When you send your demo to a record label, what happens next? Every label has their own way of dealing with demos. Unfortunately, sometimes, that way of handling demos involves putting it in a box and never getting around to checking it out. Not pretty, but true. However, in most cases, labels DO listen to the demos they receive. The procedure for handling demos depends a lot on the size of the label, but the general practice is the same. Here is the journey you can expect your demo to take once it reaches record label HQ:
Your demo will be put in the right hands. If the label has a specific person or department that deals with new demos, and if you addressed your demo to this person/department, then it may reach the right place automatically. If not, it may take some time to make it over the person who makes the first demo cuts.
Of course, keep in mind that at small labels, there may only be a staff of a few people (or one person). There may not be a specific "demo person". In that case, this step is of course null and void. The demo person is whoever got the mail that day or happened to open your email.
Your demo will be filed. Even if there is a single person or department that deals with demos, there is bound to a demo backlog. So that they can field follow ups more efficiently, most labels try to maintain a "first come, first served" demo listening policy. Naturally, some labels are a little more organized than others. Your demo may be labeled with the date it was received and put aside to wait for its turn, or it may be something a little less formal.
Your demo will be listened to. Again, depending on the size of the label and if there is a dedicated demo department, your listening date may be a few days after your demo arrives, or it may literally take months. Rest assured, however, that most labels that accept demos make a point of listening to everything they get eventually. Labels with small staffs often take longer getting to demos, simply because they're busy working for the artists they already have, so more patience is required for them.
For a large label, your demo may be passed around to several people before a final decision is made about it.
Your demo (may) get a response. Some labels respond to everyone, whether it is to say, "thanks but no thanks" or "we want to hear more". Some labels only contacts artists they want to know more about. You can increase your chances of getting a response by providing an email address contact for yourself. Don't ever send a demo with just your phone number - you won't get a call.
Need to know more about demos? Visit Demos 101.