Why Writing Record Labels Won’t Help Your Band Get Signed

For new, undiscovered bands, there’s nothing more exciting than releasing new music and truly believing in its potential. Every great, insanely successful artist has been in the position of taking the time, money, and emotional investment of making music without ever knowing if anyone in the world would bother to listen to it. But as nice as the idea of getting the attention of record labels with unsolicited songs is, it just doesn’t work for the massive majority of artists who bother to. Here’s why:

Most labels are inundated with music submissions

Your band could be making the best music in the world, but that won’t mean much to a label’s busy A&R scout. Even small, lesser-known labels get thousands of physical and email music submissions every day. This means that the chance of a label taking the time to really listen to your music is almost impossible. While some labels claim they take the time to listen thoroughly to each and every submission, most now include policies on their websites that clearly state that all unsolicited music will not be listened to and that CDs will be thrown away unheard. These policies sound sort of harsh at first, but they’re put in place to save both labels and artists time, money, and frustration. There are, of course, plenty of labels with open or ambiguous submission policies, but is it really worth your precious time for you to send your music to them? In almost every case, no.

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Labels want to discover artists, not be pitched to by them

Rather than describing your sound, musical successes, and unique identity as an artist to labels, most of them want to learn about your music on their own terms. Herein lies the frustration for so many musicians who believe they could really “make it” if they just had more financial support or industry connections. Labels, especially in 2018’s tumultuous music industry climate, aren’t looking for completely unknown artists with great potential to bestow money and notoriety to. They’re interested in investing in bands who have already proven some amount of commercial success, acclaim and agency within the industry. Yes, we often hear stories of completely unknown artists getting discovered and developed with the help of a label, but those days are mostly over now. Labels don’t have the stomach or capitol to throw their money behind unproven artists, and who can blame them? Artists sometimes fail to put themselves in the shoes of people in the music industry whose ability to pay bills and put food on the table entirely depends on whether the artists they work with are financially successful or not. Like it or not, money is a big part of the music industry, and most labels don’t see the act of listening to music submissions as something that’s worth their time.

What to do instead

So, what should you be doing to get the attention of labels?

If you take your professional musical identity as seriously as you take your music, you might get the attention of a label some day. This means releasing great music and touring often, learning to effectively promote yourself, and building fruitful music connections.

Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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  • James Carbonaro - March 2, 2018 reply

    I’ve known more than a couple of performers who use to be signed to record companies. However, the initial excetement faded fast. The honeymoon was quickly over. They have all said that they were glad to be out of their contracts; that they made less money & did not enjoy what they were doing while still under contract. Once you are under contract to the record company, they essentially own you. They tell you where & when to play. They tell you what you can & cannot perform. It’s their dime after all. But once they were indie acts once again, they could play what they wanted, when they wanted, & where they wanted. They all said that they once again felt as though they had control over their own lives; for which no amount of fame or fortune can be exchanged.

  • M. - March 12, 2018 reply

    I have been hearing this for some years now. At the same time I still hear a story from time time of a band or artist getting signed.

    I understand the point of this article. However, how are unknown and unsigned bands supposed to promote themselves and get noticed if they don’t have money? Let’s face it, most musicians scrape all they have together for their equipment to play live, for decent equipment to record (mix etc.), and for traveling costs to make it to shows that are out their area. So, only bands and artists that “have money” to do things on their own can only make it? Talent no longer is the deciding factor? Just how much money you as an artist or band can bring to the table? My how have far things have come in the industry. Here are just a few points:

    1. If the artist(s) is (are) supposed to finance all of this from their own pockets why do they even need a record company then? Surely not for the financial support and surely not for the promotion. Why? Because the artist or band is already doing this on their own.

    2. The current state of the industry is not very friendly for new and upcoming artists and bands. As I mentioned before, most musicians do not have the amount of money needed to do full blown promotion etc. Are labels so strapped for cash themselves that they can’t handle this anymore? This goes against basic business logic. In order for a company to make money, they have to invest money. Invest in their artists. So if they see an artist or band full of talent, potential, and promise they are no longer in a positions to invest in that artist or band like they did years ago? Again, why the need for a record company then?

    3. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying an artist or band can’t or shouldn’t do certain things on their own like promotion locally etc. However, when it comes to “taking it to the next level so to speak”, they need help. Artists and bands already have a lot to worry about and have a lot to do. Especially the most important thing, getting a good quality album recorded and mixed which also costs a lot money and time. For an artist or band to reach the level of recognition that Records labels require before they will sign is hard requirement to fill if you are handling things on your own. Now if a band or artist does accomplish this then my question is again, why do they need a record label then? They seem to be doing o.k. on their own. What can the record label really offer them? Just something to think over.

    4. James Carbonaro mentioned how many artists were happy to be out of their contracts because the companies controlled every aspect of their music. Telling them where and when to play etc. Well, you have to look at it from a business aspect. Don’t get my wrong, music is my passion and I love what I do but if you want to make it then you have pay your dues and buy your time so to speak.

    Almost every artist or band would like to have things done their way and solely on their terms, who wouldn’t? However, this is just not realistic in the business world (and remember, music is a business) especially if other parties are involved that are primarily putting out the financial costs. That is why phrases like “contract negotiation” are heard. Both parties have to compromise (negotiate) do get things done and get the best deal they can for their side of a contract.

    This could be a big reason why labels stopped signing bands like they used to. Too many artists and bands were making demands that were not realistic from the labels side who were fronting the majority of the costs. So the labels changed their strategy and said o.k. we’ll allow bands more control etc. but we will only work with artists and bands that have reached a certain amount of success on their own and most importantly have the money to handle all the costs in doing so. No more signing and investing money in unknown artists and bands who don’t have the capital the labels require. That might be fine for artists and bands that have a lot of money but not good for the average artists and bands that don’t.

    Years ago labels had something called “Artist Development” (they still might but I don’t hear anything about it). They basically put the money into developing artists and bands that had talent and potential but were a little rough around the edges so to speak.

    Companies used to foot the bill for recording, touring, and much more. That is why the artists made less money. What used to be the standard recording contract was basically also a loan. The company put out the money (that the bands did not have) for quality recordings, touring costs, and more. The artist or band would then pay the costs of recording back through album sales. Once this was paid, the artist or band would then get money from album sales based on the percentage stated in the contract.

    Yes, the companies often controlled many aspects of the artists and bands. Often dictating when and where to play and what they played etc. However, the companies also would sometimes be gracious enough to let them do musically what they wanted to do. Not necessarily a whole album but a song here and there. That is why it helps as an artist or band to have a few different styles of songs. You are then more versatile and if you would find yourself in such a position where a company liked only a certain style of your songs you can be happy playing just that style for your beginning/entrance into the industry.

    In the past basically artists and bands sucked it up so to speak and did what they had to do to get their names out there and recognized. With more success would come better contracts with more control over their music and careers, more trust, more room for artistic expression, and more money from sales etc. Once they reached a certain point they no longer needed recording contracts because their name(s) were very well known, they had a big fan base/following, and they had the money to pay for the recording costs, touring costs on their own. They only needed to negotiate a distribution contract that was beneficial to them. That is what gave artists and bands the drive to work harder and harder. Which brings me to final point.

    5. My band and I have no problems “playing ball” with a label in order to reach success and get our names out there. By no means do we consider this “selling ourselves out” so to speak because the music we make is appealing to a wide audience. If you as an artist or band do not have the money to do all of this on your own but believe in your talent, potential, and music then there should still be an option available to you.

    What kind of message are we sending to aspiring musicians out there? That your music, talent, potential, and drive do not really matter. What only matters is how much money do you have in your account and how much money do you have to pay for your career. So I guess you can literally buy your way into the music industry if you have enough money right? How can we even be sure that artists and bands music and talent are even being taken into consideration if the money is the deciding factor? That is the message this is sending. If you want to make a career in the music industry and do not have money do not even bother trying. Maybe I am wrong but this is how it sounds to me.

    If an artist or band wants to do things totally their way then signing with indie labels is the way to go. They will have more control over their career which no amount of fame or fortune can be exchanged. However, they will not get very far in my opinion with success unless they have the money to cover all the costs themselves. Which brings us back to the original point. Most artists and bands do not have this type of money. So only the bands that do can make it? So if you have the right amount of money you can buy your success?

    Just something to think about guys.

  • M. - March 16, 2018 reply

    I just thought about something else. If the following is really the truth:

    “musicians who believe they could really “make it” if they just had more financial support or industry connections [but that] Labels, especially in 2018’s musicians who believe they could really “make it” if they just had more financial support or industry connections. Labels, especially in 2018’s tumultuous music industry climate, aren’t looking for completely unknown artists with great potential to bestow money and notoriety to. They’re interested in investing in bands who have already proven some amount of commercial success, acclaim and agency within the industry.

    I have a question then for the ReverbNation staff. Why then do you send members who have paid for the Basic and Premium memberships “opportunities” to submit their material to record labels? I mean, doesn’t that kind of contradict what has been stated in this article? Somehow, it doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t ReverbNation make a statement about this in the on their website and specifically in the section where one pays for either the Basic or Premium membership? Shouldn’t ReverbNation be vetting artists and bands before they even sign up for such services? To see if these potential members (artists and bands) meet the record labels requirements for signing an artist or band? This information would be helpful for many artists and bands.

    Posting some points like this would be helpful:

    1. “Due to the current tumultuous music industry climate, records labels aren’t looking for completely unknown artists with great potential to bestow money and notoriety to. They’re interested in investing in bands who have already proven some amount of commercial success, acclaim and agency within the industry.”

    2. This also means if you are an artist or band that has been around for a while or just starting out and do not have the financial means to achieve a certain amount of success on your own, and do not have a fans base a record label deems sufficient, and do not have an idea how to promote yourself properly, then you need not apply to record labels. Record labels in the current music industry also only want to deal with artists and bands that have their own capital to invest, can do almost all of their own promotion etc. Record labels no longer see talent as the only requirement an artist or band needs. They want to see how much you have in your bank account.

    3. Record labels are no longer in a position and are no longer willing to sign/invest in unknown artists and bands to help them get their careers started. This means they no longer front the costs of recording, touring, Artist Development etc. to artists and bands that have great talent and potential but unfortunately no money of their own to invest.

    4. Money is the key for artists and bands today if they want to make it in the industry. If you as an artist or band do not have a substantial amount of money to finance your way into music industry, then do not even try. You will only be ignored. Today you need money to buy your career in the music industry. This may all seem harsh but it is reality and the truth.

    Another thing I was wondering. If RevebNation really knows all this then as I stated before, they should be vetting potential paying customers. No need in taking money from artists and bands that do not have adequate capital to fund their careers. ReverbNation could also save themselves time sending record label opportunities to artists and bands that do not meet the aforementioned criteria. ReverbNation could also save themselves website server space that the paying customers get as part of the Premium membership. They could have more space for the paying customers that do meet the aforementioned criteria.

    Or is it all about the money for ReverbNation? You know, tell artists and bands that if they pay for a Basic or Premium membership that they will have all these opportunities available to them just so the ReverbNation can make some money? Then casually drop the hint about how the industry really works after artists and bands have already paid for one of the aforementioned membership services. I don’t know but one could interpret it that way. I am not saying that ReverbNation is doing this. I am merely stating that is how it could come across to some people.


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