Getting a record deal with a major label is something that a lot of artists dream of. A record label can pour a substantial amount of money into your music, as they have the resources, the knowledge and the influence to get your songs in front of the masses. Major record labels have their own Spotify Playlists with hundreds of thousands of followers. Some argue that they don’t need a label, as they can do all the hard work themselves. However, without a label, you become your own manager, promoter, marketer, tour manager, distributor, and investor. You can only do this for so long before you run out of steam and money! At some point, you will want to reach mass audiences. This is when a record label is helpful and can offer you all the resources that you need. In this article, you will find out what a record deal is, and top tips for securing one.
A record deal is a legal agreement between an artist and a record label. The deal includes the artist making a track (or series of tracks) that the label will promote and sell. Usually, artists have exclusive contracts with one music label, and labels own the copyright to the tracks.
Wondering how to get signed to a record label or get a record deal? Unfortunately, getting a record deal is much harder than it used to be. Around 15 years ago, things were much simpler. You could send off a half-decent demo through the post and eagerly await their reply. Or, you could hope that one of their A&R scouts stumbles into one of your gigs and offers you a deal on the spot (as with Oasis at King Tuts in 1993).
But since the financial crash in 2008, record labels rarely sign artists. The average major record label receives between 10,000 – 20,000 submissions a year from independent artists. Depending on the size of their budget, each label can only sign around 5 – 40 artists a year. So as you can see, competition is ferocious!
Of the lucky artists that break through and get a deal, most are already quite successful as independent artists. That is the key! If you want to get a record deal nowadays, you need to be killing it as an independent artist. A record label invests a lot of money into their artists with no guarantee of any return. Choosing an artist that has a large fanbase, and is already generating income, will reduce that risk for labels. Long gone are the days of sending your demo (they won’t listen to it), or getting A&R folk to come to your gigs (they won’t come).
But, fear not! Even though bagging yourself a record deal is harder than ever, as long as you know what to do and are willing to put in the hard graft, you can increase your chances of getting one.
Remember that any artist is a business, and every business needs a product (songs) that they can sell to customers (fans). Once you sell enough of your product to make an impact, powerful investors are more likely to invest in taking your business to the next level (investors = record labels).
So, it is important to go back to basics and think about getting fans. It won’t be an overnight task, and you will need to chip away over a sustained period of time. But every fan you gain is somebody who will stream your releases, buy merchandise and come to gigs, as well as spreading the word to potential new fans. So, don’t feel dejected if you only have a small handful of fans right now. That is a great start and something you can build on.
Now that you understand that getting fans can lead to success as well as offers from record labels, let’s delve into various ways to get more fans, and snap up a record deal.
This is where many artists fall short. There is little value in releasing one song every 6 months. We live in a world where there are thousands of daily releases. This means that listeners can have their attention turned if the artists they love don’t release regular music.
You should be aiming to release a new song every 6-8 weeks on average. This might sound like a challenge, but you can make life easier for yourself by planning in advance, and finding yourself a great producer. You can alternatively release remixes of previously released songs, acoustic versions, live versions, edited versions etc. It doesn’t all have to be brand new original songs if you find the pace of 6-8 weeks a struggle.
It is all a singles game at the moment. So, if you are a new artist who wants to release a 12 track album, my advice would be to use all 12 songs as singles spaced out over 6-8 weeks. This would be more effective in reaching new fans than an album release to a fanbase that doesn’t exist yet. Hit them with your album or EP once you have the fans.
It is a known fact that major record labels spend time searching through Spotify playlists looking for artists who are generating tons of streams and landing themselves on big Spotify playlists. Don’t think you can fool them, though. If you have 500k streams of your song on Spotify but only 10 followers, they are going to know that they are fake streams. Labels can spot fakery a mile off, so there is little point in buying streams. (Read more about how paying for streams can actually do more harm that good in many ways in our guide to Payola.
They want to see streams edging up to around 1m+ and see you appearing in the major Spotify playlists (which is more likely to happen if you’re getting a lot of genuine streams, engagement and followers).
You should also be spending a good amount of time applying to get on independent Spotify playlists (i.e. not Spotify curated playlists), as they can be equally powerful. Some of the independent Spotify playlists have hundreds of thousands of followers. You do, however, have to do your own independent research to find out who the playlist curators are. You can do this by looking on Google, or you can apply to playlists through Submit Hub and Soundplate. There are advantages and disadvantages to using services like these however, so make sure to do your research.
You could also get a music promotion company to do all this for you. That way you can focus on your music! At Music Gateway, we have a bunch of ways we can help, so learn more and chat with our music promotion team.
Music blogs are very powerful and are often responsible for breaking new artists. Predictably, getting the attention of major blogs is not easy, as they receive a ton of tracks from artists. However, if you sharpen up your communication skills and do your research, then it will give you an edge.
When approaching a music blog, you are looking for either a feature, a review or an interview. A lot of the major Music Blogs such as Pitchfork and Hypebot have relationships with PR companies and managers, and that is how new music gets featured.
However, there are many others out there that will accept your unsolicited submissions. Again, this requires a lot of independent research. A good start is making sure you are contacting music blogs that cover your style of music, and accept unsolicited submissions. When you reach out to them you want to make sure to include your EPK.
We know we might sound biased, but we are genuinely here to help. That’s why as well as Music Promotion, we also do music reviews. Get the opportunity to receive a professional music review and PR write up on our music industry blog which receives tens of thousands of visitors each week. We cover all genres of music, so send across your tracks and EPK through our easy submission process below.
TikTok alone has been responsible for breaking artists such as Lil Nas X and Tones through the use of their songs combined with engaging themed videos. Not only that, but labels are also known for snooping through social media profiles to see who is creating a buzz. You should be active on the main social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and should be posting something every day to keep your fans engaged.
Social media should also represent your branding as an artist. So, make sure you have a high-quality logo and that the content you post reflects who you are as a brand and an artist. If yo’re not sure where to start then there is plenty of help available with artist branding.
The music industry is all built on connections. Being bold and going out there, networking to make connections within the industry could be a valuable venture. It doesn’t matter if you currently have a small fanbase and aren’t quite at the stage where a record label would be interested in a signing. That is because a contact is still a contact, and being in touch with important industry folk can come in useful when you do start racking up those streams.
Midem and SXSW are international annual music industry conferences that attract top industry folk. You can also check the royalty collection societies such as the PRS, PPL, Musicians Union, the BPI and BASCA who are known for putting on industry events and helpful masterclass sessions.
Not only is performing a great way to get new fans, it is also something that record labels will expect you to be doing when looking for new signings. Why is this so important to record labels? Because it is one of the most lucrative ways to earn money for labels since the streaming industry took over. So, labels want to see that you can play live well and pull in the crowds (especially if your streaming stats are high, as that should translate to sell out shows and labels).
Finally, work hard at it and don’t expect results overnight. Your absolute focus should be on getting fans and not on getting a record deal. The record deal follows the fans. It can take a bit of time to build up a fanbase, but the more active you are and the more you engage with your fanbase, the quicker it will happen for you. Best of luck!
Music Gateway can also help boost your career and get you noticed, including music publishing, promoting your music and improving your streaming presence! Also, check out our Sync opportunities page to get your music in TV and Film. Try it out for free today by signing up or clicking the button below.