Best practices for demos?
March 26, 2012 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Music Nerds! I'm looking for insight into record labels, promotion, sending demos, et cetera. I play shoegaze-influenced electronic music that falls somewhere between Lush and Boards of Canada (links are in my profile) and am looking for record labels that would be interested in doing a release. More questions follow.

First, I'm interested in finding a record label to do a release with. My music is somewhat leftfield, but I'm pretty certain there are labels out there where my music would be right at home.
I know there's a lot of microlabels that take whatever they can get and only do Web releases, but I'm more interested in a respectable label that specializes in music like mine.

Secondly, I'm wondering what, generally, is the best practice when sending out a demo. What are labels looking for? How can I make it easy for them to listen to my demo? Are MP3s or hard-copy CDs the best way to stand out?

Any insight or info would be quite welcome.
posted by dunkadunc to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What are labels looking for?

For the most part -- friends of theirs, friends of friends, or people who already have followings that will make them money. Seriously. If you want to get onto a label, make friends with people in bands who are already on labels. It's probably a lot easier than you think, especially for smaller labels. Go to a lot of shows and hang out and get to know people. Then when you hand them a demo, they'll pay attention to you. Otherwise it goes on the slush pile with all the other randoms they don't have time to listen to.
posted by empath at 12:58 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer:

both of these labels have put out some great shoegaze/dreampop releases. i would e-mail a prospective label and tell them a bit about yourself and include links to your bandcamp/soundcloud/facebook pages.
posted by austere at 1:09 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Every band that I know who was able to get on a label in the last few years had to record their album first and then get a label excited about that, rather than sending demo's to get a label to want to do a release. Not to say that it can't be done, but at this point, I would suggest getting your album recorded, and once that is done, finding a label. They are much more likely to give you a chance if they can hear the finished product, vs. signing you and then waiting to see how things turn out.

Knowing someone is definitely the best way to get in the door. I second the suggestions that empath gave. Find bands who are on the label you are interested in, and network with them. Word of mouth is extremely helpful nowadays.
posted by markblasco at 1:20 PM on March 26, 2012

Response by poster: empath: I live in rural Maine, so going to a lot of shows and getting to know bands IRL is kind of out.

markblasco: I already have two EP's and an album on my website- So basically it's a matter of shopping the album around.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:27 PM on March 26, 2012

Could you speak a bit more about what you mean by release?

Generally a record company lends you money and directs how you spend it. You have to pay the money back. So there are different implications depending on where you're at.

1.) "Demo" versions of songs that need to be completely re-recorded, mixed, and mastered. This means you need a relatively large capital investment.

2.) "Demo" versions that are almost there, but need a bit of work; This means you need a not insignificant investment. The label will generally want you to do this as professionally as possible so it could potentially be a bit more than a few thousand dollars.

3.) "Demo" versions that are ready to go with minimal rework required that could be done for less than a few hundred bucks; Low cost, low risk for the label.

Ultimately, people don't really buy records any more. Sure some copies get sold, but the big sellers are generally the Adelles or the Kings of Leon or whatever. Even relatively large bands make almost no money from their recordings. A label would only really sink a decent amount of money into a band that could realistically recoup a recording budget through their touring and turn a bit of a profit. This is challenged by the fact that touring, also, is not free:

Do you have a following? Can you demonstrate how big your following is in terms of number of downloads/plays/sold out shows? Basically, how much will it cost a label to introduce you to their potential customers? Have you toured? Can you tour at minimal cost such that you can turn a profit for them. The money that the label would invest, which you also would need to pay back, would try to leverage the above so that you can grow your success. If you start from zero, then this investment amount would be significant.

For an entry level band, the most attractive thing to a label would be 1.) have a finished and saleable record, 2.) have an extensive following, and 3.) already make money playing shows and touring. This represents the lowest risk to a label.

In your proposal, you should address the above items as realistically as possible. It shows that you know what you're talking about and that you understand what they do. If you have a manager, get them to do it for you.

(Notice that I haven't addressed the type of music that you play at all. I am assuming that it is fine and that the people that would listen to that type of music would like yours. If it has cross over appeal, then all the better.)
posted by dobie at 1:28 PM on March 26, 2012

Then send them emails, ask them about music, hang out on messageboards, talk to bloggers. A friend of mine got 'discovered' because he spent a lot of time on a DJ's messageboard posting about music production-- ended up getting a shot at a remix for that DJ, then once he had a couple of remixes out, labels and producers started calling him..

If you aren't in LA or New York, your options for networking are definitely limited, but that doesn't mean they're non existent. Just focus on bands with on-line followings you can interact with.
posted by empath at 1:32 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I'm already doing all that :) I do remixes, stay in touch with other musicians/bloggers, et cetera.

What I really need is suggestions for labels that might be interested in my album. austere is on the track.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:53 PM on March 26, 2012

Best answer: You certainly wouldn't sound out of place on the same label as Moss of Aura, but Friends Records is small and may not be taking demos.

Love your music, by the way. I've always been a fan of grumbly, dirty, warbly synth sounds and you use them well. Best of luck.
posted by bigtex at 12:44 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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