So… with regards to getting your band signed there’s a lot that goes into it- but at the same time there is a very short process when it comes down to me deciding if your band is going to be worth signing. As an A&R guy, and generally a dude in the music industry for years now I feel like I’ve come to terms with what it takes to make me want to sign a band and brought it down to a sort of formula. Sure there are surprises and exceptions but there’s a few things that directly impact my personal green lighting. This isn’t the method all people responsible for signing bands use, some are far more strict and others are far looser, however from what I can tell this is a pretty reasonable overview of how it works for most bands trying to get out there and be serious. This goes across all genres too, regardless of the kind of music it’s pretty easy to tell who is worth picking up and who is going to toil in obscurity with only pipe dreams of success.
The first thing I’m going to look at, and probably the most important thing to look at is how much you’ve done. If you’ve never been on tour, only played a few local shows and maybe a small festival or two then the odds are I’m not going to be interested in picking up our band. This isn’t an attack on your band but rather a simple acknowledgment of the fact that if you haven’t proven you can sell records or get attention on at least a regional level then it doesn’t make sense for me to take a risk on you. If I’m going to seriously look at investing in a band I want them to be a group who have at least a regional tour or two under their belt and have some press buzzing. It’s hard for me to want to pick up a band who have no word out about them or who have played out. Even if the music is that good I’m probably going to feel at a loss – after all it’s hard for me to market Philly’s next big thing to a kid in Reno if the kid in Reno has no direct access to their work!
Another important thing to examine is the quality of the material. In 2017 it’s easy to create a good sounding product with beautiful cover art, solid press images and nicely put together social media pages. People don’t seem to understand that music industry professionals are so overwhelmed with quality material that shitty art, or even art that just appears shitty is going to be roundly ignored. Gone are the days of A&R guys listening to a bands subpar demo and hearing that there is potential in the group. If your demo recording isn’t up to snuff then I’m probably not even going to get through a song. Really good songwriting, interesting art and a good backstory can save it, but it’s rare that after a few minutes of bad sounding music that I’m going to be genuinely interested in continuing the dialog. This isn’t because I’m a dick, but merely because I’m too busy. How do I know that the next guy in line isn’t the rock and roll savior?
This brings us to another important aspect of signing bands something tied into the quality of the material, and that is the quality of the presentation. If your music hasn’t been put together in a professional looking way and the EPK is gross or the social media isn’t properly set up then I’m going to immediately judge you and think you’re lazy. A lot of the time this just comes as being out of touch. Be it in expecting people to download files or just sending a pdf to look at. Other times it can be from bands forgetting to give me links, or even failing to mention the goddamn band name in the first place. That’s not a joke. I’ve gotten label submissions without even a band name to go off of. Again – I don’t have the time to deal with all of this bullshit, it leaves me overwhelmed and I don’t want your inability to form a complete sentence or come up with a good subject line to get in the way of my workflow. I have too much other music to sit down and try and help out.
Of course at the end of the day my personal taste also has a huge impact on bands I decide to sign. As much as I might want to make money, I got into this business because I like music. I do my best to only sign bands that I like, not just bands that I think will move units. Using the ideas and philosophies outlined above I’m generally able to come to a pretty solid understanding of which records are going to make sense to put out, but it boils down to me seeing if a record matches my taste. If it doesn’t then I’m not really going to be passionate about it and it’s going to be hard to justify putting in the hundreds of hours that goes into properly promoting a release. Instead a lot of my work will just feel flaccid and uninspired. I know it’s frustrating to be told that sometimes the success of your band boils down to some tired dude listening to your music in his underwear but sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
Signing bands is by no means a precise science, and odds are that I’ve probably already passed on a band that made someone else a ton of money. I know I will do it a lot more in the future and it’s going to suck. I look forward to the mistakes though. They are what teach me how to move on in a productive way and refine these basic ideas. I have a theory that this entire industry can be reduced to a few spreadsheets and it’s core concepts like these that I use as my jumping off point. If you know who you’re targeting, have great songs and presentation and done a lot with your career though then the odds are you will end up finding a record label that seems right for you, and if not, then the struggle must continue.
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