Howdy. My name is James McInnes.
I’ve been hosting dance shows on FBi Radio for 8 years, worked with the legends at cult label / events / management company Future Classic for 3.5 years and have just recently started my own record label called Plastic World (with my homie Vic from Astral People). Over those 8+ years I’ve been on the catching end of a lot of demos. It’s ranged from terrible Russian hard-donk, to this kid from the Northern beaches called Flume.
I’m going to explain what will get you noticed and how you can cut through the inbox-noise when you send a demo to a record label.
Let’s break this down into several steps.
- Bounce it out
- Research the labels
- Craft your message
- Upload your demos
- Click send
- Keep in touch
- Who ya know
Bounce It Out
Bounce out all those tracks you’ve been working on, at this stage the more the merrier!
Believe it or not each hi-hat does not have to be EQ’d within an inch of it’s life, it doesn’t have to have a shiny mix down and doesn’t have to be mastered. Remember these are demos – the most important part of the entire track should be the idea – mix downs can be corrected and labels often have their own people they like using for mastering, so it doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect. When the band Retiree sent their demos to my label Plastic World they were exactly that – demos. Just some rough bedroom recordings in Ableton with no mastering.
Make sure you load all your tracks into iTunes and label them with your artist name and all the correct track names. ‘Techno-ish thing v5’ doesn’t have much of a story right? Surprisingly, a tracks name is a big part of communicating the story behind your track, so have a think about this stage. Extra points if you put your email address (and/or Soundcloud URL) in the iTunes field album name – this way if someone downloads your song and likes it, they’ll know exactly how to get in touch.
Don’t worry about artwork or EP names. Every label has a different way of creating art so it’s best to leave this as a blank canvas.
Now it’s time to start sharing your music and get your confidence up before sending it to labels. Share the music you’ve been working on with a friend who has taste you respect – see which songs they like and which ones they don’t. Share your music with your girlfriend, with your mum, your mate from primary school – whoever! People who haven’t listened to your music before often hear really interesting and different parts in music, and will not care if you took a few db out of your kick.
You’re the artist – so take all that feedback in and let it digest. Then it’s time to pick your strongest tracks and find a home for them.
Research the Record Labels
Seriously. Research the label!!!
If you want someone to take the time to listen to your music and reply with something, then you’ve got to take the time to find out a bit about them. Demos that pop up in my inbox that don’t even mention the label are almost always deleted because 9.9/10 it’s just a guy spamming you.
Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself:
- Which labels have your favourite artists released on?
- What labels are based in your hometown or country?
- What kind of music does that label release?
- Do they have a strict style of music or does anything go?
- Do they release music from artists all around the world or do they keep it local?
- Who runs the label? Are they DJs? What kind of DJ mixes do they do?
After finding a bunch of labels you like, start to heavily stalk their website, Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter, Mixcloud, Youtube and all the others. You’ll get even more insight into them and you’ll hopefully find an email address to send your music too. Avoid ‘contact us’ forms if possible, these are notorious for being ignored and/or broken.
Craft Your Message
This bit can take a while.
The person checking this email address could be a bored intern, an A&R guy thats super super flat out, the marketing dude who has the job on the side, or even the record boss themselves when they have down-time. There could be 1000’s of other unread emails in the inbox, so the golden rule is to keep it simple and straight-to-the-point.
The subject of your email is the first way to get noticed, but honestly the best subject name is just ‘demo’ or ‘some demos’. A mysterious blank canvas is more tempting than ‘THIS TRACK HAS SO MUCH BASS IT WILL GIVE YOU A STIFFY’.
Here are some do’s for writing the email:
- Keep it to less than 100 words (no time to read!)
- Tell them what city or country you’re in (it’s probably where your story starts)
- List some (well known) artists you’ve supported DJing or for your live show (this shows which artists you like and what kind of skills and profile you already have)
- Ask for feedback (as a question, get a reply)
- Let the music do the talking
- Lists of artists you think you sound like (it’ll taint what what people hear and you’ll be pigeon-holed)
- Asking if they want to sign it (ask for feedback first, don’t give it all up on the first date)
- Local venues you’ve played in (if you say Oxford Arts to someone in Belgium they’ll have no idea and think it’s some tiny venue in woop-woop)
- Links to private demos with lots of plays in the stats (won’t look very private… you hussy)
And some don’ts:
- Genres (the ultimate pigeon-hole)
- HEAPS of links (looks like spam and Gmail thinks so too)
- Being a obnoxious salesman (“I got 10,000 plays in 4 seconds and <lame DJ> wants me to play his house party tomorrow but I’m busy getting blow jobs”)
- Using any swear or ‘naughty’ words (you’ll get sent straight to spam)
And a don’t-be-a-f**king-moron:
- Do not use email marketing software to send out demos
Upload Your Demos
It sounds pretty obvious, but there’s some easy mistakes you could make here. Again, your email could be in a sea of 1000’s – so lets make it easy for the person listening.
Pick 1-5 of your very best demos, bounce them to mp3s that are between 192kbps – 320kbps (.wavs are too big and some people have slow internet) then pick how you want to upload them:
- Dropbox – Great if you want to share multiple tracks because you can download the whole EP as one .zip. Paste the private link into your email – don’t use the ‘share’ via email feature.
- Soundcloud – Make sure your player is set to private, that you share the ‘secret link’ and that downloads are turned on.
- Attached to email – Only attach 1 track and make sure it’s less than 6mb.
Yep, that’s the list! Those are the best ways to share your music. All the other services like Mediafire and Zippyshare are public, searchable and covered with ads which isn’t a great look. Services like Hightail and WeTransfer expire – so if the guy you’re sending it to doesn’t check their email for 2 weeks they can’t listen to your song.
The most important thing is that a label can download your song. Only giving a stream is a tease and limits where your track can end up – if it the label likes it make sure they can get it onto their music players, on the work speakers and play it in DJ sets. Don’t limited it’s potential.
If you’re sending links to music make sure they work in a different browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer) and only email one label at a time. No time saving with bcc’s.
…then click send!
Keep in Touch
Be patient. It can take a few weeks for a response.
If you haven’t had anything back after 3 weeks, send a friendly “hey, wondered if you’ve had a chance to listen to to this? love to hear your feedback”. If you don’t get anything back, then it’s time to find a new batch of labels and keep developing your music.
If you’re 100% this is the label for you and your music is the perfect fit for them find new ways to get in touch – follow the label on social media, get in touch with other artists on the label to see if they can point you to another contact at the label and if the label boss is DJing in your city get down to the show and introduce yourself.
Who Ya Know
That boring old saying still holds a lot of truth.
I knew one of the guys from Retiree years before the band formed and I just happened to hear ‘Be Yourself’ in a clothing store. Moon Holiday who released her first EP on Future Classic was actually passed onto us from the guy who was mixing it. I got the job at Future Classic because I knew the guys via FBi.
If you’re only hitting walls with your demos, then it’s time to get out there and meet the people working on the projects that you want to be apart of. Club nights, labels, management companies, blogs, radio stations, street press, record stores… get out there and get involved!
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