Here’s how you get one…
We need to understand what a Record Deal is. I need to put some reality on the bones of this subject so we’re all on the same page, because if you get signed then you are on track to fame and fortune. Obviously, you’ll be sipping cocktails poolside of your mansion, twenty minutes before your Hill HX50 whisks you away to play your next stadium gig, right?? For those of you not in the know a HX50 is a very posh private helicopter that will set you back £500,000 base price, ouch! – Yes, I had to look that up because I know nothing about helicopters. As lovely as the choppers and the mansions sound, sadly the reality is very different. Generally speaking, the people who profit the most from a Record Deal is…...wait for it…..the Record Label/Company - shocker right.
Here is the basic concept from a Record Labels point of view. They find a band they like and then they make an investment or, in music industry terms an Advance and like any other company that makes investments, they do this based on a Return on Investment (ROI) or as the Record Labels would put it Recoupment. So, what is Recoupment anyway?
“Recoupment is the practice, common in the music industry, of claiming an advance provided to an artist back from that artist rather than (or, as well as) from related sources” – thanks Wikipedia.
Ok, so let’s say the label advances your band £250,000. Your band (or the label, on your band's behalf because face it, the label isn’t just going to pop that sort of money in your back pocket. They’ll spend it on your behalf and engage which studio’s, etc they want you to use) spends substantially all the advance to produce an album meeting the label's specifications. Now let’s say the album sells 301,000 copies at £10 each, making £3.01m – AWESOME! Right….? Well, the record company recoups £250,000 off your royalties from sales (your royalties are £301,000), and then the label takes 90% of all further sales, as agreed in the Recording Contract. Your band's net is effectively £51,000 while the label's net is £2.709 million.
I can almost hear the brain cogs working, you’re thinking, what the fu*k? We’ve just made over £3 million, and we only see 51 grand!!! And here’s another kicker, that’s between all of you so if you’re in a four-piece band you are looking at £12,750 per member, if your splitting things evenly, which by the way, most bands don’t. Usually, the guy or girl who wrote the songs get a bigger cut than the rest of the band - I’m sure no one has argued over that before.
Above is an exaggerated example. These sorts of Recoupment deals are usually given to new bands because they will have no proven history. The numbers will be much lower and generally Record Labels especially independents struggle to recoup their advances. My point here is that the principles are same even if the numbers are inflated and you can see how easy it can be for bands to get caught up in a “Record Deal” and get screwed by the Recording Contract. The best advice I can give you is this. Before you put pen to paper, have a Music Solicitor or Music Lawyer look over it first. They will not be cheap and if they are, you should proceed with caution and check their credentials. But they will potentially save you a ton of money and heartbreak in the long run.
If this still hasn’t sent you running for the hills shouting, “I can earn more at Maccy D’s, so fu*k this”, I’ll get to the nitty gritty of what Record Labels are looking for from potential bands. Just to be clear different Labels will have different criteria and I’m coming at this from an Indie Label point of view, the “Big Four” will have a different set of criteria for you to hit but because you are reading this then chances are major Record Companies aren’t on the agenda and neither should they be, but more on that in a bit.
To warn you, I’m going to give you a few more hard truths and reality checks so either be prepared or don’t continue.
I think we need to start with mindset. Now, what I’m about to say, some artists will vehemently disagree with and argue their point, put their fingers in their ears and shout NO! NO! NO! until I stop talking. That’s fine.
If you want to have a career in the music industry and by career, I mean making enough money to pay the bills, mortgage, put food on the table, clothes on your loved ones back and yours, then you are starting a business. That’s the part that the NO shouters don’t like – starting a business. Now, they will say things like “sell-out” at the idea of have a record label being involved, especially a major music company. Because they feel that the label or company will get involved in the artistic process to make sure that the songs are commercially viable. The label or company will probably say something like “we’re protecting our investment to ensure the best outcome for the artist (and themselves – of course)”.
My viewpoint is, and this comes from working in association with record labels. All this boils down to what YOU want and no one else. If you want to record in fantastic studio’s, go on world tours and play in front of thousands of people, then yes - for most, you will need some form of financial backing because - guess what, the fantastic studios and the world tours - DON’T COME CHEAP and they are logistically difficult to organise and get right. On the flipside, if you’re happy to record in your bedroom and play at your local pub, which is completely fine BTW, then DON’T get involved with record labels. One thing I will say, if you fall into the latter camp, don’t look down on those who are in the former, it’s not big and it’s not clever.
So, for those of you in the former camp your mindset needs to be in business mode. Like any start up you need to get the ball rolling and grow your business before you start to look for investors, or as we like to call them Record Labels. Like it or loath it the hard cold reality of the music industry is this, no matter whether you’re just starting out or been doing this for decades, you are in the SELLING GAME – shocker No.2. You are selling or streaming your music (for ease I’m going to lump selling and streaming music together). You are selling tickets to your live shows. You are selling merchandise, ultimately, you’re in sales – don’t tell them but this also applies to the latter camp when they’re trying to sell their CD down their local.
I’m not going to get into how to grow your business/band because that’s an article within itself but what I will say is learn as much about music marketing and tour support as possible. This will help two-fold. Firstly, it will help to get record label interest. Secondly, it will help you make sure that the record label you’ve signed to are making the right decisions when it comes to marketing your music. Believe me they don’t always get these things right and can-do way more harm than good. Remember, ultimately you are paying for all this through your advance so being savvy about how the label is spending your money is important.
Now let’s look at a scenario. Let us say that you’re playing a gig and your band is on fire! You’ve packed the venue to the rafters and the mosh pit is buzzing like a beehive on steroids, fans are not only bouncing off the walls they’re singing your songs back to you and the atmosphere is electric. After the gig the head of A&R from EMI or Island Records comes running up to you waving a business card while telling you to be in their office 9am Monday morning to hash out your recording contract.
What’s wrong with this scenario? Well, firstly what’s the chances that the head of A&R from these major labels will be attending yours or anyone else’s gigs? – shocker No.3. Secondly, even if the highly unlikely happens and the head of A&R happens to stubble into your gig and is ecstatic by your performance, the chances of them running up to you waving a business card trying to make an appointment first thing Monday morning is never going to happen. But how can I be so sure, you may be asking? I know this for a fact because I pitch bands to the record labels I’m associated with, if I feel the bands meet the labels criteria, we do this with permission from the band and with no financial gain to Green Wave Productions, we’re that kind to you guys. Because of this I know that A&R alone will NOT make the decision to sign a band. Depending on the structure of the label, the decision goes through the A&R team, finance, legal and the chief executives.
With mindset pretty much covered where do we start with getting A&R bouncing off the walls. It all starts with the music, first and foremost. If your music sucks then I’m sorry to say this but don’t even bother submitting to anyone be it, record labels or any industry professional from PR to Bloggers – sorry but it had to be said. I know what you’re thinking “my music is the best because I’ve spent my time writing, performing and recording it, plus everyone I know says how good it is, even my mum”.
Well, so has everyone else, even those that suck – shocker No.4. When I say “suck”, I don’t mean it in terms of the word as a verb, it’s not simply about likes and dislikes. I mean it from a critical point of view so ask yourself this: Is my song writing abilities at the very best? Are all the instruments being played to the highest standard? Is our EP or Album the best production quality, does it stand up against everyone else within my genre? If there are any “no” answers to these quite basic questions, then I suggest you improve all areas of weakness. Your songs must be good enough to be played along side any other act on the radio and/or within playlists on streaming sites – shocker No.5. I’m not going to get into the finer details of how to improve your song writing and music production because again that will be a few articles within itself but if you want an honest review of your songs, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
If we have the song writing and the music production down, should we be looking to submit and if so, who do we submit to and how?
Great question. Let’s unpack it.
Should you submit your EP to a Record Label?
I would only be prepared to submit to a label if I have some other assets in place, apart from your music and they are hitting ballpark figures. What the label will look at first and foremost are average monthly listeners, social media, and merchandise sales. They will be looking for numbers in the 5-figure region for average monthly listeners, so upwards of 10,000. Socials should be well in the high thousands but again the 5-figure mark should be what you’re aiming for. As for merch, I would look at this from a financial point of view rather than a unit number sold. It’s better to sell one hundred hoodies than five hundred stickers, depending on cost to sale ratio. Put the numbers into a spreadsheet and concentrate on profit, be careful not to give too much high value merch away, doesn’t do your bottom line any good. I’ve seen a lot of advice online suggesting getting an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) to impress a record label, and they will put one together for you, with a small fee – shocker No.6. All the labels I’ve worked with are NOT bothered by EPK’s so please DO NOT pay anyone to put one together on your behalf. The reason labels aren’t fussed about EPK’s is because if they don’t put it together themselves, they will have a PR company do it for them, so save you hard earned money and don’t worry. I’m not suggesting that you don’t shout about any press you get. I would have a section on your website that links to reviews and interviews that the labels can refer to.
Who should you submit to?
I would base that decision on the numbers because the numbers don’t lie. If you are just below or scraping the numbers given above, then I would look at Independent Record Labels. In this instance, as I mentioned earlier the “Big Four” major Record Companies shouldn’t be on the agenda. If you’re hitting these sorts of numbers all you will be doing is wasting people’s time. That will probably leave a bad taste in their mouths and less likely to look at you in the future. Do your research into Independent Labels. Look at the other bands on their roster, if you can, reach out to these bands and ask them what it’s like to work with the label? Do they get involved with the artistic process? How does the advance work, does the label tell them where to record or is that left to the band? If you can try to do this face to face, the cost of lunch is better than getting involved with a label that’s not the right fit for you, financially and/or artistically.
How should I submit our music?
Once you have done your research and found a label you think will be a good fit for you, I would go on their website. Most Indie Labels will have a submission section on their sites and there they will tell you firstly if they are excepting submissions. Secondly, how to submit. This will vary from label to label. Some you will be able to upload your music directly to the site, others will want links to your website or streaming sites like Spotify or Soundcloud. If a label doesn’t have a submission section on their site, look for an email address. It will usually be an info@ type email, I would send them an email and ask them if they are excepting submissions and if so what would be the best method to submit. DO NOT send them MP3 attachments or download links in this initial email, especially with nothing else in the main body of the email. Think of it like this, would you want loads of attachments clogging up your inbox? Also, would you click a download link from a random email? No, I wouldn’t either so please use some common sense. Please be patient, I would leave it a week or so before sending a follow up email and if you don’t hear anything a couple of weeks after that, then I would presume they are not interested and move on.
If you want to get signed make sure it’s something you really want because it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and there are no guarantees. But if you are determined then make sure you do your research, due diligence and find a label that not only works for you financially but artistically. You need to think of record labels in business terms and don’t get to caught up in the romantic idea of being a signed act. I tend to liken them to banks that are looking to make an investment in your small business. Just like if you were to get a bank loan for your start up you would have to fulfil certain criteria to get the money. I know that’s a loose metaphor but it’s important to keep a business perspective when it comes to record labels and especially when it comes to signing legal documents, if things get to that stage, make sure you lawyer up.
I hope this article helps to give you some perspective on record labels. I also hope this article put some realism to a subject that is regularly romanticised about by most if not all musician at some point or another. Thanks for reading this, please let me know if it helps to get you signed and happy hunting.