social network.
Please respect the privacy of our A&R team. We will only respond if there’s an interest in your demo as we deem it fit to the label. Otherwise, you will not hear from us.
If you are sure that your music reflects all the above mentioned points you are free to send us your work.
Have you spotted this little bullet point saying “demos which do not respect our policy will be ignored”? There you go.
For your reading pleasure and amusement, here’s a recent email I got from a desperate techno producer, trying to randomly find a label. Poor guy...
How to submit songs to labels successfully
When it comes to submitting demos to labels, you have to follow a few principles. There’s still no guarantee at all that your tracks are going to be selected for an upcoming release, but these guidelines can increase your chances significantly.
1. Select a small set of record labels which fit perfectly
There is a maximum of twenty labels out there that perfectly fit your style of music as well as the status of your artist-career right now. You should seek out labels in your genre of music and check them for several criteria:
- Does the label release music in the same sub-genre as you do?
- Are your true fans familiar with this label?
- Are the artists on the label at your level (or slightly higher) but not leagues above you?
- Has the label been active and growing in the last year?
- Does the “tone of voice” of the label on their social channels and in interviews resonate with you?
If you can answer all of these questions with “yes”, then the label might be a perfect candidate for a demo submission. Now make sure you collect all their data in a spreadsheet, including demo submission policies.
2. Build a relationship first before sending any demo
Building a relationship before sending demos to labels will increase your chances of getting signed significantly. This is easier said than done, I know. But there are a couple of things you can do to kick things off. First, you need to identify with the label and get a look behind the scenes. Since you’ve selected labels that are a “perfect fit”, it shouldn’t be too hard to show real interest in their releases.
Start buying their stuff, interact with their social channels regularly (but don’t become that annoying uber-fanboy or -girl). Moreover, you should dig out every interview the label owners have ever given. Your goal is to get a sense of what makes them tick. This can range from topics directly related to the label to things they care about in other aspects of their lives.
The next step is to start an interaction online via email or social messages. There might be an opportunity where they need help (asking for equipment rental or for a recommendation). If you’re the one who can help, you start to become a known name. If no such opportunity pops up, you can still start to establish a relationship by asking them if there’s a way you can help them put up something in your area. Most labels do showcases in different cities and need local scene members to promote the gigs or help organize them.
The more you can help them, the deeper your future connection will be.
Remember episode 10 on networking in the music industry? Go back and find out how you can adopt the go-giver mindset. Sending demos to labels will be much more effective if you’ve built a reputation as a hard-working, reliable artist who cares about the success of others. Keep in mind that real-life relationships are much more relevant than online-only connections. So if there’s any chance to help them in the offline sphere, go for it!
3. Make everything as convenient as possible for the label
I’ve already stressed the point of following the labels’ submission guidelines as closely as you can. But what if they don’t have any? Here’s my go-to approach for you.
Start the process with a teaser email
This step only applies if you’ve successfully established a relationship and the label heads already know who you are. Two weeks before submitting your demo to the label, you drop them a short and personal email with something along these lines:
Thanks again for the great showcase last week. It was a pleasure to meet you and the other artists. I’m glad I could help put this up and I’d love to do this again next year. Jonas, the club owner told me he was very happy with the line-up as well and he got great feedback from his guests.
On another matter: I’m finishing my new EP and I’m going to send it to you in about two weeks. I really respect your work and your feedback would mean a lot to me.
Speak soon and have a great week!
Notice that I haven’t started with what I want from her? I’ve actually not even asked to get signed to the label. All I did was showing honest respect, stating that I would value her feedback. Most of the upcoming artists who send demos to labels simply come across needy, arrogant, or not serious. It’s easy to stand out this way.
Now it’s important to follow-up in time with the actual demo. Make sure you keep your promise and stick to whatever timeframe you’ve set in the first email.
The main demo-submission email
Now your big moment has come. You have to send your demo submission to the label. So think about how you can make this as painless as possible for the label-owner (or whoever sorts through the demo submissions).
The number one rule is to keep your email short and to the point but personal. It has to answer the following questions immediately:
- Where can they listen to your music?
- Why have you sent your demo to exactly this label?
- Who are you and why should anyone care about you? (in case you haven’t established a personal relationship already)
- Where can they find additional information and high-res files of your tracks?
So let me show you an example of what this email could look like:
I hope you’ve had a great week so far! How did the Stockholm showcase go?
As promised, here’s my new EP:
[Click to listen on a private SoundCloud playlist]
You’re one of only eight people whose opinion matters to me, so I would highly appreciate it if you took the time to listen to it. Your label has put out some of the most quality music recently and I’d love to hear your feedback on this!
I’ve also compiled some background information in this folder:
[Click to open online storage like dropbox/ onedrive/ google drive]
In this folder, you’re going to find:
– Wave-files of my EP tracks
– My updated artist bio
– New press photos
– Some first inspirations for the EP artwork
Thanks again for your time, I really appreciate it!
Have a great week and best wishes from Berlin
Again, do you notice that all I’m doing here is asking for her opinion on this? It doesn’t come across needy or arrogant. Instead, I’m of the (shockingly) few people who can put together a polite, personal, and well-structured email that makes it easy to access the important bits of information. This is an important part of appealing to music industry professionals (see episode 16).
The follow-up email
I can’t stress this enough: If the label’s demo policy says to NOT send follow-up emails, please respect it. In every other case, I highly encourage you to follow-up if you haven’t heard back for longer than four weeks. Sometimes, things slip through the cracks (imagine receiving hundreds of demo submissions every month).
Keep this email super short, it’s just supposed to be a reminder. Also, an element of scarcity might be helpful here:
How have you been? I just wanted to quickly check in with you to make sure you’ve received my last email.
Here’s the link again to my new EP:
[Click to listen on a private SoundCloud playlist]
And the folder with righ-res files and background info:
[Click to open online storage like dropbox/ onedrive/ google drive]
I’m going to decide where to release this in two weeks from now. I have sent this to a small selection of labels and I believe yours would be a perfect candidate.
Best wishes & keep up the great work
This email is much shorter than the one before. Its only goal is to put your EP on Sarah’s to-do list and make it clear that you’re going to make a decision soon. Since you’ve kept your deadline from the teaser-email to your actual submission, she can expect you to stick to your other deadline as well.
Now there’s nothing more you can do. If you don’t hear back in the two weeks you’ve mentioned in your email, you have to move on. No additional follow-up will help. What’s way more important is to have a plan B in case no label is interested in your music.
Have a plan B
No strategy can guarantee success. Sometimes, your demo-submission comes to the right label at the wrong time. Sometimes, your timing is perfect but the label is re-orientating its style and your music doesn’t fit anymore. It’s also possible that your music simply isn’t good enough (yet), which means that you have to keep honing your craft patiently. You probably won’t ever find out the true reasons and it doesn’t really matter because you’re in this for the long run (hopefully).
Having a plan B when submitting songs to labels is crucial. Your chances are slim from the beginning and you must prepare for this scenario before sending your demos to labels. I highly recommend researching and comparing online aggregators for quickly getting your music onto relevant platforms. Apart from that, it might be clever to start your own label anyway. I’m going to do an episode on that in the future.
Having a plan B is a sign of self-worth. You’re protecting yourself from the harsh downfall you might face when getting rejected by your favorite labels.
There’s nothing wrong with putting your music out on your own. Contrary to that, the worst thing you could do is give up at this point and let your songs rot on your hard drive.
Staying in touch with the labels after your release
This step of the process might come as a surprise to you. It doesn’t matter if you got signed to another label or if you put your EP out on your own – you still want to keep in touch with your small list of selected label contacts.
I suggest you drop them a little update like this:
How are you? Congratulations on the latest release, I’ve played it last week at the peak of my set and it worked extremely well!
Just to keep you updated, I’ve released my EP on XYZ-records now and I’m already working on the follow-up. If you don’t mind, I’d love to stay in touch and share my new work with you as soon as it’s ready.
If there’s anything else I can do for you and the label, let me know. Let’s also see if we can make the showcase happen again in October.
What has been happening on your end?
Best wishes & speak soon
The goal of this email is not to brag about your success but to show that you continue to be interested in working with this label. You’re building a longterm-connection that might be very beneficial for both sides in the future.
Putting it into action: How to submit songs to labels
Sending demos to labels doesn’t have to be a frustrating experience. If you do it in a systematic way, prioritizing quality over quantity, you will increase your chances of success tremendously. Moreover, having a plan B is going to save you from a big dip in your artist career. I’ve put together three action steps that will help you implement your learnings from this episode.
1. Review your past demo-submissions
- Put yourself in the shoes of a label-owner or A&R manager and analyze your past demo submissions.
- What image is coming across? Did you make it easy for them to access all relevant information? Have you managed to build a relationship first?
2. Put together your list of ten to twenty “perfect fit” labels and start building relationships
- Select labels that fit your style and aren’t too big.
- Make sure their overall tone of voice and their vision is in line with how you want to bee seen as an artist.
- Put all their contact info and channels into a spreadsheet and start to dig deeper. Read interviews and try to get a look behind the scenes.
- See if there’s an opportunity to help them and go for it as soon as it pops up. Make sure you become a “known name” but don’t behave like a punisher (= someone who’s annoying).
3. Submit your next demo like a pro
- Please don’t just copy and paste my example emails as this wouldn’t be a personal message anymore. Make your own version of them but follow the underlying principles.
- Have a plan B in place before sending any demo to a label. Protect your career (and your self-esteem) from the worst-case scenario.
- Keep in mind that the relationships you’re establishing in this process are meant to last longer than only the demo-submission period.
That’s it for this week’s episode. Now I’d love to hear from you what mistakes you’ve made in your last demo submission and what has worked for you instead.
Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!