Producing a great track is just the first step on the road to success. Sure, you could release it yourself, but if you want to reach the biggest possible audience then linking up with an established label is still your best bet. But how do you get them to listen to your demo in the first place, and how do you persuade them to release it? Kristan J Caryl speaks to a selection of top dance labels to find out the best way to get your tracks heard – and a few tricks which will make label bosses much more likely to release your music.
There’s no doubt that the internet has democratised the world of electronic music. Now anyone with even a passing interest in dance music can download some software and begin crafting their ‘masterpiece’. You needn’t be part of a local crew, you haven’t got to know someone to show you how to do it and you shouldn’t necessarily even have to leave the safety of your own bedroom to start going about making a track and getting it released.
The problem is, you aren’t the only person: it’s a jungle out there, and thousands upon thousands of other people have got the same idea as you. So how do you get that demo heard?
There’s good and bad news. The good news is that the majority of label owners are actually listening to the demos they receive. The bad news is that the exhausting volume of submissions makes it a largely unpleasant experience. With most label chiefs reporting that they receive anywhere in the region of 30 to 50 demos a day, the main challenge is making yourself stick out from the crowd. Not in an ‘Er, does this dude have mental health issues?’ kinda way, obviously, but rather because the demo you send is easily accessible, fit for purpose and not just sent in a scattershot fashion to as many email addresses as you can pilfer from the internet.
Quite simply, research and appropriateness are key: if you wanted to work as a teacher, you wouldn’t send your CV to McDonalds, Urban Outfitters and KPMG, would you? It’s just common sense. Sadly, though, such sense doesn’t seem that common among producers.
It's a jungle out there, and thousands of other people have got the same idea as you.
We’ve spoken to a selection of established label heads to offer some insider info on getting your demos heard and, even more importantly, getting them released.
The golden rules
“I’m aware some people’s understanding of music is not really chin stroker-y, but some of the stuff I get sent is outrageous,” laughs Jamie Russell of Hypercolour, Glass Table, Losing Suki and Space Hardware association. “It’s as if they haven’t even checked what we do. Or they heard Huxley’s ‘Let It Go’, think it’s a big electro track like Afrojack or some shit and send us something that’s so far off the mark it’s unbelievable. I can tell when someone really likes the label and listens to all we do versus someone who’s just checked one or two tracks.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by most label bosses as the number one rule of submitting demos: only send to labels which will be interested in your style of music.
The second biggest rule also crops up across the board, pertaining to method of delivery. “The biggest no-no for me is MP3s attached to emails,” says Andy Daniell, A&R Manager at Defected. “They clog up your inbox and crash your email program. A SoundCloud stream is far preferable as you can check quickly and download if it feels relevant. Also, private links are nicer… Something that puts you off a record is seeing that you’re one of 50 people the track’s been emailed to, or that it’s been available publicly on SoundCloud for nine months and it’s only had 100 plays. That doesn’t inspire confidence!”
Jamie Russell is even more explicit: “Labels like to feel special. If we see something we like it’s easy to go off it if you see it’s been sent to ten other labels as well, because no one really wants to get into a bidding war at this independent level. That’s just a massive fucking turn off, to be honest.”
So, assuming you’ll only ever contact one well-suited label at a time, there are still many things you can do to stand out from the competition. And many things you certainly must not do, like Facebook stalk your target…
“Stuff has to be sent to the demo email address!” exclaims the sole force behind every part of the Tsuba operation, Kevin Griffiths. “Don’t talk to me on Facebook chat either! Some days you just get randoms firing links at you. ‘Hey bro, here’s my new demo!’ Sigh. I allocate time to listening to demos and I don’t want to get interrupted in the middle of it.”
You must also remember at this stage that this isn’t a personal process. Label staff don’t have time to reply to every single demo they get. Rather than take umbrage, suck up a lack of response and try again next time. It’s brutally simple: if you didn’t hear back, you didn’t make the cut.
“Do not pester for feedback,” states Thomas Von Party, ‘A&R Slash Vibe Master’ at Canadian imprint Turbo Recordings. Nobody wants to look like a loser begging for advice on how to improve their rejected track. Which leads directly onto the next issue.
“Being creative about how you present yourself is key,” Von Party continues. “The more you can appear a fully-formed artist, the more likely you’ll be taken seriously. The music is what matters in the end, but if you show signs of talent in representing yourself with an image, video, or with words, that goes a long way.”