So, What are record labels looking for?
I've been asked this question a few times and sadly, this is a very good example of a very bad question.
It is like asking me, what is a dinosaur looking for? Well, food, water... Oh, and not to be extinct.
I get annoyed at this question because it shows a complete lack of understanding of the current music environment. A lack of self awareness of what you as an individual can bring to a team or company in terms of skills, value and freshness. Often the person asking this is not thinking what can I give to add value to you but what can I take.
It shows a genie mentality towards your craft and music - I rub my magic lamp and someone else makes my wish for money, power and fame come true.
But just because it's a bad question, doesn't mean we can't learn from it. And now that I've got that out of my system, let's jump into some lessons from this question shall we:
Fact, every business needs to make money or they will become extinct. This is a given. So lets get the money talk out of the way so we can dive into the deeper things.
If you have no track record of selling even 100 units of anything (CDs, tickets, merchandise etc.) What on earth makes you think you can sell a million units?
Have you ever even tried selling a 100 of anything to your potential market? It's not as easy as it sounds but it is achievable. And if it is achievable why haven't you done it yet?
These are fundamental questions any business will ask and if you don't have answers I would suggest you begin looking for the answers fast. You need to show proof that your brand sells or has the potential to sell to a ready and willing audience. You need more than just your mom's approval to say that your talent is real at this stage of the game.
Does your brand align with the business?
This requires you to do your homework on the company. A rookie mistake that I see often, is when artists don't know what kind of music the company they have submitted to makes.
What does this company stand for?
Do I see myself fitting into what they believe and how they operate?
How do they operate?
How can I see them in action?
What is their latest release?
These are all questions you need to answer for yourself before you even make official contact and ask them for anything.
I've written on this before in a previous blog post but I believe it is so sorely underrated that it needs to be mentioned again. And again, and again... Until it sinks in.
What does professionalism look like? Well, let me break it down for you:
- Are you as a person able to follow simple instructions? (Think carefully about this one. Because every company has their preferred way of doing things and if you can't follow their instructions you are going to tick someone off)
- Can you email a person when it is requested.
- Call back when requested
- Respect office hours and not call on weekends and after hours without prior consent
- Can you humbly except rejection and thank the person even when it hurts
- Can you backup your claims of being wonderful and amazing through the testimonies of fans and clients
- Have you taken the time to present your product, service or yourself in a manner that is fitting of another persons respect
- Is all the necessary information about you and your product neatly presented, written down and easily accessible
In a nutshell, would you approach a CEO of a company you wish to work for the same way as you would approach your home-boy down the street? - Hint: The answer to this should be no.
The irony of professionalism is that none of it requires talent and can be taught, learnt and improved upon. So you have no excuse.
Yes, as the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun. So no matter how different you think you are, your music still needs to fit into some kind of a category and that can be a good thing. It helps you know who your audience is and what they like and don't like is often clear to those within the tribe. As the saying goes, The Beatles didn't invent teenagers but they did show up to lead them.
Where you can be unique however, is through your point of view. Sharing your story, speaking your truth. Which speaks to a particular world view. When I want to listen to Drake, I listen to Drake. I don't listen to his cheap imitation knockoffs.
If you are not constantly learning more about your chosen industry you will get left behind and in todays current times with the Internet, all the knowledge you seek is usually a click away. It is easier than ever to learn more about how an industry works and who the key players in the game are. If you are not taking advantage of this you are shooting yourself in the foot.
For example you can read books like 'All you need to know about the music business' by Donald Passman. Plus many others that can broaden your horizon and perspective of the industry you wish to join.
If you have limited access to the Internet then the library makes an excellent substitute. So with the will to work hard and a library card you have no excuse.
Go and create!
Make a difference.