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So you wanna be in a rock band?: Getting signed: More than putting pen to paper

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | April 2nd, 2007



A good friend of mine once told me a story about how his arrogant youth led to the moment in which he permanently jeopardized his music career. Believing that his act had reached its pinnacle and could not improve upon “perfection,” he haphazardly organized a showcase event where his band was to demonstrate its abilities to all of the leading Canadian record labels. Fast forward about ten years from this showcase, his band remains unsigned by a major label, and additionally, has undergone several lineup and image changes in an attempt to re-emerge in the industry. The moral behind this story is to explain to all of you “overly anxious to-get-signed musicians” out there that you will only get one chance. So, in the words of Jack Sparrow I suggest that you, “wait for the opportune moment.”

Despite all of this, my friend has still managed to do well for himself on an independent level, but when he sat me down to tell me this story, his voice took a stern tone and I knew that he did not want to see me making the same mistake that he did.

From this story, along with the many horrific tales that I’ve been told about young eager bands getting royally screwed from their first record deals, I’ve learned that taking your time to educate yourself about the various options is essential for survival. I highly suggest NOT signing the first proposal that comes your way. If a record label really wants you on their roster, they’ll be willing to negotiate to suit your needs. However, if you appear too anxious to close the deal, you will likely find yourself in a situation in which they’ve taken advantage of you. Get a lawyer, get everything on paper, and only commit to a contract that you feel is mutually fair. I don’t suggest signing a 10-album deal right off the bat, as it is difficult to predict a band’s longevity and you don’t want to find yourself paying off your record label for the rest of your life because your bandmates weren’t in it for the long run.

Aside from all of the precautionary advice, in terms of approaching labels for roster consideration, there are some things you need to know. As previously mentioned, record label receive countless artist submissions on a weekly basis. Therefore, if you decide to take the standard route of mailing out press kits to your desired labels, you need to make your band stick out from the rest, and I’m not talking just music here. Professionalism, and stylish packaging will go a long way. A growing cutting-edge European trend is to construct interactive DVD press kits; instead of inserting paper copies of your band’s bio, touring engagements, press write-ups and notable accomplishments into a standard folder and mailing it off.

An interactive press kit will include all of the aforementioned typical contents, but will also give bands a major advantage. By including live footage, personal interviews and band member biographies, an interactive press kit allows record labels to truly get a sense of a band’s personality and marketability.

If you do chose to undertake this standard snail-mail route, you better have a lot of patience. It can take anywhere from two months to a year for your material to get reviewed, and remember that labels will only contact you if they are interested in learning more about your act. Be sure to direct your package to a specific person or at the least, the A&R department to ensure that it does not get lost in the mail. I recommend following up with the specified label representative a few months after issuing the press kit to ensure that it was received and to inquire as to whether or not they’ve had the opportunity to review your material.

Along the same lines, another increasing trend is the solicitation of online electronic press kits (EPKs) through popular sites such as sonicbids.com. Although these press kits are a great way to organize your band’s accomplishments and are accessible worldwide (which cuts down significantly on mailing costs), I have found their use to be more successful among bookers and festival coordinators, as opposed to record labels.

The last and (in my opinion) most effective way to appeal to record labels is to either take part in a showcase event such as Canadian Music Week (CMW), North by Northeast (NXNE) or to host a showcase event of your own in Toronto (let’s face it - that’s where the industry is).

With events such as CMW or NXNE, it is easy to get lost amongst the other 500 selected acts competing for the attention of the industry bigwigs. I recommend sending out personalized invites to your labels of choice at least a month in advance, trying to generate pre and post media coverage for your appearance and promoting your show as much as possible to ensure a strong turnout. There would be nothing more devastating than playing one of these events with record execs on-site and no crowd to play to.

In terms of hosting your own label showcase, again an act needs to promote, promote, promote. On any given night in Toronto, there are hundreds of events vying for the public’s attention, and you will need to make yours intriguing and something to remember. Ensure that you have provided a guest-list outlining all of the record label representatives you have invited, as you do not want to make them pay to see your performance.

Record execs often do not reveal their identity at these sorts of events, but rather contact you afterwards to inform you of their attendance, so your band must be on its best behaviour treating everyone in a professional manner. After your event, send out thank-you notes to all of your invited representatives (even those who did not make an appearance) for the opportunity to showcase your act for their roster consideration. If you are unsuccessful in your attempt to get scouts to come to your event, my only suggestion is to keep trying. Persistence does get recognized in this industry.

Take Joan Jett, for example. The record labels all agreed that she had talent, but no one would sign her because of her hard image and pushing the envelope style. She established her own label, BlackHeart Records, and sold her first albums out of the trunk of her car. She currently remains signed to her own label, and just this past year headlined Warped Tour. If they didn’t want her as she was, she didn’t want them either. Take a lesson from Ms. Jett, she’s not called the “Queen of Punk Rock” for nothing.

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