How To Get A Record Deal

Published: 18th July 2008
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How To Get A Record Deal

Discover Yourself!

Get Brilliant!

The first question to ask yourself about getting a record deal is, are you sure you want one?

Not long ago, being on a major label was about the only way to get meaningful recognition in the marketplace. but now you have options like never before in the history of music. If you're reading this, you're probably serious about getting your music to the next level. So here are a few very important concepts that you'll need to know about growing your act. If your music is a hobby, fantastic, you'll probably always enjoy it more that way. as a profession, it is difficult, but not impossible. However, if you want to become a full-time recording artist, you'll probably need to change your preconceptions about what that is.

You may see "being discovered," or "getting signed," as your path to a music career. because what that does is automatically put the responsibility for your musical growth on someone else. That, my friend is a false premise!

The most powerful thing you must learn about your career is that nobody else will ever care about your music as much as you do. Record executives, a&r people, publishers do care, but they may not be ready or able to work with you "at this time." And let's face it, "this time," right now is the only time that matters to you! I mean, how long do you want to wait, till the time is right for a label?

Now you can begin to see why it is shakey to look for some "expert" to "discover you." The strongest advice i can offer you, from working with top artists from several genre, and from working to establish many new artists is to discover yourself!

"The business" is a business! The major labels are controlled by wall street! CEO's are held accountable to their shareholders to have ever-growing profits. They have a report card every quarter. Therefore, their focus is not on making great music. It used to be, but today, it is on making more revenue this quarter than they did last quarter and more this year than last year.

To fit your act or your band into a major label, you must ask yourself how you can help them do that! Now, 8 years after the explosion of Napster, the decision-makers at the labels are just trying to figure out how to keep their heads above water, while their next-generation core customer base is stealing them into oblivion.

Now you may be starting to see why i asked that question at the top of this a-log; "are you sure you want a record deal?" Okay, I admit it, I have an alternate agenda with this article. It is to teach and encourage you to reduce your dependence on mommy record label and to begin to envision your act as self-sustaining. Mind you, there are still healthy record labels out there and a recording contract can still be a good thing for you, if you take responsibility to grow your act, yourself, with or without a label. In other words, there is no "mommy record label" out there anymore. And I'm not sure there ever really was.

The hardest lesson every artist has had to learn, is that your record label provides a service that represents only a part of your career picture. The label has never been "your whole career." To illustrate that point, let's see what your first album on a label might look like, financially.

Let's suppose in yr 2008, your debut album sells 50,000 copies. Gross record sales revenue is something like $750,000.00 Based on typical record label formulas, your share of that will be something like $90,000. but after a 10% hold-back for returns, you're at $82,500, your share of the video is $50,000, so you're down to $32,500, 10% free goods takes you to $25,000 and there are about 70 pages of this kind of stuff in your contract. Being generous, let's say you end up with $25,000 from your first album. Well, the label advanced you $250,000 for your first album, so you still owe them that. After the next year or so of touring, you make your next album with a negative $225,000.

Most new artists fail to ever get past this negative balance with their record label and end up being dropped, their debt to the label forgiven.

Occasionally, a new artist will sell a million copies of the first album and end-up enjoying a lucrative and long-lasting career. But the odds against this are enormous.

But let's say that you decide to go independent, and over let's say 18 months, you sell 50,000 albums yourself, that you press and distribute, your share of record sales would increase dramatically. 50,000 albums is nothing to a label. In fact, if that's all you sell after the first album runs its sales cycle, you'll probably be dropped before the second album. But if you sell 50,000 pieces yourself, without the help of a label, you could possibly keep $200,000 or more from just record sales! And this doesn't even count the other revenue streams that you can generate as you begin to establish your act.

So whether or not you decide to pursue a recording contract with a major or indie label, it is imperative that you see your career in music as you, growing a business. Your mission is to make it a success, artistically, financially and for those depending on you. Then, as you build it, you will naturally become far more attractive to a label, because when they look at you, they are seeing someone who is already successful. The question then becomes, can the label help you reach your goals quicker than what you're doing on your own and does what you lose in revenues from your percentage of record sales justify what you will gain from their marketing machine? Maybe.

This article is titled "how to get a record deal," so now that we've sorted-out "why" to get one, let's talk about "how." You'll hear "experts" tout that it's not about what you know, but whom. Well, this is a very misleading statement when it comes to getting an offer to record for a major record label. At any given time, there are thousands of unsigned artists trying to get the attention of labels. And for that matter, tragically, many who are trying to get the attention of the label they're already signed to! I'm not kidding. But that's for another A-Log.

What the labels always want is a "buzz band." someone who has been out their in their home market, creating excitement on their own. And there is no greater buzz-currency than sales of recorded music. If you've sold 8,000 cd's from playing clubs or worship gatherings in your area, or if you've sold 40,000 paid downloads from your "my space" page, that is hard currency that an a&r person can impress their label heads with.

If sales of recorded music are the "benjamins" of a&r currency, the "$20" would be response to live shows. But a&r people are often skeptical of reports from live shows, because they can be so easily hyped. What can't be hyped is ticket sales. If you're a local band who can headline 2000-seaters in your area at say $8 a pop, that is also "hard currency." It tells the label that a lot of people think enough of your act to pay good money to see you.

The third "buzz currency, which is way down the list, is opening for big headliners. It seems like every local act has a few of these on their bio. If you've played a few shows opening for well-known touring acts, in your local area, this is a good thing and it can help your local recognition. But most likely, the fans are buying tickets to see the headliner. A&R people know this, so saying that you opened for (phil & the blanks) is not really a deal-closer.

Having said that, labels like to believe that they're still in the business of making great music and not just filing happy quarterly reports. There's a difference between an "artist" and a "singer."

An artist is someone who creates a new piece of artwork that is unlike what people have seen before. Blue Man Group is "artistic." Britney Spears is a singer. Though my examples above are a little grandiose, artists are an easier sell than singers. And they tend to last longer and make a bigger impact. Singers are far more expensive to launch into the market, because the only thing that can really differentiate them in the early days of their launch is the amount of money and marketing power that the label is willing to commit to their project. If you are a singer, what then distinguishes you from others who do what you do?

Just being a "good" singer isn't enough to get the attention of a label. Hundreds of those are coming at them every day! Ask yourself and those who know your music what is it exactly that makes you different from other "singers." If you can create a presentation (vocal demo) that distinguishes you in a powerful way from others, without gimmickry, this can generate interest from a label. One way to do that is to sing well-written, original songs that are written in your key, that play to your exact vocal strengths. Sing the demo from the bottom of your soul and draw out its depth of meaning. I don't mean holding notes for unnecessarily long measures or warbling one word up and down 3 octaves... vocal calisthenics. In fact, that is just gratuitous crap and good a&r people know it. Just sing from your heart and express what the song really means to you.

In a world of hype, something simple, honest and well-done can be a powerful differentiator! However, if you're an "artiste," it's going to be easier to distinguish yourself, because your creative muse has already done that part. what you must do is focus on being "good." Even though your music is unlike others' by design, you probably have artists who have inspired you. It would be a good idea to listen to them and ask yourself "why." Unlike a "singer," you are operating on various levels at the same time. You're probably a songwriter with a unique message, a clever musician and a skilled vocalist. Now the question is, how can you capture all this in a demo that is going to really represent what you're trying to do? That's hard. What you might do is send feelers out to producers until you find someone who shares your vision and can "get you" on a recording. Another avenue you could try is to approach music publishers for the prospect of becoming a "staff writer." Explain to them that you are striving to become a recording artist and if you get in as one of their writers, sometimes they will demo you and pitch you to the labels themselves. This is very much in their interest, because if one of their "staff writers" becomes famous, his songs will self-pitch! And they will tend to pull-in lots more publishing revenue.

Whether you're an artist or a singer, on your initial pitch to a record label, keep it down to 3 or 4 songs. Take the advice of great managers and "always leave them wanting more!" my experience has been that 3 songs is plenty.

Don't make the common mistake of trying to sing Caruso on one song, Metallica on the next and Celine Dion on the next. this will go straight into the "thank you for your submission, but..." pile. Labels don't want "variety" artists. They just want someone who is amazing at what they do.

Who You Know

Okay, if you've got all that so far, now it's finally time to approach a label. Like with anything else, use your head. If you're a female pop singer, don't approach the label that already has 4 successful female pop singers. go for the label that "needs" one! Labels are like ships. If they get too many artists on one side, they start to list (roll-over). That's because they're competing with themselves. Each label only has the capacity to work 1 or 2, maaaybe 3 artists of any one type at one time. So choose a label that is light in your particular style.

Next you're going to need someone to represent you. you're probably aware that labels routinely send-back "unsolicited" submissions, but do you know why? There are several good reasons, but the main ones are, 1) they don't want to get sued because you made a copyright booboo. 2) they have people who they trust to bring them the best, new stuff. these are usually lawyers or established managers, producers and even other artists. 3) the amount of incoming is just too overwhelming for them to assimilate. So the most direct route to getting the attention of a label is to ask a qualified attorney producer or artist manager to present you to the labels.

A less direct route that might work is to build your band to a good degree of success locally, then begin sending correspondence to select a&r people who might have a reason to become interested in you. If you happen to be family friends with the president of a label, you might just luck out and get him to listen to your demo.

What if you receive an offer? You probably won't just get an offer out of the blue. It is more likely that if someone at your label becomes interested, they will call to get to know you a little bit, or ask for more music to listen to or even to find out if you have a gig coming-up where they can check you out, live. They'll probably want a little "get to know you" period, before they actually come with an offer. After all, they've seen more than their share of fruitcakes by now and they want to find out if they can feel comfortable with you and trust you.

But let's suppose that you've chatted for a month and they've come out to see one of your shows and finally, they decide to fly you to New York, or wherever their headquarters is so that the rest of the label heads can meet you.

One of the artists i worked with was actually put in this position twice. Once in the president's office at MCA in Los Angeles. and the other time at RCA in New York. At RCA, they actually brought the whole A&R staff, plus the label president and the head of publishing in for a "let's put her on the spot" audition, much to our surprise! But it was okay, because she was so well-prepared and knew her songs so well, that she was able to choose the most relevant songs and put them at ease. She smoked the audition and secured a good offer. It helps to be prepared!

What happens when you get the offer? You'll find that out in the next Moore Hits A-Log! If you know an artist who needs to see the A-Log, please please pass this along to them, or you can just click through to

Or, you can create a development plan for your own career, using the concepts in my new book;


God bless you!

Michael Moore

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Throughout the 80's and 90's, Michael Moore worked for large record labels mainly in the area of Marketing and Promotion. His work resulted in 140 #1 singles and 75 Gold and Platinum albums, which reaped well over $1 Billion in sales. Later, he helped an awesome team of people to pioneer mass digital distribution as Nashville Content Director for Liquid Audio. Now, Michael is President of Moore Hits Productions, LLC. An Artist Management, Consulting and Recording company based in Nashville, Tn. Reach him at The website is

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