One thing that I think a lot of bands struggle with is identifying an appropriate label to work with. Very frequently you see people reaching out to labels and finding themselves incapable of actually bringing anything of value to the table. They are reaching out to labels that don’t match their profile or who have values that are very different from their own. I think that it’s not even a question of doing research, but a question of being thoughtful about how you filter through the morass of labels out there. However, this can actually be a fairly easy thing to do. It’s simply a question of looking at you would-be peers on the label, identifying the labels values, understanding what you bring to the table and then using that to identify a solid and realistic partner.
Looking at the bands on the label
This is the big one – the easy way to see if a label is a good fit for you. All you need to do is look at the other bands on the label. Do they look like yours? Do they seem like they are in a similar place in their careers? If yes, then by all means this is probably a label you should add to your list to talk too about hitting up. However – if not then they are probably someone you want to avoid. I can’t believe how often with my labels I see this happen where someone tries to pitch, for instance, a death metal band to Ripple, a stoner rock label. Do a little research and figure out if the bands who are getting signed reflect your goals and then determine if you are going to pitch from there.
Looking at things the label seem to value
This is another key for bands trying to pitch to labels – make sure that the label values the same things as you. This can mean anything from politics to approaches to developing bands. So if you are a super leftist band and the label head is an outspoken Trump supporter then maybe that label isn’t a good fit for you. Similarly – if a label seems to focus on heavy touring bands and you don’t want to play live – then maybe that is a label you shouldn’t be targeting. These are all things that require a little bit of thought and research but which can dramatically impact how much value you get out of a label. It’s easy to see what a label values too by the way – all you need to do is look at what they are posting about and go from there.
Understanding what you bring to the table
This ties into looking at the bands and values of the label. You need to look at what you bring to the table too. If you are bringing something to the table that is similar to what the other bands are in terms of sales and tour dates then you’re good. If you are not doing enough the odds are the label isn’t going to want to sign you. Remember that people are lazy – they want to be able to find partners who already have everything sorted for them. They don’t want to have to spend time developing an artist unproven in the market. And anyway label guys ike me are jaded. Do you know how many bands have told me that they will ‘totally tour a lot once we get a record deal bro’? It’s ridiculous – so common as to be a joke.
Identifying a solid partner
Then of course there’s the final step of identifying a solid partner. This means finding someone who, after meeting all these other criteria is offering deals that make sense to your bands particular situation. It’s a lot harder to figure out what kind of deals a label partner is interested in offering. Some people offer a blend, others only do one specific type of deal. Whatever works, but of course you want to know what you are getting yourself into. If possible, ask other artists who are similar to you what kind of deals have worked for them. Try and see if anyone will tell you the rough terms of their agreements. Most people are pretty transparent about whether or not a label focuses on product deals or royalty deals or whatever.
Remember – the more you educate yourself – the easier this process is.
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Matt Bacon is a consultant, A&R man, and journalist specializing in the world of heavy metal. Having worked with everyone from Glam Rock icon Phil Collen of Def Leppard, to post Black Metal titans Alcest, by way of legendary thrashers Exhorder as well as labels including Prophecy Productions and Ripple Music, he has dedicated his life to helping young bands develop. Having started his own blog at the age of 14 he views his career in artist development as ‘a hobby that got out of hand’. In 2015 he formed Dropout Media in order to better support the artists he loves. We sit here now, years later with countless tours booked, records released and deals signed, and loving every minute of it.
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