How to Shop Your Demo to Record Labels

Don't Make These Mistakes

man singing in recording studio booth
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Sometimes, you can do everything right when you send your demo to a label, and still, nothing happens. If you can't even get the labels to pay attention to you long enough to turn you down, it may be time to shift your strategy. One thing is for sure: You'll learn not to take "no" for an answer when shopping your demo. But if you have a good sense of how to approach labels (who, don't forget, may get hundreds of demos a day), you may end up with that deal you've been after.

Who the Heck Are You?

When someone asks what your band sounds like, you say The Lumineers, but you're sending out demos to Ariana Grande's record label. If they're not into your kind of music, why would a label have any interest in releasing your record? Do your homework and investigate the labels you approach with your music. That doesn't mean that every label you like should get a demo but the right labels to start with are the ones who work with bands who have a similar sound to you.

The TMI Effect

Does your promo package come with a band bio that's more like a novel? Does your demo have 25 tracks on it? Then you are guilty of weighing down the record labels with too much information. Short and to the point is the golden rule of promo packages and demos. If your package looks like it will take a week to wade through, the label is likely to send it straight to the bin. How much info is too much? If your band bio mentions your childhood, you've gone too far.

Track Listing Trials

Somewhat related to the previous idea, your demo itself should be short and sweet, just a couple of songs, ideally. Instead of thinking about the songs of which you are most proud, think of the songs that grab you instantly. You want to stack your demo with songs that have strong beginnings because you only get a few seconds before someone pushes that "next" button. Don't pick the "growers" because the label is unlikely to take the time to let the growing occur. Don't think that a label is going to take the time to listen to 15 songs just because you put them on there. 

Rules Were (Not) Made to Be Broken

Many labels have rules about demos that you absolutely have to follow if you want to make it through the door. In fact, many times these rules have to do with getting permission to send a demo in the first place. Receiving unsolicited demos can land labels in legal trouble if they're not careful when someone who sent them a demo suddenly claims that the label ripped off their songs. Demo policies can usually be found on labels' websites. Respect the rules.

Is There a Song Here Somewhere?

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you need to shell out big bucks to have a demo professionally recorded before a record label will give you the time of day - not true. Your recording can be low-fi, but it does have to be audible. There are plenty of relatively inexpensive music recording software programs out there that can help you turn out a perfectly fine demo on a budget. Strike the right balance between spending wisely on your demo and turning out a recording that clearly contains some music.

Make Sure You and Your Music are Ready

You can't expect every song you write to be a home run, and when you are just getting started, you may be turning out a few stinkers while you're finding your voice. If you're having a hard time judging the label-readiness of your songs, grab a few of your most honest friends and get the lowdown from them. It helps to hold off on sending things out to record labels until you feel like you have some songs that are album ready. Be sure that you're putting your best foot forward on every demo you send to a label.

Getting the right demo to the right label at the right time takes a lot of hard work and even more luck. Finding that deal is a process, so settle in, and keep honing your skills while you're searching for that perfect label.