The music industry is tough, cut-throat and pretty brutal. Yet it brings with it the most enjoyable and lucrative careers that anyone could ask for – says Aubrey Whitfield
Between the ages of 8 – 28 I was convinced that I was going to be something big, absolutely convinced.
So why is it that instead of being a world-wide superstar I’m now a relatively unknown writer/producer and founder of a London-based record label? What went wrong?
Well it’s not all bad, instead of trying to catch the attention of record labels, I am now one of them.
I’m one of those cool A&R people who listens to tonnes of demo submissions from star-gazed artists.
I am one of those people who considers signing those lucky artists to the label and launching their music career.
If only I’d have known what labels were looking for when I was 20 years old I could have perhaps made something of myself as an artist.
So here are my top 10 tips, from the perspective of an independent record label, for increasing your chances of scoring that record deal you’ve been yearning for.
1. Already have a fanbase
Let’s be honest, the music industry is a money making machine. It wants to make lots of money without spending that much. Artists who already have an established fanbase will be tempting to a record label because it means you are more likely to sell records and increase the label’s profits. Whenever I get demo submissions I will always check the artist’s internet presence to get an idea of how popular they are. This will ultimately determine whether I’m actually interested in an artist or not.
It will take time to build a fanbase. It takes hard work and dedication but trust me, if you have hundreds, or even thousands, of people who are already fans of your music then you have will have automatically caught the attention of the labels. So take the time and build your fanbase!
2. Be prominently active on social media
Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, YouTube. Make sure you are all over these digital platforms, communicate with your fanbase and show the record labels that you have already laid the foundations of your brand. Again, when considering demo submissions I will always check out how many Twitter followers someone has, or how many Facebook likes (and I can tell the difference between ‘real’ fan followers and fake computer generated followers – so be warned!). If I look at your Twitter or Facebook profile and see you have 100,000 likes or followers, then that is going to get me fired up right away. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll sign you, but I am more likely to get in touch.
3. Gig. A lot.
It may seem obvious but you’ll be surprised at how many artists don’t perform live. This is the bread and butter of any artist and it’s how you build a fanbase (see #1). Gigging is your opportunity to showcase your talents, to check out the competition, to sell your CDs, merchandise, get new Twitter followers and to spread the word and create a ‘buzz’ about you as an artist. Get out there and do open mic gigs, support a better known artist on tour, set up your own mini-tour, perhaps get a booking agent. Invite the label to your gig. If we’re interested in you then we’ll want to see you live. It’s better to have a choice of gigs lined up rather than struggling to find a slot somewhere in a dodgy back-alley pub in Croydon.
4. Record a release ready single or album
From 2ube’s perspective this is crucial. If you approach me and you have a release ready record that doesn’t need re-recording then that’s gonna catch my attention. Why? Because it will save my label money. We won’t have to re-record you. Instead we can invest our money in the marketing and promotion and launching you into the pop stratosphere. Independent label’s money is at a premium. So think smartly and produce something that competes with current top 40 releases and you’ll be half way there. My top tip for achieving this is getting the mixing right. You can record a decent record at home but it’s the mixing engineer that’s going to convert it into a hit. So please for the love of god don’t neglect the mixing!
5. Be an excellent communicator
What annoys me like crazy is when I receive about 100 emails a day from the same artist, or manager for that matter, saying ‘have you listened to my demo yet?’ Equally annoying are emails that open with ‘we will make you lots of money’ or ‘we are going to sell loads of records because people have said so’. Labels get tonnes of demo submissions each day so you need to bare that in mind. At 2ube, we will listen to all demo submissions but it may take sometime and I am more impressed by short, concise emails than long convoluted introductions that make me want to shoot myself in the head. Just give a brief overview of who you are, where you are from, your genre of music and any successes you have had. Just keep it simple. Be a good intelligent communicator and play the game to your advantage.
6. Work yourself as hard as the record label would.
This is particularly attractive to the smaller independents. Smaller independent labels usually only have a handful of staff. So you can appreciate that signing an artist absorbs alot of resources and can be quite taxing on a relatively small label. If an artist is hard-working, focused and fully dedicated to making themselves a success then this will entice the smaller independents. So what do I mean by working hard? I mean an artist who continually promotes their music and gigs via their social media outlets, who gigs as much as they can, who will do as many interviews as it takes to get their music out there, who is willing to spend all the hours god sends writing, recording, touring and promoting. Consider yourself an employee of the record label and work as hard as we do to make your music a success.
Look at Ed Sheeran as an example; he is constantly updating his own Facebook page instead of his label or manager. He constantly plugs his upcoming singles and tour dates. This personal touch means that he can personally connect with his fans and this generates more interest and, most importantly, earns respect from his fans. Take control of your fanbase and work hard, communicate and endlessly plug. The music industry isn’t one long beach party; it’s a long hard slog that will be both exhausting and rewarding.
7. Don’t be an asshole.
I’m sure you know assholes in the music industry. I certainly know assholes scattered all over the place. If you’ve got a bad attitude, or are too aggressive with your communication with the labels, then you are screwed from the start. If a label has oodles of demo submissions and people gagging to work with them, then they are going to ignore the assholes. If you are approachable, friendly, cool and just easy-going then you’re going to get much further than a grumpy aggressive asshole who thinks he looks cool cos he’s got attitude. #Hint: Think (and avoid) Liam Gallagher-types.
8. You sound like no-one else. Ever.
Your music is obviously the killer selling point. You can have a fanbase, be active on social media, gig a lot, have a release-ready record, and be an excellent communicator who is never asshole but all of that is useless if your music isn’t something special. You don’t need me to tell you that the music industry is fiercely competitive and that thousands and thousands of super-talented artists will unfortunately never make it in the music industry. But think about the biggest artists out there at the moment – Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, Pharrell Williams, Coldplay. These artists have something unique about them. It could be a unique voice, an unusual look or a fresh new spin on a particular genre. There is no point trying to be the next ‘Oasis’ or the new ‘Rhianna’. You have to stand out as something fresh and new but still produce music that is commercially viable in one way or another. It’s not an easy feat.
Bands – make sure you have an incredible unique singer. As much as the rest of the band will hate this, the singer is the centre-piece of your band and your singer needs to be something very special indeed. So don’t replicate, innovate.
9. Have a good understanding of the complex music industry
An understanding of the music industry not only impresses me but it also protects you from dodgy deals and scams (there are plenty out there believe me). You should know how royalties work, what is deemed a good record deal and what looks like a rip-off deal. Have your head screwed on and ensure that all record label contracts are considered by a music lawyer (not a run-of-the-mill lawyer but a music lawyer). Join trade organisations like BASCA and the Musicians Union who can offer advice on contracts and are a good source of knowledge. Do your research into the industry and it will give you an edge. Knowledge is power after all.
10. Be thick skinned.
This is probably why I now own a record label and write songs rather than being an artist myself. When I was in my 20s I honestly believed that I was going to be as big as the Beatles and I had such faith in my music. Of course, not everyone is going to like my music or voice because that’s just the way it is. I always had trouble handling this. I would take one negative comment out of 10 positives and fester on it for weeks, getting upset by how someone didn’t like my voice or my music. Sadly, it was this sensitivity that got me afraid to fully promote myself as an artist – just because I feared rejection. I just wasn’t thick skinned enough.
So if your dream is to become a superstar then you’ll need to toughen up or you’ll end up going into a shell like me and never reaching your full potential. Take blunt criticisms with a pinch of salt, take on board constructive criticisms and better yourself, don’t get discouraged by the fact that not everyone loves your voice/songs because you will never please everyone. Keep persevering, ignore the crap, absorb the good and you’ll develop into that star you deserve to be.
A final word…
The music industry is tough, cut-throat and pretty brutal. Yet it brings with it the most enjoyable and lucrative careers that anyone could ask for. Be smart, work hard, be innovative and you’re half way there.
Aubrey Whitfield is a British songwriter, producer and remixer. She is also the founder of London based independent record label, 2ube Records. firstname.lastname@example.org