Demos: You’re Selling You, Not Your Music

I’ve been around now for a decent while. I’ve been a fan, I’ve been a DJ, I’ve been an artist, and four years ago, I became the owner of a small label. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my meager music career and I try to make a habit of learning from my failures and the failures of others. One of the easiest ways to fail in our industry is in submitting demos. While I won’t guarantee success if you follow what I’m about to tell you, I will guarantee that you will have a better chance of being noticed.

Today the music industry is vastly different than it was 15 or even 5 years ago. Today, everyone is capable of sending demos to labels. In fact, it’s not unusual for some labels to get hundreds of demos a week. The sad truth is many of those demos aren’t even listened to. The few that are heard are often targeted to the wrong label and or utter garbage. There are very few gems ever found in demo submissions. There are so few in fact that many labels won’t even listen to them. So what do you do about it? Let’s take a moment to discuss some common problems.

Who Are You and Where Are Your Fans?

Let’s talk about you. Who are you? Can you be found online? Are you active social media? Do you have a real following? These are some of the first things I have started to check before I even listen to the music whenever I take the review demos.

Why is this important? Well as a label owner, I’m about to invest time, money and marketing effort on you. It’s not up to me if your release is popular. Believe it or not, first and foremost, the success of your release depends largely on you. I can get your release in the hands of tastemaker DJs, but I can’t get blogs to write about you or people to pay for your music. You have to provide the story that will appeal to bloggers and fans alike and that comes often times from what you post online, any shows you play and how excited your fans are about you.

If I can’t find a story worth telling about you, then you probably aren’t worth my time. Why? Because if I can’t see that you have fans that are already willing and able to support your music, then I can’t be certain that your music is actually desired by anyone out there. Likewise if I can’t find your story, then I’ve got nothing other than another track to pitch to the blogs. They don’t need another track to review; they’re under water with review submissions as is. They need someone they can write a story about.

Keep in mind that I’m not looking at how many likes you have on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Those are important, but they are meaningless if your followers are not engaged with you.  They also can be easily faked for a few bucks. You need to show that you are capable of engaging fans and that your fans actually like your music. I’m not making the argument that I won’t take on someone without an existing online following, but I am staying that it is now a much greater factor in the decision process than ever before.

This Is Not the Label You’re Looking For.

Not all tech house labels are the same. There are some with very specific sounds and some with very board sounds. My label, MK837, happens to be a bit of an odd ball in this area. We release more than one genre of music, but collectively the label has a very cohesive techie and dirty sound. Before you even send a label your demo, buy a lot of their music, play it out and then once you fully understand the label’s sound, send a demo.

I’ve gotten so many demos from people who write tech house and believe they’re a good fit for the label, but their tech house is bouncy and *shudder* happy rather than dark and gritty. It simply doesn’t match what we’re releasing. It doesn’t matter how good the music is, if I’m not feeling it and if it’s not in the general vein of what we release, you just wasted your time.

Keep in mind too, that just because a label doesn’t think your music is a good fit for them that your music sucks. I’ve gotten some great demo in that simply don’t fit, but sound great.

Likewise, don’t assume that your music is good simply because a label tells you that it doesn’t fit their sound. It really could suck and well… they’re being polite. It’s confusing I know. This is why you should have one or two mentors who can be totally honest with you.

Check and Return Your Email!

Seriously, it’s not that hard. Once you send out a demo, check your email for a response. I’ve had several tracks that I’ve wanted to sign and I couldn’t simply because I never received a response to my offer. If you already signed the track with another label, that’s fine, but at least have the courtesy to respond. If I can’t sign that one track, maybe I’d like another one from you OR I’d like to offer you a remix opportunity. When you don’t respond, you’re only hurting yourself.

For the record, most of the time this happens when artists use a third-party service to spam hundreds of labels at a time. The main service that I see used is called “Label Mailer”. For the record if you’re using a demo service, know that they really don’t target labels as well as they lead you to believe. They simply take your money and send your demo to however many labels are on their list in the general genre you’re looking for.  The other thing is I know you really don’t care about your music. You’ve got this hot track you want released, but you don’t think it’s important enough to personally ensure it gets into the right hands. You’re just doing it wrong.

It’s About Relationships.

You want to know the best way to get your music signed? It’s actually really simple. I’ve alluded to it throughout this post. You have to build a real relationship with those who are already actively releasing on a regular basis and with the labels themselves.

Remember what I said about having a mentor or two? If you don’t have at least one, get one. You’re looking for someone who is just a little further ahead than you who has already shown some interest in your music. The benefit here is that this person will eventually be able to help steer you to the right label for your music.

This recently happened to a friend of mine. He had a few tracks he hadn’t been able to sign to other labels and he asked a mutual friend of ours where his music might match up best and the first label recommended signed them the same day.

Which brings us back to the next point, do your research on labels. Know their sound inside and out. Each one is different and there has never been simply a “tech house” label. It’s always more complicated than that. Once you identify these labels, make sure that you are commenting on their social media. Make inroads with them by building a real relationship with the label directly and its key players via social media. If you do this, you won’t be cold calling (or emailing) them with your next demo.

The bonus to playing in their social media playground is that it will help to establish your story and your fan base. You will build a following based on your target label’s existing fan base if you can engage them. This puts you right in the middle of their target audience and that’s exactly where you want to be.

Like with any relationship, expect rejection. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s ok. As Wreck-It Ralph says at the Evil –doer’s support group:

“I’m bad and that’s O.K. I will never be good and that’s not bad.”
— Wreck-It Ralph

Well, it’s not exactly like that, but you can’t please everyone and if you fake who you are, you will never be happy with your results. Dishonesty in relationships has never helped anyone and there’s enough dishonesty in the music business already. Stand above the fray and you’ll come out better for it.

That’s it for this week. If you have any other demo submission tips, please post them below in the comments. I’d love to hear them.