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How to Send a Music Demo to Record Labels

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OK, so you've recorded your demo - now what? Now you need to get your demo in the hands of the people who can help you take it to the next level. But with so many people trying to get their demos heard, how can you make sure your demo won't get lost in the shuffle? Follow these simple steps to move your demo to the top of the pile.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Ongoing

Here's How:

  1. Do Your Research

    Before you start sending out your demo, you need to compile a list of labels who might be interested in hearing it. Sending your hip hop demo to an indie rock label is a waste of time and money. What bands do you like? What labels are they on? What labels deal with the kind of music you play? Spend some time online researching artists you consider to be similar to yourself and the labels that work with them. that way, your demo will land in the hands of people who "get" what you're doing.

  2. Learn Demo Policies

    One you have your short list of labels, you need to learn each label's policy on demos. Some labels, especially larger labels, will not accept unsolicited demos for legal reasons - they worry about people sending them demos, and then later suing them, claiming their songs have been stolen. Most labels have demo policies clearly displayed on their sites. Find out:

    • Are unsolicited demos accepted?
    • Acceptable demo formats (CD, mp3 clips)
    • Demo mailing address
    • Is there a specific demo (A&R) rep to whom you should address your package?
    • Follow up rules - OK to call? OK to email?
  3. Keep it Short and Sweet

    Remember, even small labels are inundated with demos, and many labels do listen to everything they get. Making their job easier will only help your case. Your demo package should include:

    • A short demo. Go for two to three of your best songs. Anything longer won't get listened to.
    • Your demo should be clearly labeled with your name and email address (NOT your number - you're more likely to get a response via email).
    • SHORT band bio. Keep it on subject and to the point. No need to go for "My parents have known since birth I would be a musician..."
    • Press clippings, if available
  4. Follow Up

    Once you have sent your demo out to labels, you need to follow up with the labels to make sure they have received them, and to solicit their opinions. If the label has a demo follow up policy on their website, make sure you stick to that. Otherwise, an email a month after you have sent the demo is a good place to start. It may take months for a label to actually get around to playing your demo, but a friendly, occasional email will help your demo stand out from the pack. Unless you have been told differently by the label, DON'T call. It puts people on the spot and won't win you any friends. Stick to email.

  5. Steel Yourself

    Sending out demos can be a little frustrating. Often, despite your best attempts at a follow up, you just won't even hear back from some people. You are also likely to hear "no" a lot. Don't despair. If you hear "no" from someone, ask for feedback, advice, and suggestions of other labels who may like your music. Again, you won't get this advice from everyone, but asking never hurts, and you may end up with the piece of advice that turns everything around for you. Treat every "no" as a chance to learn something that could turn that "no" into a "yes" in the future.

  6. Keep in Touch

    When you do hear "no" from a label, that doesn't mean you have to scratch them off your list. Include labels you like on your emailing list, with their permission, to let them know what is happening with your band, and if you record a new round of songs, it is perfectly fine to send a new demo to a label that has rejected you in the past. If you're playing a show in the town in which a particular label is based, invite them to the show. Getting people to know your name is half the battle.

Tips:

  1. Don't fret too much about the recording quality of the demo - That doesn't mean just slop anything down, but record labels do not expect to hear professional recording quality on demos. Great songs WILL shine through and WILL get noticed.

  2. But have a professional presentation - Take the time to print up a band bio that is clearly written and free of spelling errors. Jotting a few things about your band on the back of a napkin and tossing it into a package won't cut it. If you have press clippings, make a copy of each one a separate piece of paper and bind the pages together.

  3. Make a database of contacts - Keep a list of every label to whom you send your demo and of every person you talk to about your demo, whether the conversation is positive or negative. You never know who will be able to help you sometime down the line.

  4. Pick songs with strong beginnings - When you demo goes into the CD player, if the song doesn't grab the listener out of the gate, then the listener is likely to press "next." Don't go for the slow burners on your demo. Pick the songs that grab people on the first listen, from the first note.

  5. Get more demo help - This free eCourse will walk you through everything you need to know about demos. Sign up here. Also, visit this Demos 101 guide to everything you need to know about issues that may come up during your demo process.

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