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MUSIC INDUSTRY ADVICE
What Labels Look For
A 10-Step Comprehensive Guide To Help You Prepare
In this article, we cover 10 key factors record companies are likely to be considering in the talent and songs they sign, based on our experiences professionally consulting A&Rs at major labels, publishers and subsidiaries.
As a career-driven musician — whether a producer, singer, songwriter, DJ or composer — if you’re reading this, one of your top goals is probably to get your music signed by a record label, who can help you market your work and reach a massive target audience.
So that begs the question…
As independent A&R Consultants, we know that every label is unique.
By the same token, every A&R representative working at a label operates differently and is looking for different material and acts to sign.
First and foremost, you need to understand: There is no “one size fits all” approach to pleasing every A&R rep out there. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Period.
That said, there do seem to be certain common threads we’ve observed, in the many labels we have dealt directly with over the years, which include the likes of industry giants like Universal Music Group and Atlantic Records, US offices.
In particular, we’ve noted patterns in what seems to tend to grab top A&R executives’ attention and garner an interested response from them… versus what is more likely to “turn them off” or result in a simple “no” or, perhaps even worse, no response at all.
You may or may not already know this, but A&R stands for “Artists & Repertoire.” Repertoire means “song catalog.”
Essentially, A&Rs are the key decision-makers who decide what artists a record company signs, and they also play a crucial role in “screening” the music the artists signed to the label end up recording and releasing.
In this article, we will unveil the Top 10 things we believe a major label or publisher looks for in the musicians and music they sign, why each matters and how you can use this intel to your advantage, when you submit your music for consideration.
We also strongly encourage you to book consultancy sessions with us.
We may offer a free initial consultation with you, with no strings attached, subject to our availability. This way, we can custom-tailor the application of these methods to your particular projects and music.
Without further ado, get ready for some real talk. Here are 10 things we have observed record labels look for.
1. Third Party Representation
You think you’re great. Your family and friends think you’re amazing. Your fans are in love. That’s awesome.
But if that’s true, why not have a third party reach out to the label on your behalf? Ideally, that’s gonna be someone they have an existing relationship with, if possible.
That might be a friend of an A&R, a successful manager, an independent A&R Consultant like the ones that work for our firm, an agent or otherwise.
Labels are gonna be “more convinced” by a talent whose project(s) and/or material are impressing someone else, especially if said person is someone whose opinion they trust. This is why most A&Rs will not reply to you if you send them music directly, with exceptions.
It’s important to remember that there are far more musicians reaching out to them and sending music than they can logistically keep up with; that’s just the reality of it.
And that’s why they have trusted sources for music whom they prefer to deal with, because these sources have already “pre-screened” the music for them a bit — which helps them narrow down their final selections that they end up signing.
That’s, again, not to say that A&Rs don’t scour the internet and keep their eyes and ears open to what’s poppin’ in the indie world; they definitely do.
But in those cases, they will be the one to reach out to you, and it’s not common for it to work the other way around.
Unless you’re connected with one of their trusted sources.
And yes, there are exceptions and there’s no steadfast rule on how a given A&R will operate. Some of them love to meet musicians directly and go to live shows to check out what’s hot in the scene.
But don’t hold your breath that a label is gonna fall in love with your work (or even look/listen to it) just because you love what you’re doing and chose to reach out to them.
If it were that simple, every talented musician and their uncle would be signed. It simply does not work that way.
In a nutshell, your chances of attracting labels will be greatly increased by having someone other than yourself reach out to them on your behalf. Plus, it’s a better, “cooler” look.
In addition to having a third-party represent you to labels — we can help with that, as we are enlisted to consult the top major A&Rs with the best music/artists we see/hear — it also is a super good look to have great press coverage and reviews. Especially if said coverage is from notable industry news sources.
So having a great publicist is a big move in the right direction, if you can afford one (spoiler alert: the best publicists are typically highly expensive).
Bear in mind, though, that great press coverage and notable reviews are only an added bonus if the A&R already likes your stuff. If they don’t, they just see it as someone else’s opinion.
Most A&Rs hate feeling like they are “supposed to” like your work just because “so-and-so” does. They like having their unique music tastes valued and validated, like we all do.
As an aside, having great press coverage is not a mandatory prerequisite to attract major record labels, per se’. One of the major label subsidiaries we consult has actually stated that they “don’t care about that stuff,” that they just care about the music.
So yeah, it definitely depends on the label, the given A&R, the music itself, and the overall project itself.
When we do feel like your material ready, we’ll forward it to the labels we directly consult for on your behalf.
If it’s ready when we first hear and see it, with no modifications that we can identify, we’ll pitch and forward it on your behalf (only with your express consent) with no upfront fees whatsoever.
We would only collect a small commission from your earnings, via a separate agreement we would negotiate with you, in the event a given contact of ours is interested and signs you and/or your material.
However, we won’t forward anything until we feel it is up to our own personal standards and meets our specific criteria. That’s how we as independent A&R Consultants maintain the label relationships we have: by being discerning.
Schedule your Free Music Review and we can identify whether your material is ready — and, if not, we can help you get it ready to be more likely to get a label response (we make no guarantees, of course, since their opinion is their own).
2. The "It" Factor
For artists, the “it” factor refers to “star power,” “star quality,” charisma, etc
And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean perfect looks or a perfect body. I’ve seen many attractive artists (who are magazine-cover-worthy, according to society’s standards) get passed on, time and time again.
We also live in a world where an unusual look is sometimes actually preferred by certain A&Rs and labels.
For example, it’s been proven that androgyny sells. Not every artist is androgynous — like Prince, David Bowie, Annie Lennox, etc. — and therefore this is one example of an “it” factor that can make an artist stand out. But there are many factors that can do that. Again, just one example.
Now, for songwriters, producers, composers and DJs, and even artists alike, the “it” factor looks like having that je ne sais quoi quality, or an air of mystery or intrigue. That something different in the vibe of the records you send in.
While you don’t want to be totally out of “left field” necessarily, because that can turn off a label… you also don’t want to be a carbon copy of a talent the label has already signed, or a musician that is already big in the scene currently.
I once had a label say something like, “This artist is awesome but we already have an Usher.” (It wasn’t Usher, specifically, but you get the idea here.)
Mind you, having some influences from known musicians and songs is fine and totally cool — and throwback vibes are sometimes dope, depending — but labels don’t want to release the same music over and over. They want each new signing to have an edge over what’s already out, ideally.
You may have a song that everyone agrees sounds “perfect for” or “just like” what an artist you’re shooting to land a cut with has already released.
NOTE: “Land a cut” means to get a song signed to the label or publisher, that the artist ends up releasing for their project; a “cut” refers to a released song.
And yes, it’s possible the label would sign such a song. But there’s also a chance — in my opinion, an even greater chance — that the label will pass on such a song, no matter how good it is, and may even cite their rationale as being, “This sounds too similar to what this artist has put out; we want something different to break the mold a bit.”
(FYI: The aforementioned is almost verbatim what we’ve sometimes heard from some of the top major A&Rs we consult.)
A good goal is to stay super updated not only on what music is out, hot and “currently working” in mainstream (Billboard hit records and heavy streamers on music platforms), but also listen to what music is “bubbling under” in the underground.
Listen for common threads in the music that is close to breaking through.
We can help you keep your finger on the pulse by showing you the sources where you can find the hottest upcoming music that tends to lead to those records’ and artists’ future success.
We can also show you how to get included by those sources (such as how to get on major Spotify playlisters’ radars), so you can attract labels that way.
And yes, labels will indeed find you without your even needing to reach out to them, if you can master this art — provided, of course, that you have the kind of material they’re looking for. 100%.
For producers, keeping your finger on that pulse means being aware not just of today’s prod trends, but also all the new tech and techniques that the indie scene is spittin’ out.
Usually, the biggest indie music sounds “futuristic” or “post-modern” in terms of prod, and ahead of the curve versus what’s currently trending at the top.
“Do I have to be born with the ‘it’ factor? Or can it be created intentionally?”
Fun fact: The music reality TV show “X Factor” is a nickname for this quality.
Some people are born with a strong sense of vibe, energy and charisma. But for others, this is something that comes from how they envision themselves and how they treat their fans and others around them.
You can absolutely generate your own “it” factor. It’s all in the mind. But just know labels will be looking for it, especially when it comes to artists and DJs.
It may be elusive, but everyone who knows their sh** knows when it’s there, and knows when it’s not. It’s self-evident — even if intangible, to whatever degree.
Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga, has been known from day 1 to not only treat her fans with great respect and love but also her peers in the music industry.
And she is always “in character” but also authentic at the same time. They say she showed up to the studio in full regalia (in her crazy outfits) even before she was a star.
These days, Gaga can also afford to be a regular person, genuine and authentic. But she earned the ability to be herself by creating a strong brand and reinventing herself over and over again.
She also has a very powerful social message of equality, love, honesty and fairness. She seems to want to change the world, and some might argue that she already has, to some extent. She’s even attracted the likes of icons like Oprah, who are aligned with her messaging.
Being good-looking and/or having great, unique style doesn’t hurt a bit, either! Doing professional photo shoots, having a great stylist and wardrobe can play a role in how your star quality is perceived, as well. Especially if there’s something that stands out from the crowd about your look.
Sometimes being more raw and honest — perhaps being brave enough to show your face without makeup or filters once in a while, just for one example — can go a long way.
Talking openly about your story, your struggles with mental health, self-reflection, childhood, love, loss, loneliness and so on can also help people feel related-to.
Labels, industry professionals and fans alike love a great backstory. It gives them a glimpse into your creative process, and offers an opportunity for human connection that transcends — but also seamlessly blends — with the music itself.
We would argue that everyone is born with some “it” factor, but those who use it to their advantage are those who push the boundaries and put themselves out there, unabashedly.
Taking chances in lyric writing or production techniques shows a sense of experimentation and originality. That all plays into this star quality. Even the best producers and songwriters are stars and artists, in their own right.
Sometimes the “it” factor is just having an amazing energy about you and how you use your energy to connect with listeners, fans and/or people in the business.
How this manifests for you exactly is definitely a choose-your-own-adventure thing, so to speak. But it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Record labels are looking to sign artists that have staying power, aka longevity. They don’t want an artist who is going to have one or two hits and then disappear. That’s a poor investment.
That’s not to say that having a couple great songs right now, ready to go, can’t get you a deal.
Sure, it can.
On multiple occasions, we’ve had situations where we received a song from a band or artist that we thought was a no-brainer hit, but they had no follow-up.
This may sound cold and may surprise you, but: We usually won’t forward and pitch to a label an artist, DJ or band project that only has one potential hit, because labels want someone who can keep the hits comin’.
Don’t forget that no matter how good you are, and no matter how good your one song is, there’s a sh**-ton of competition out there. So unless you have the next “I Will Always Love You” or “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you’re gonna need more than one smash on-deck — if you really wanna knock a major label A&R’s socks off.
If you’re an artist of any kind, that doesn’t mean your songwriting is going to be mainstream, consistently.
And look, lack of enough songs with hit potential is by no means a total stopper for ya. If you have an incredible sound and brand, this is an issue that can be remedied easily by your team, be that your manager, an incredible publisher, the label A&R, the right collaborators and/or independent A&R Consultants like us.
And yes, we can potentially align you with the right collaborators, to get you over the proverbial finish line.
Ultimately, you want to be strong enough musically to stay on their proverbial radar. That plays a big role in your propensity to score a deal.
Major publishers, in particular, are typically going to be looking for consistency in songwriters, too. The pressure is even stronger, in this respect, if you’re looking to get a publishing deal.
Keep in mind that many substantial publishers may be looking for writers and producers who have a strong network and are already getting cuts on their own. Publishers, independent A&Rs like us and managers can make some alignments and set you up with great co-write sessions, but the ideal is for them not to have to do so, on their own.
Your hustle in this sense matters, obviously. We recommend you build your network, even if it’s small and strong. We may be able help with that, too, by making introductions with other talented and/or successful musicians, setting up collab sessions for you, and letting you take it from there to hopefully “make magic” together with other creatives you have powerful chemistry with.
“Right place, right time” theory still persists. But being on the right social media platform and meeting the right people online is just as good, these days.
So don’t feel pressured to move to a major music mecca like LA, NYC, Nashville, etc. (That can be a great idea, if you’re super social and driven, but it’s not necessary anymore.)
At AvrConsultancy, we will help you identify the commercial viability potential in your work and, as needed, we’ll also indicate what areas you may benefit from advancing in — aspects of your projects and songs we call potential Areas Of Advancement.
Schedule your Free Music Review so we can help you consistency nail songs that have hit potential, in such a way that you pretty much cannot be denied by “the powers that be” in the business.
4. Strong Hooks & Song Topics
There’s a funny saying in the business, along the lines of, “It’s not a hit until it’s an actual hit.” In other words, no matter what your friends say, no matter what your early adopter fans say, no matter what the label says, no matter what your manager says… the proof is in the pudding.
We only know if something is popping off when it’s driving real traffic and fan interaction. Early success speaks for itself.
So, that said, while there is an elusive quality to “what makes a hit a hit,” there are certainly some criteria that consistently tend to occur.
For starters, your chorus hooks are perhaps the most important parts of your songs. You need to get to the first hook by the :45 second mark at the latest.
Some songs even start with the chorus hook, right out of the gate. But it just depends on the song.
Don’t get to your hook the first time at like 1:30. You will have already lost the A&R’s attention by then, more than likely. And, more importantly, you will lose listeners’ attention by then, too, and they’ll probably skip to the next song.
I speak for myself as an A&R Consultant for major labels, publishers and subsidiaries when I say that if I don’t hear a hook by the 1 minute mark at the very latest, I’m almost definitely smashing the stop or skip button.
Rare exception would be if I hear a vibe I’m totally in love with; but I’m probably gonna ask for an edited version that gets to the hook by :45 seconds to the 1 minute mark, before I’ll forward the record to a label.
And, even if the vibe is hittin’ me, when I’m in a hurry, it may simply be a quick “pass” from me. Labels are likely to have the same response — but keep in mind that they’re even busier and more inundated than we are, and therefore will be harsher in this regard (and in basically every regard).
That’s why running your stuff by us can prove to be a good first step, since you only get that one chance at a first impression, with the actual label A&R.
How do you know if you have the right lyrics or melody?
Reach out to us and we will help you master songcraft in such a way that this won’t even be a question.
We have two programs to help with this: The Holy Grail Songwriting Method™ and The #Trending Songwriting Method™ — both of which are also part of our forthcoming book series entitled SMASHED HITS™.
Schedule your Free Music Review and let’s help you see if you and/or your writer(s) and co-writer(s) can completely master the art of pop songwriting in such a way that everyone in the business will be begging you to send them your latest.
It’s entirely possible, if you learn and apply our secret methodology that’s been proven throughout music history, including nearly all — if not ALL — of the #1 songs on the recent Billboard Hot 100 charts!
Again, the proof is in the pudding, and these are longstanding, proven methods.
5. Catchy & Memorable Music
A great song with a great story can be very powerful and engaging for its niche audience. But if you wanna reach the masses and garner the attention of people in the major record industry, your music will need to be catchy and memorable.
Record executives — especially those at major labels and publishers — not only want music they personally love, but music they think will resonate with a mass audience and ideally will have a lasting, major impact in the mainstream.
A&R representatives at record labels are hand-selected and vetted carefully, based on their ability to identify catchy and memorable music.
If your music falls flat in any way, A&Rs are gonna be bored and they may ignore everything else you ever send them. Don’t be paranoid or intimidated about this; many of them are good human beings who are patient. But they are insanely busy, too. Respect that.
The catchy and memorable characteristics of your songs are one of the most crucial, if not perhaps thee most crucial aspect of your potential for a major record deal and/or publishing deal.
Once again, we can help you determine this.
Max Martin — the third most-successful songwriter in recorded music history, behind only The Beatles’ Paul McCartney and John Lennon, respectively, and entirely eclipsing MJ in terms of #1 songs — has been known to say…
(I’m paraphrasing here, but Max’s dozens of #1s on the Billboard Hot 100 don’t lie.)
If you want to learn to do it on purpose, you’re a prime candidate for The Holy Grail Songwriting Method™ program via AvrConsultancy™. Which, again, is also part of our SMASHED HITS™ book series.
In this program and book, we reveal the secret mathematical formulas in popular music — including how Max Martin himself has applied this for A List recording artists in the dozens of Billboard #1 songs he has written (and/or co-written) for and/or with these artists.
Obviously, there is no set way to write a song but certain formulas tend to lead to hits.
We’d love to impart these “cheat codes” to you and show you in a hands-on way how to apply them uniquely.
We’ll also help you monitor whether or not you’re effectively applying the methodology, by reviewing your music ongoing.
We do this in real time during consultations. When was the last time you had an A&R Consultant do that for you? (We’re guessing: never.)
Schedule your Free Music Review and if you end up working with us after that, we’ll change your songwriting life, for the better! We promise. And we don’t make promises lightly.
There is a consensus among our clients, both past and present, that this is a promise we have kept and intend to always keep.
6. No "Cart Before The Horse"
“Don’t believe me, just watch.”
You only get one chance at a first impression, as they say.
So approaching labels when you’re not sure you’re “bringing the goods,” so to speak, can be a huge mistake.
One of the biggest problems we see is musicians who want the success and accolades, but don’t wanna put in the work and refine their talent and material.
A key player we consult for at Universal Music Group says they are not just looking for great music, but also the right mindset. Something to keep in mind.
By the time you reach out to labels, you have probably heard it from your friends, family and perhaps your manager that you’re super-talented. And that’s awesome.
Positive feedback is necessary fuel for us all — especially for musicians, who also tend to encounter a lot of naysayers and adversity in general, along the way.
But don’t get let confidence become conceit. People in the upper levels of the business can’t stand creatives who act pretentious. Especially in this era, where the industry is more in chill mode than ever before.
Let how good you are speak for itself. Don’t get ahead of yourself or have a big head. This is bound to bite you in the a**.
Sure, it’s a mistake you can recover from, but if you wanna build a relationship with a label and maximize your chances of a deal, don’t waste their time with underdeveloped material or projects, if you can help it.
Most musicians, especially artists, just want to get heard and discovered. They are in this mode at almost every stage of their development, in our experience.
Do what you love and love what you do. Always.
But look, you may or may not have “arrived” at a stage of being fully developed enough to be ready for the masses. If not, and you want to be what labels are looking for, it’s more than OK (and highly recommended) to develop further and absolutely maximize your A-Game.
Every single musician on the planet starts from the ground up and goes through many phases of development, all the way on up to the biggest celebrities we all know and admire.
And yes, development is a neverending process. But there is a certain base level A&Rs are going to be looking and listening for. Don’t assume — just because you’re talented, have done some recording or have modest traction on social media and streaming — that you’re ready for the big time, though.
One key way to determine this is to have people with experience around you, who are advising you.
You may not always agree with their opinions, and sometimes your instincts will be right on and theirs will be totally off (it happens; no opinion is the end-all be-all, no matter whose it is).
But when there’s a consensus among experienced advisers and mentors around you that you’re on-point and bringing your A game, as we say… then — and only then, ideally — is the best time to start approaching labels.
If you think you’re the sh**, you probably aren’t. Most people who are truly at the peak of talent and viability have eaten their fair share of “humble pie,” so to speak. If you’re full of yourself, you probably need a few slices.
A friend and colleague of mine who is crazy successful and has worked with nearly every A-List artist under the sun once said, “You’ll never convince anyone of how good you are.” And he was right on the money, both figuratively and literally.
One more time but louder for the kids in the back (say it with me):
Notice the word order in the phrase “Show and tell.” Show me first and then tell me about it later. In fact, if you show us, we’ll tell you and you won’t have to tell us.
Again, as Bruno Mars said (who works with the aforementioned colleague of ours), “Don’t believe me, just watch.”
One of my pet peeves in A&R is receiving music from unsigned artists who tell me all about their releases and how great their music is, before I even hear it. About 9 or 10 times out of 10, it’s not quite “there” yet, to my ears. And the fact that they assumed I would be in love with it irks me. I also find it insulting, because as an A&R, it’s my job to identify whether something is good to go, or not.
I won’t sugarcoat, but I also won’t lie if I don’t hear any room for advancement. Clearly, in an ideal scenario, I will want to receive music that’s operating on all cylinders, so to speak. And when I do, I’ll want to get it into the right hands, with a quickness. Trust and believe.
That’s exactly the moment not just you, but also we, are waiting for.
That said, you need people around you that encourage you and bring out your best. Absolutely essential! But your inner circle should also be challenging you, and you should always be challenging yourself.
Putting in the time and work on your own is obviously a critical step, but it’s typically not enough to stand up to the competition among those who are vying for labels’ attention.
That competition is beyond fierce. You may be amazing, but there’s always gonna be someone who might be more amazing that the same A&R is hearing and seeing.
And if this sounds like a lot of pressure, if not borderline intimidating, get used to it. That’s the rule and not the exception in the upper levels of this industry.
And look, don’t let it get to you; just try to grow a “thick skin” and stay in forward motion. They say a “thick skin” is requirement to survive in this crazy business, and I concur.
FYI — We at AvrConsultancy™ care about mental health, for sure! So don’t let my bluntness scare you. Just tryna keep it real, up in here! This is part of helping you get fully ready to hold your own more, and take on your most powerful mindset possible.
A good mentor always challenges his or her proteges. But there’s no way around it: You need to be super developed.
And that’s why we started our A&R consultancy service: to help musicians — who may, or may not, realize they need development — get the development they need and deserve.
In some (rare) cases, we do indeed encounter musicians who “don’t need much, if any development” and then our role can be to help you get signed (and/or get your songs placed), and earn a small commission later on the back-end, for doing so.
Every situation is its own animal, and we are prepared to assist musicians at every level of development: from under-developed, to somewhat-developed… from mostly-developed, to even fully-developed.
In most cases, in our experience, we are more than likely gonna spot at least one or more potential Areas of Advancement you may or may not have identified yet.
And this is why it’s important to have great “mirrors” around you.
“Mirrors” mean people like us and others in the business, who can give you an experienced outside perspective and provide detailed feedback on what we’re seeing and hearing.
The idea of having great mirrors in your circle is something we picked up from our respected and distinguished colleague, Judy Stakee, who is a legendary music publisher, songwriting mentor, author and speaker.
Best known for her work as Sr. VP of Creative at Warner Chappell Music, Judy is responsible for signing and developing many of today’s most acclaimed artists and songwriters: Sheryl Crow, Katy Perry, Michelle Branch, Joy Williams, Jewel, Gavin DeGraw, Julian Bunetta, John Shanks — among many legendary artists and other creatives she’s directly worked with throughout her tenure in the music business.
By the way, Judy’s facebook live is phenomenal, every Sunday at 12pm noon, PST.
And you should check out — and subscribe to — her YouTube series “Door To Door” where she interviews some of the most prolific and successful musicians in history. Truly eye-opening. My favorite episode is when she interviewed Bonnie McKee who co-wrote many of Katy Perry’s biggest hits.
Judy also wrote the book “The Songwriter’s Survival Guide” which features a forward by Sheryl Crow, Billboard chart-topping, multi-platinum recording artist who has won 9 Grammy Awards (among 32 nominations). Highly recommended book!
In addition to AvrConsultancy™, songwriters can greatly benefit from having their music reviewed by Judy. We can work directly with her event coordinator to get you considered to work with her hands-on.
And Judy Stakee is just one of many, many industry professionals we’d love to align you with, to bolster your team and follow along on your journey towards music success.
We’d love to be one of your respected mirrors, and help “vet” (and develop) you and your material. The labels trust our opinions and we’re optimistic that you will, too. Schedule your Free Music Review and let’s go from there and see what we can do together.
7. Existing Career Traction
Career traction is one of your most powerful “weapons” in the music business. We are now in an era where independent musicians can wield this power more readily than ever, if they work smart.
– Generating notable revenue from your recordings, songs and/or performances;
– Collaborating or sharing a stage with a well-known artist, writer or producer;
– Being sponsored by and/or co-branding with major companies;
– Generating a substantial, targeted and engaged fan base;
– Building a strong, recognizable brand;
– Notable coverage in major press outlets;
– Selling a ton of merch;
– Massive ticket sales;
– Being a powerful digital influencer on social platforms;
– Top positions on well-known charts (such as Billboard, iTunes, etc.);
– High streaming numbers and/or record sales;
– Support from well-known DJs, Spotify Playlisters and/or YouTube Channels;
– Honorable Mentions by Prominent Social Influencers
– Major Licensing & Sync Placements (in TV/Film, Ads and/or Video Games);
– TV coverage and/or celebrity mentions/endorsements;
– Any form of major publicity.
In the dating scene, most people are looking for someone that they need more than the other person needs them. It’s human nature. It’s “the game.”
The music business is much like that. (This is why it’s important not to come off needy or desperate, too.)
Record labels and publishers are looking for talent that is already running a well-oiled machine, has their team ready to go and/or is an absolute master of their given craft.
They say, “the numbers don’t lie.” Unfortunately, in the 2020s that’s no longer true. Nowadays, some unscrupulous musicians and/or their marketing companies of choice are “faking traffic” by generating fake plays or fake fans.
The labels can generally see fake traffic a mile away, and they won’t be interested, so don’t bother.
That’s not to mention the fact that social media and streaming platforms also have artificial intelligence that will most-likely eventually detect fake traffic and penalize you for it — at best, by removing the fake fans/plays; at worst, by deleting your account entirely and banning your permanently from the given platform. Ouch!
The truth is, the more actual money you can legitimately generate on your own from your work (as an artist or DJ) — and/or the more cuts you can score independently, which do well (as a producer or songwriter) — the more interested a label or publisher is likely to be, in our experience.
Labels must invest their own revenue back into artist projects they believe in. And there’s always risk involved in such investments.
When artist projects don’t perform as successfully as anticipated, this is a financial loss for the label. This is something major labels know can happen, but their infrastructure is structured to minimize loss. That’s why they’re major.
They know there will be some losses, but they want to make wise investments, as much as possible. Your role, in this respect, is ideally to be as low-risk as possible, in terms of their investment dollar.
If you’re already killin’ it to whatever degree in the indie scene, the label can then make a safe bet investing in you and taking what you’re already doing to the next level.
As a bonus, the more you’ve accomplished on your own, the better your leverage position is when negotiating a deal. If you’re savvy and can pull this off prior to signing a deal with a major, your manager and lawyer will thank you for that, trust me.
But, in all honesty, not every talented musician and their team have the time, energy and wherewithal it takes to build such noteworthy initial momentum.
And it’s worth saying that what may you think is “noteworthy” may seem like straight up peanuts to a label, who sees indie artists getting millions of plays and having hundreds of thousands of fans on a daily basis.
Yes, you can still do that, if you like. The likelihood you’ll garner their serious and lasting interest is just much lower than if you did have traction, though.
The less traction you have, the higher-risk you are for a label to sign and invest in you.
Unless you’re just an insane talent with a phenomenal song catalog and a totally unique vibe they’ve never seen before, of course.
But again, they’ve pretty much seen it all, so the chances what you’re doing is even going to phase them are like one in a million. Who knows, maybe you are that diamond in the rough, but I generally wouldn’t bank on it.
However, all that said, some of the major label subsidiaries we consult for say they don’t even take traction into account, that it’s all about the music. Whew! What a relief…
In a perfect world, this is amazing, right?? And sure, labels can afford to “take chances” on unestablished talent and do so from time to time.
That said, you have to be beyond incredible — and uniquely so — to be one of those lucky few.
It’s typically your best “go” to align the right team and build up a real fan base and some actual cash from your music. We can help guide you in each of these capacities.
It’s also worth noting again, as a side bar, that you will definitely have more leverage to get a good record deal if you’re already bustin’ out on your own.
Having a powerful, relevant and unique brand is a huge factor, too. Just another thing to keep in mind.
Generate as much traction as you can alone. In fact, if you build up enough, the labels will come to you and not the other way around. That’s ideal, right?
“If you build it, they will come.” It’s so true.
We’re here for you and happy to help you build your career — and we can start right away — no matter what approach you want to take, and no matter what level you’re starting from.
Simply schedule your Free Music Review, when you’re ready, if you haven’t yet done so. There’s really nothing to lose to have a casual meeting and it only takes a few seconds to pick a date and time, and answer a few short questions in our scheduling form.
8. Simple, Polite & Concise Emails
Naturally, your music will be sent to the labels via email (and most of them prefer this versus any other method; though, some have submission forms on their websites).
The following tips will apply regardless of whether you are submitting music yourself or someone else (such as a manager, for example) is handling the submissions on your behalf.
By the way, these are also the guidelines we adhere to, when we forward music we receive to our established contacts. And we’ve found this style of correspondence to be more effective than not.
What is unsolicited? Music they didn’t ask for. If they haven’t asked you to send in music — or at least OK’d it following your request to shoot your stuff over to them — they are far less likely to listen or look. (Even managers know to ask before sending music.)
Aka: Don’t SPAM record labels with your work without asking or (ideally) working through someone who has an established relationship with them. Not only will this be crazy unlikely to work out well for you, it can actually even potentially burn important bridges that will be hard if not impossible to mend later.
As far as how you (or whoever submits your material) write your emails, there are some tips that may increase your likelihood to get a response. And some of this is proven, based on actual research. (We’ve done our homework!)
Don’t forget that A&Rs are people, just like you. Bear this in mind when you approach them. Don’t talk up or down to them. Just be real. And be human.
BE BRIEF. This is true of any email, and research proves that shorter emails are “more respond-able.” A few sentences, and (optionally) some bullet points about your project is more than enough.
If you have more info or a long list of accomplishments, add that as a PDF attachment or a link to your website or other press coverage.
A simple compliment on some of the A&R’s recent or legacy work can go a long way, to show that you don’t see them as a means to an end and that your email is customized to them specifically. This is especially true the first time you reach out.
Do your due diligence and know who you are talking to. DO NOT copy/paste the same message over and over and send it to a bunch of A&Rs or start your emails with a generic “hey,” “hello” or “to whom it may concern.” Address the A&R by name.
I’ve received submission emails from people who don’t even provide a greeting at the beginning of the message. Doh! Talk about a bad first impression. This is incredibly impersonal.
If you know someone they know in common, or have a relationship at another label or with someone else notable in the business, mentioning that can be potentially helpful, too. Depending.
With a caveat, though: Too much “name-dropping” can backfire, for sure. Never exaggerate your relationships in the business or your accomplishments. Huge no-no. That’s insulting to an A&R executive’s intelligence and will backfire on ya with a quickness. (Keep in mind: almost everybody in the business knows each other.)
For example, if you’re hoping to send a song to be considered to be recorded by one of their signed artists, you might have a subject of: “Requesting Permission to Submit Music for [ARTIST]” and putting the artist’s name in all caps can help catch their eye.
If you already have permission to send, then this would be solicited material. So you could simply put: [DESIRED ARTIST NAME HERE] Song Pitch: “[Song Title Here].” That is, if you’re a songwriter or producer.
If you’re an artist, you can put: “ARTIST PITCH: [YOUR ARTIST NAME HERE].”
You can also cite a similar artist range in parentheses.
For example, you might put “(Range: Charlie Puth, Nick Jonas, etc.).” Again, this is just a way to make things convenient for the A&R so they’ll have a general idea of what they’re gonna hear before they open the email. This provides them a decent gauge of whether it is likely to be something they might be interested in. It also shows that you value their time.
DO NOT — I REPEAT, DO NOT — boast and say they’re gonna love what you’re sending or that you’re the next best thing. If you’re an artist manager, same for you.
Don’t tell us as A&Rs what we’re gonna like. Let the music and press coverage speak for itself. Over-hyping looks really bad in an email and definitely can reduce your potential to be heard or responded-to.
Send in your 3 best, max. This is an industry standard, if not an unspoken rule. And following this practice will show you know what you’re doing, thereby increasing the chance of being taken seriously.
Sometimes, just sending one song is effective, especially for a songwriter — as this requires less of the A&R’s time, so they can quickly check it out without a big time commitment. For artist projects, however, sending a few in can show that you have multiple potential hits up your sleeve and won’t just be a one hit wonder (if you have a hit at all). Also, sending 3 is good, since your top favorite might not be theirs.
If you send in playlists that have more than 3 songs, put your best 3 up top. The A&R will probably play those first, and won’t listen further if they aren’t into what they’re hearing at first. So don’t bury your best records in the middle or bottom of the playlist.
Sending in links is ideal for most A&Rs because you’re not clogging their inbox. They get thousands and thousands of submissions and yes, the label has to pay for the space to store all the attachments. So use links, by default, whenever possible.
You can use a platform like Soundcloud to send in unreleased material, using the private link feature. Soundcloud has become a staple for this, and easily allows you to create playlists.
Just remember to send and test your private links before you hit send. Sending dead links is obviously gonna be embarrassing and waste the A&R’s time. Do anything you can to avoid doing that, and the relationship will last longer and won’t end before it begins, haha!
We at AvrConsultancy™ can forward and pitch your music on your behalf to labels, if and when we feel it’s ready. We can also connect you with a manager, publisher or agent who can do so.
While you may “luck out” and catch the right A&R at the right time — and hey, who knows, maybe you will do just that — submitting your material yourself will usually result in no response, since most labels (other than a small handful of smaller indie labels) tend not to accept unsolicited material, altogether.
NOTE: We don’t even always get a responses from labels we’ve been directly enlisted to consult and/or who have done business with us in the past — and our submissions are actually considered “solicited.”
So imagine how challenging it will be for you to do so, being that you probably don’t have the established relationships already in place that we do.
Having a third party send your stuff is, again, a really good look (although not mandatory). It increases the likelihood of a response — especially if said third party is quite connected in the record business.
We’ll be glad to help you maximize your submissions game, so to speak! Schedule your Free Music Review today.
9. Commercially Viable Material
This may seem to go without saying but… you have got to have music with commercial potential.
Some musicians think this means they have to “sell out” and do some canned, cheesy, bubble-gum, cliche’, watered-down fluff or “poppy” music.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The labels are music fans just like you, and want to hear variety and originality just as much as (if not more than) you do when hearing new music.
That said, there are certain arguably objective characteristics of music that is considered commercially-viable. We can help you identify that in fine detail.
To start with: make sure everything is on-point, if possible. Especially if you’re an artist.
1. Great, Discernible (Well-Mixed) Vocals — yes, even for “song demos”;
2. Clean, Vibey Top-Notch Prod — even for acoustic (piano/vocal or guitar/vocal);
3. Fantastic Chord Progressions;
4. Earworms — catchy and memorable melodies;
5. Strong, Relatable (Yet Original) Lyrics; and
6. Eye-Catching, Relevant Song Titles.
Schedule your Free Music Review and we’ll help you tick every checkbox on most A&Rs’ checklist, to the best of your ability. We’re here to help and that’s why we call ourselves “Advocates for Creatives.”
WE WANT YOU TO WIN.
10. Unreleased Music
On the one hand, as previously mentioned, having music out can be a good thing, especially if you’ve laid some groundwork by building a real, targeted fan base and generating a “buzz” in the scene.
Having a small number of monthly listeners on Spotify and a modest number of plays on YouTube is entirely fine — everyone starts somewhere — but honestly, it may not necessarily be your best look…
For the record, again, there’s literally zero shame in low numbers. Most unsigned artists don’t get a ton of streams unless they are signed or hustling on the business side like a label would.
On the other hand, the A&R is looking to discover the “next big thing” and sign it.
If all of your best music is already out — and you either (A) don’t send them any unreleased material, (B) you have music out and it isn’t getting much attention, or (C) your unreleased music isn’t on-par (at least songwriting- and vibe-wise) with your released material — the label may quickly pass on you.
We personally think that it’s best to wait to release your music until you either have a top-notch music marketing specialist working on your behalf to make sure it pops off, or until after you’ve let your manager (or us) send your music in to the right labels.
With exceptions, of course.
You also need to make sure your music is ready for the masses before releasing it, ideally. Releasing music that is “just OK” can potentially be a non-starter as far as attracting labels.
No, don’t fret. If you have released music in the past but have gotten better since then, you don’t even need to mention the older material when you reach out to labels. We are happy to hear anything you’d like us to hear, during consultations. But it’s your best bet to put your best foot forward when it comes to labels.
While labels are obviously not going to turn down music they love just because your past material hasn’t been huge, lack of traction can affect how much of your music they will listen to in the first place.
In other words, the A&R may see you’re out there hustling but not be impressed by the results, and unfortunately may not even hear your latest and greatest, but move on to the next submission instead.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can always re-brand your artist project with a new name, if you’ve released music that didn’t find success, in the past.
As a songwriter, you should send in at least some music that’s unreleased, if possible. If your released music is doing huge things, then sending that in is, of course, a smart move, too.
Some publishers and labels don’t want to sign music that has already been released, because they want to be the one to release it, among other reasons.
They also might not wanna jump through the hoops necessary to re-assign the rights to the label (which is a typical, usually temporary provision of many deals).
Hopefully this has given you a solid “crash course” on how to interact with record labels and what they are typically gonna be on the lookout for.
Now that you’re all primed up and properly positioned to hit the ground running, you should be ready to connect with us and begin making meaningful, actionable moves to Level Up Your Music Career.
If you’re serious about doing whatever it takes to reach your goals, we advise you to take that first step and/or next step in the right direction and schedule your free initial consultation with AvrConsultancy™ (“Our Consultancy”) — The Premier A&R Consultancy Firm, a division of AVRIALITY™ (“Our Reality”) — today.
We don’t need your PayPal or credit card numbers and there’s no obligation to do paid sessions with us.
The initial consultation is just a chill, down-to-earth call that allows us to get a feel for what you’re doing and see how we might help, and whether you/we are a fit to work together.
Plus, we can offer you some specific insights about your work in particular. Let’s talk for a few and get to know each other a bit.
To schedule your Free Music Review to book your free initial consultation now, click “Schedule Now” below.
Optionally, you may prefer to Learn More to become more familiar with us prior to scheduling. We also welcome you to view our FAQ, to answer any commonly-asked questions you may have about our services. Or you may Contact Us directly if your question isn’t listed there, and we’ll be happy to provide further information, as needed.
Either way: There’s nothing to lose and a future in music to gain.
We look forward to hearing from you.
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