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How Can I Get a Record Deal?

“How can I get a record deal?” It’s been the gnawing, desperate question on the lips of almost every singer/songwriter/band on the planet for generations. The mythical record deal is the end-all, be-all for aspiring recording artists: the Golden Ticket, the Shangri-La, the Promised Land. If you can just get that record deal, your troubles are over forever.

(You can perhaps hear the snickers from the artists who have actually had a record deal.)

While landing a record deal can certainly open up a lot of doors for you as an artist, there’s no point in sugar-coating it: getting signed to a label is more elusive now than ever before. First of all, there are so many artists clamoring for the labels’ attention that it’s nearly impossible to get an audience with A&R unless you’re extremely well connected, or if you’ve already sold 10,000 records and have about 2 million YouTube subscribers. Secondly, because of the ongoing upheaval in the record industry, the labels are not taking nearly as many risks with their money. This is why so many artists are figuring out how to make it independently, and why even lots of label artists are now “going indie.”

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t try to get signed, or that you shouldn’t try to get signed. In fact, the good news is that you no longer have to wait to get “discovered” or signed before building your career as a recording artist, and there are plenty of indie artists who are doing quite well without a record deal. But if you think you have what it takes and you want to try, at the very least, you can work toward getting signed while continuing to develop your career on other levels—and if it happens, it’s just gravy. Here are some common-sense tips to help you position yourself for getting a record deal.

MAKE THE BEST ALBUM OR DEMO THAT YOU CAN

The music industry is more competitive than ever, which means you can’t just deliver a “good” song or a “presentable” demo. You need outstanding songs with great hooks that are professionally recorded, mixed, and mastered. Many artists today, in fact, skip the “demo” step completely, just raise the money to do a professional-level EP or full-length album that they can sell directly to fans, and let that recording pass as a “demo” for the labels. If nothing else, this positions you as a serious artist.

BUILD A FAN BASE AND BUILD MOMENTUM

Record labels today take more interest in an artist or band if they’re already demonstrating a level of success. Play lots of shows, develop a social networking presence, put your songs on YouTube, and get your fans excited about what you’re doing. The more momentum and excitement you can build around your act, the more likely the label execs are to take notice.

CONSIDER A PUBLISHING DEAL FIRST

If you’ve got great songwriting chops—particularly in the pop/rock and country genres—you might try to start by landing a song publishing deal with a music publishing company before attempting to court the labels. This basically means you write the songs that publishers pitch to the labels to try and get them onto the records of established artists. You don’t have to have a broadcast-ready demo for this—just simple, well-recorded arrangements of your best songs. Some of today’s up-and-coming pop and country stars got their start writing songs for other label artists.

MAKE TONS OF CONNECTIONS

In this business, it really is about who you know. Go to every industry event you can afford to attend, go to shows, go to where the music business people hang out, make connections and build relationships. Industry folks are much more likely to listen to your stuff if they already know you.

If you’re serious about getting that elusive record deal, there are still ways to do it. It takes, commitment, passion and patience, but with hard work and a bit of luck, you might just reach that “Promised Land” after all.

But just so you know—that’s where the real work begins.