Finding your way to be seen or heard by a record company doesn’t need to require spending an enormous amount of time and money. It only requires a little industry knowledge and some great song writing. I can give you the industry knowledge. The rest is up to you. Here are 5 GREAT tips to help you on your way. These tips alone, if followed, will save you a fortune and narrow your focus of what it takes to get signed.
1. A hit song. This outweighs everything. You can record in a basement 8-track studio or in a fully digital $ 500/hour recording studio. If the song’s a hit, the song’s a hit. Don’t waste your money on studio costs. An 8 track recording should be sufficient enough to play for a record company. Record labels will see through the “slickness” of the recording and hear the song for what it’s worth. In fact a record executive would rather hear a hit in its roughest form. It makes them think they discovered a hidden gem that they can make into a diamond. One band I worked with called Extreme released a song called “Hole Hearted”. The song was recorded in a bedroom on an 8 track but sounded good enough to release as is. The song went to # 1 in a lot of countries around the world (# 4 in the United States)
2. Showcasing for a Record Company. I’ve had many bands showcase for me over the years; bands looking for a manager to bands looking for a record deal during my years at EMI Records. I would show up at their rehearsal studios and find elaborate food and drink set-ups, big lighting rigs brought in to make them look like a stadium rock band and some bands had every family member and friend they ever met squeezed into the studio to applaud after each song. Ok, ready? Forget the food, forget the lights and unless I’m going to a club to see the band perform live, leave your friends at home.
I’m not coming to your rehearsal room to have dinner. If I need a cocktail to enjoy your music then your music probably isn’t worth me coming down to hear. I don’t need concert lighting in a little rehearsal studio. SAVE YOUR MONEY. You want to blow my mind? Turn on all the house lights, stand there and play me one original hit after another. If you do that, I’ll leave with the biggest smile on my face and the excitement in my heart as if I discovered the next Beatles. Also, I don’t need friends clapping after each song. If you perform a hit for me, I’ll be sitting there thinking about you on an arena stage selling millions of concert tickets.
3. “Break” your own record. This approach shows the record labels that if they put in the time and money to sign your band, that you guys are taking it very serious and are willing to do the work necessary to break the band instead of the band sitting around waiting for someone to hold their hands and lead them. Sell your own records. These days CD’s are very cheap to have pressed up. Produce your own with 4-5 of your best songs on it. Sell them at your shows. Sell them at the local record shop (or merchandise shop if record stores are no longer around in your area. Most small store will agree to sell your CD on consignment (the store pays you after the CD sells).
You’re not looking to make money on these sales, you’re only looking to get your music in as many hands as possible. Next step is to approach a local radio station; the smaller the station, the better response you’ll get from them. Try to be creative in ways of approaching them. Yes, the guy in the gorilla suit delivering your CD’s been done. Try to get them to spin your record, no matter what time of day. Even if it’s once.
But be prepared to have friends or family call the station after it’s played to comment on liking it. If it’s played at 3am, don’t have 7,000 people call the station. Make it look like the real thing. They’ll be happy to know what the listeners like and that listeners are responding to their airplay. Record companies have online charts (ie BDS) showing them what every radio station in the country, no matter how small, is playing at any given time. If an unknown band is getting airplay, the record companies will come to investigate. Another artist I worked with, Afroman, got his record deal just like that. He recorded and released a single called “Cause I Got High” on his own and got a local radio station to play it.
He got a major record deal when record companies went to investigate what that little blip on the charts was. Same thing happened with the band Godsmack. After being turn down by all the record companies, they started selling their own records and got local airplay until the point where they were selling 1,000 CD’s a week without the help of a record company! Not only did labels come after the band, but the band was able to negotiate a major $ $ $ deal because of their hometown sales are already so large.
4. Play Live Nothing develops a band better than playing live. Videotape your first show and videotape your 100th show. The difference will amaze you. I can’t speak to every small city in the U.S. but any mid size to large city has record company staff living locally. They “work” the local record stores or accounts, they work the radio stations in the region, bringing them new releases to get airplay and bringing their companies bands by to say hello. These guys (and girls) are the local eyes and ears of the label. They are out there at the clubs. They listen for local chatter about what local bands are happening, they talk to club owners about what local bands they like and which local bands are selling tickets. There are publications that list the local record representatives (reps.).
One is called the Yellow Pages of Rock. Search online, there are others out there; probably now available online Track one down, get them your CD or just keep playing out live. If you’re playing out all the time, whether you know it or not, they’re aware of your group. When I lived in Manhattan, I used to see top record execs club hopping downtown, going club to club watching bands. Most bands are wondering how to be seen by the labels while they’re being watched by some of the top record people in the business. So if you want to be seen, heard and known, get out there and PLAY LIVE.
5. Find a Manager Finding someone with bigger and better connections, more industry knowledge and the ambition and work ethic of a bull, could be the best thing for a band starting out. Someone with local knowledge could save the band a lot of time and money and open some doors than would otherwise be closed; either with local radio, local retail stores or the local clubs. Hey, maybe you can get lucky and find someone with even bigger industry ties and can push the band into an even bigger playing field nationally; maybe even internationally.
The one warning I will give you, is to be VERY careful at what you sign. A bad management contract can cause enough internal problems to break up a band; on a local band level as well as an international stars level. ALWAYS have a lawyer look over any contracts handed to you to sign. A manager deserves protecting his interest in a band if he’s going to work his tail off and use his connections to get a band to the next level but he shouldn’t own the band for the length of their career. All artist management contracts should stipulate that the manager is given a certain amount of time to secure the band a major recording contract or the management contract becomes null and void. This term can be anywhere from 6 months to two years.
A band should not be signing a contract with a manager for 5 years without the manager securing certain objectives for the band. Never sign all your rights away. This also includes Publishing (the ownership rights to the bands music). Managers should receive between 15 – 25% of a bands income (minus certain expenses) for the length of the management contract only. A manager should also get his percentage in perpetuity (for a longer period of time) for any deals the band enters that the manager negotiated for the band while the band was still signed to the manager.
These 5 Tips should change the entire direction a band should travel in its quest to get the mighty ole recording contract. If these tips are followed, a band should be able to save themselves a lot of time and a lot of money, taking only the most important steps needed, without the fluff, to get into the hands of a record executive with the power to sign an act to the company label
Scott Bernstein spent most of his music industry career involved in Artist Management. The companies that Scott worked with and ran, including Leber/Krebs and SBK Management, handled a wide range of major artists such as Aerosmith, Extreme, Roger Waters, The Who, Ted Nugent, Wilson/Phillips, AC/DC, Technotronic, Joan Jett, The Scorpions, Godsmack, The Pet Shop Boys, Def Leppard, Michael Bolton, Afroman, Van Halen, Katrina and the Waves, Cathy Dennis and Vanilla Ice. http://www.ScottBernstein.com
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