Black Hole Recordings Group A&R Sheds Light On Getting Signed
If you’re anything like me, as a producer, you want the world to hear the result of what you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears in to in the studio. Sure, you could put in on Soundcloud, lean back and wait for the listens to magically come flying in on a shooting star, but as a small fish in a huge ocean, the chances are probably similar to winning the lottery, without buying a ticket. There’s obviously a lot of ways to get your material noticed, but for most people, being signed to a decent record label is still the way to go.
But with the ratio of labels who are able to make a difference in your career, to the amount of demos being sent every single day, how do you stand a chance to make the cut, to even get your precious track heard?
Being a part of the Black Hole Recordings A&R team (mainly as labelmanager on the progressive house sublabel; Avanti), I receive a lot of demos. It’s not a huge secret that the easiest way for us to do our job, is to work with producers we already know. I’m not gonna lie, but when looking through a list of hundreds, or even thousands of demos, I tend to listen to the tracks sent in by producers that I’ve either worked with before, or at least know from the scene. That doesn’t mean I never sign upcoming guys, though!
So, back on how to get your material noticed. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches from producers trying to get signed. Some good, some bad, and quite a few horrible ones as well. I’ve made a little list of ”do’s and don’ts”, and if I should cut them all down to one sentence, it would probably be ”do your homework”.
Now, before I get the ”coldhearted, unempathic A&R”-stamp, please keep in mind that I’m a producer myself. I’ve been in your shoes. Heck, I still am!
First Step: The Quality Check
Before sending out your latest work, you’ve got to be honest with yourself – is your track as good as it can possibly be? I myself have – and occasionally still do – done the mistake of declaring my track done, bounced it, and shopped it around – only to listen to it a few days later, realizing that it could indeed use a few more tweaks here and there. Excitement is
an essential tool during the production-phase, but can sometimes be a bit of an obstacle as well. If you’re not on a tight deadline, leave the track for a week, and get back to it with a totally fresh perspective – chances are pretty big, that you’ll be able to squeeze out a few precious extra percentages!
Once you’re certain that the track is there, it might pay off to show it to a few people you trust. Sure, you could show it to your mate down at the bar, but chances are that he’s either biased from knowing you and thinking whatever you make is ”fire”, afraid to hurt your feelings, and/or probably doesn’t have a trained ear for detail. Showing it to friends can be good, but aim for someone within the scene. You probably know a few fellow producers – probably some that are in the same boat as you. Ask them for feedback, and be open to criticism. If the producer is a good friend of yours, he or she is probably only trying to help you, and not shoot you down.
Step Two: Preparation
When sending out your new masterpiece, make sure everything is properly prepared. Here are a few do’s and don’ts. Some of them might seem like “no-brainers”, but you’d be surprised how often these occur.
- – Do: Upload your track to Soundcloud, and prepare a private link with the download option enabled. Soundcloud is a quick and easy way for A&R’s to browse through your track for a first impression, and download if it manages to capture their attention. Private Dropbox links will do the trick as well.
- – Don’t: Upload your track to a dodgy filesharing service – having to close 7 “Bolex- watch” pop-up windows, then having to look hard for the ”download”-button is a serious turn-off, and the risk of your track never reaching the harddrive of the A&R, is enormous.
- – Do: Make sure your social media/website pro files look slick. A decent pro file picture, good graphics/banners/logo and a neatly organized page gives a good impression. Even material from cheap services like Fiverr will probably look better than your home-brewed logo made in Microsoft Paint (if that even still exists). Spending 20-30 bucks goes a long way!
- – Do: Make sure your contact details is easy to find, and are up to date. Also, make sure your e-mail address suits your profile. Your old ”firstname.lastname@example.org” from1998 probably won’t be taken very serious.
Step Three: Send!
This is where your homework can really make the difference.
First of all, find out which labels that fits your sound. Sending off your hot new dubstep track to a psy-trance label probably won’t get you anywhere. It’s amazing how many uplifting trance, bigroom EDM and even hip-hop (?!) demos I get sent, from people wanting to get signed to Avanti, not even bothering to check out what we actually stand for. I’ve had several hopeful producers at ADE asking me how to get signed to my label, and then ask what kind of sound we actually do.
Second of all, find out who’s in charge of the specific label you’re aiming for. A public demo address is usually provided on their website, but you will most likely drown in that inbox. If you get a direct e-mail for the A&R, your’e most like skipping a few thousand places in the line. Finding the right people might take a bit of “stalking”, but it will pay off.
Make a short, but on point presentation of you and your track – “check my Soundcloud bruh” simply won’t cut it! Also, tell why you’ve specifically chosen this label. Mention a few of the releases or artists on the label, that excites and inspire you. The chance of the A&R listening to your track is much bigger, if he/she is convinced that the sound will fit their profile. Also, it shows that you’ve actually put some thought into your label of choice.
Once you’ve sent the e-mail, another obstacle will show it’s ugly face; (im)patience. Don’t expect to get a reply within 15 minutes. Give the label about a week, and if you still haven’t heard anything, send a new e-mail politely asking if they have had a chance to check your song. If you’re being too impatient and chase the A&R too quick, you’ll end up being an element of irritation, which is a horrible first encounter for a long term (business) relationship. If you haven’t heard back within a week after that, chances are that you never will, and you should consider which label is next in line. Keep your head up, though!
Don’t send it out to several labels at a time. A few months back, I was sent a demo I really liked, and replied a few hours after receiving it, that I would love to sign it – only to get the message that “unfortunately the track was just signed elsewhere”. An even worse example is when producers send their demo to several labels – in the very same e-mail – with all of the addresses on CC (no, not even BCC)! One thing is that you might violate people’s privacy by sharing their address with (sometimes) hundreds of other people, another is that you look really unprofessional. We want to feel special!
To round things off, I’d like to emphasize the value of the old-fashion handshake. Go out and meet people! ADE, WMC, IMS – or even the local club, if one of the top guys are playing there. Chances are that they are busy, so be short and on point. Tell them it’s nice to meet them, and mention some of their work that you admire. It once again shows that you’ve done your homework. Ask them politely if it’s possible for you to e-mail them your new song, and perhaps give them your business card. The chance that thet’ll say no is relatively small. Beginning your e-mail with, “Hello [name], it was nice to meet you at…” is a really strong opener, and even if they should have forgotten that they’ve actually met you, you have probably made them curious, and chances of your songs being heard are much higher.
When all is said and done, you should remember why you make music in the first place. Hopefully “Because can’t NOT do it!”. The process is such a big part of music production, and even if nobody will ever hear the result, you’ll probably have one heck of a time while working in the studio. You might not get a hit every time, but go back and try again. Passion and consistency is key!
Kris O’Neil has been a part of the dance music scene for 15 year as a DJ, producer, and most recently as a part of the iconic Black Hole Recordings, being the labelmanager for the Progressive House sublabel, Avanti.