Getting a record deal is not easy because record labels are very selective on who they sign. That’s why we spoke to Layla Manoochehri, a former record label talent scout for Sony Music (and one of our competition judges). We’ve put together some of her advice on how to get signed to a record label.
To help yourself get a record deal, find your own original sound and get your fans behind you. Record labels will be looking for signs that artists are putting themselves out there and building a large following through live performance and social media.
You have to be an exceptional artist with a devoted following to get a deal with a record label. The easiest option that many artists try is to approach record labels directly. Read on to find out what you need to do before you think about approaching a record label.
How to get signed to a record label
Here is how artists can get a record deal, although we can’t guarantee you’ll get signed to a record label.
- Find your own style as a recording artist
- Get in the recording studio
- Make your live show amazing
- Make the best music that you can
- Practice recording and performing
- Learn more about record label deals
- Make your branding consistent
- Be active on social media
- Build a devoted fanbase
- Make connections with labels
Record labels: What do they actually do?
Record labels sign recording artists and release recordings. They are responsible for finding the talent in the first place and then they often compete with each other for their commitment. Once they’ve signed a record deal, the record label will help organise producers, studios and videos amongst many other things. The record labels are also responsible for the marketing and physical production of the music.
How to get signed
#1 Find your own style as a recording artist
To get a record deal, you need to be unique and original. This isn’t easy and could take some time but you have to find your own distinct identity with your music and your look. Originality is key and will help you remain relevant and memorable in the mind of your fans.
#2 Get in the recording studio
Record labels need you to make records and prove yourself as a recording artist before they consider giving you a record deal. You need to get some time in the studio and show that you’re capable of laying down a great performance.
You might think you’re brilliant as a performer but this doesn’t always translate to a recording. Find a producer or engineer to work with and keep improving your skills as a recording artist.
#3 Make your live show amazing
Getting noticed by the right people is what you need to do if you want to get signed. Performing regularly will only improve your chances of this happening. It will help you improve your musicianship, establish your brand, better your social skills, and help you meet music professionals.
Most record labels send their talent scouts and A&Rs to popular venues, singing contests and local music festivals to hunt for new talent. The more you perform, the less likely you are to miss out on those opportunities.
Record label A&R scouts make a lot of time to get out and about at gigs and open mic nights to find new talent to sign to a record deal. Therefore, it is essential to get yourself out there performing live at as many gigs as you can, as you never know who might be there watching you.
Impressing scouts with your live show is essential if you’re trying to get a deal. Find a way to be exceptional when you are performing and learn as much as you can from other artists.
#4 Make the best music you can
Always focus on writing new material that record labels might like but also fit your sound. Record your rehearsals and listen back to it to those tapes again and again, to make sure your music is absolutely mind-blowing.
Learn more about the songwriting and production behind your favourite artists. See how you can integrate those techniques into your own music. You will have to learn to listen to music analytically and improve your ear for the finer details that make great music.
Record labels always look for someone striking who is ready to take the world by storm. They want polished, professional acts that can earn them a profit, so be dedicated and professional towards your craft.
#5 Practice recording and performing
If record labels have one expectation of you, it’s that you should never stop practising. Find some time for daily rehearsals until you get every lyric memorised. You will need to get into a routine because a career with a record label depends on your abilities as a singer, musician and performer.
Practising with a vocal or instrumental teacher can make a massive difference in your abilities. You can get valuable feedback and professional opinions from people who know what they are talking about.
A vocal teacher can get you to polish your sound and make sure that you are constantly improving. Take in all the feedback and iron out any issues.
#6 Learn more about record label deals
Studying the music industry can help you gain a better understanding of what it takes to get signed. Try and gain some practical experience of how it operates through work experience. You’re more likely to get signed by a record label if you are already engaged and active in the industry in one way or another. This is because you will discover more about the culture of the industry and how you can integrate into it.
How to get noticed by a record label
#7 Make your branding consistent
You must synchronise all of your branding across your social media profiles. Try not to confuse record label scouts by making each one of your social media pages too different. Make sure your Facebook cover photo is in the same theme as your Twitter header, and your SoundCloud display picture is the same or very similar to your website or YouTube display picture.
Everything needs to be themed consistently so you have a recognisable brand. Your fans and record labels can use this to easily identify you. You wouldn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to get signed by a record label just because they couldn’t find or identify your profile.
Have an interesting bio, a logo, some amazing photographs, and artwork ready for all your releases. Set these up correctly on your social media and you’re sure to get more likes and clicks.
T-shirts are incredibly popular merchandise to build and promote a brand. Not only will a little cash come into your pocket, but you also get a free promotion every time someone wears your tee.
#8 Be active on social media
Record labels will always have an eye on your social media stats if they are interested in signing you. Any serious artist must be active on social networking platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. so make sure to create the best impression you can!
Implementing a great marketing plan to reach people online. It will also expand your fanbase to help increase your online stats, such as Facebook likes, Twitter and Instagram followers, YouTube subscribers. Labels will look at this when they consider signing anyone, so you want your followers to be authentic and engaged.
If you are looking to get a record deal, it is important to have a strong internet presence as record label scouts are also always searching the internet for new talent. So make sure you have your music up on SoundCloud and YouTube etc.
#9 Build a devoted fanbase
To get a record deal, you need to constantly engage with your fan base to maximise your chance of success. You need a really strong core following that will buy your tickets and merchandise if you’re going to make money and be an attractive business proposition. This is easily one of the most important points because your fans could be what convinces a label to give you a deal!
You are going to have to spend as much time on self-promotion as you do on making music. You should always engage with people wherever you perform and also on social media. This will help your fans become more interested in you and your music and help you learn more about what your fans want to hear.
Artists with a solid fanbase are most likely to be noticed by record labels. Take advantage of the internet and keep posting quality content regularly to gain more fans across the world.
How to get your music heard by record labels
#10 Make connections with labels
Put yourself into positions where you could be meeting A&R scouts, managers and other industry gatekeepers. These are people who could help you get a record deal and who you know is just as important as what you do. Go to industry conferences, masterclasses and any event related to the label you want to sign for.
Meeting people face to face is much more effective than sending email after email. You need great people skills to succeed in the music industry so try going to industry conferences and masterclasses to see how well you do at striking up conversations.
If you get a chance to meet people from the labels you’re interested in then you need to demonstrate your amazing personality. Make sure that they remember you for the right reasons. You might not be ready to sign yet but you would have made a positive impression that could serve you well in the future.
You could also network with other people that may help you, such as managers and lawyers. These people might be able to give you feedback, advice or even work with you on a long–term basis if they think you’re worth it.
#11 Think like a record label
Record labels want music that has the power to make them and their artists stand out. So, although you’re free to make the music you want to make, be realistic about the commercial possibilities of it.
Try to strike a balance between your artistic vision and how marketable your music is. Make music keeping your specific audience in mind.
#12 Collaborate with other artists
You should associate yourself with other talent and collaborate with artists. If you can’t collaborate then there isn’t a very good chance of you getting signed. A record deal should be seen as a collaboration with the record label so show that you can work well with others. If you’re lucky, your collaborators might get signed and could recommend you to the label.
#13 Work with a manager
You ideally want to spend your time being creative with the songwriting and recording of music. A good manager handles all the business side of things and helps artists get signed to a record label. This tends to be why a lot of artists become successful. A manager can be your best friend or it could be someone that already has experience in the industry. The important thing is that they believe in you and genuinely want to help you with your goals.
What are record labels looking for?
Record labels are constantly trying to find the next big artist to sign that is going to make it in the music market, so you need to make yourself unique to stand out from the crowd. They’re not looking for a copycat artist, they want something original. If you want to get signed by a record label, focus on enhancing your unique qualities.
|“Open Mic UK is that one competition that all the record labels are keeping their eye on”.|
— Layla Manoochehri, Talent Scout, Sony Music
How to build an audience live
Play shows every month in local venues to build a steady local following. Try new venues to build a wider fan base in your area. Also, it’s good not to play too often in the same place, or you might start boring the regulars.
Contact local festivals to find out who you might be able to open for, sign up for music contests sponsored by local radio stations. Once you have established yourself locally, venture into more regional shows.
Tour with other bands and visit new cities but don’t plan a larger tour until you know you have mastered your set and can play without any hiccups. Try recording your performances to see how you can improve.
“The industry is very London-centric and there’s a lot of people that you come in contact with that will be like “I’ve played like 200 gigs last year” and I was like “Did you play any in London?” and they’re like ” No, I played in my home town” — stuff like that… You can’t deny that 90% of the music industry is in London! So, really you have to play shows in London!” — Alex Baker, Radio Presenter at Kerrang! Talent Scout and Judge at Open Mic UK
How to build an audience online
Set up accounts under your artist alias on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Myspace, SoundCloud, etc. Make sure your individual URLs are the same for each platform. For example, if you’re www.facebook.com/artistuk, try and have www.soundcloud.com/artistuk too.
Then, interlink everything on all your platforms so they profiles should have links to your other social media profiles, website, and contact email. Think about setting up a custom artist email with your own .com domain to make yourself look and then build your own website using a website builder.
Keep everything up to date and always respond quickly to anyone who reaches out to you. They could just be a fan, but you never know, they could also be someone interested in signing you who are also looking to see how well you respond online.
How to work on a social media marketing plan as an artist
Create consistent and professional-looking branding. If needed, hire a graphic designer. Using your custom branding, design an eye-catching YouTube Channel, Twitter background, and Facebook page. Use a digital aggregator to get your music on digital streaming platforms and use social media to direct your fans to your music.
Create weekly goals for increasing your fan following and encourage engagement to boost your posts. Keep fans informed about your upcoming shows, and share photos, videos and occasionally, off-topic items that you think they will enjoy.
Keep posting/tweeting/updating your profiles but diversify your content. If you post too much of the same thing then this will quickly bore your audience and they’ll stop engaging.
How should artists approach a record label?
Before you approach a record label, in an attempt to get a record deal, you should make sure that you are completely happy with your music and the artist that you are. If you feel you need any further development, take your time — don’t rush straight to a record label. Before attempting to get a record deal, you need to make sure what you take to a record label is exactly what you want to be as an artist.
Acceptable demos for a record label
Keep your demos short and sweet. Record labels simply don’t have the time to listen through the thousands of demos they receive.
Pick your 3 best songs to showcase on your demo. Make sure the first one is the best, as this is more likely to draw them in to listening further and will hopefully make them want to contact you to hear more of your music!
Ideally, your record label demo songs will have never been publicised and do not contain any copyrighted material (no cover songs or samples you don’t have the rights to use) — when you are just starting out, investing in you is financially risky, so record labels may be put off if signing you means clearing copyright.
Record labels UK
The UK is home to many of the best record labels in the world. There is a rich legacy of great record companies and it is easily one of the best places in the world to sign a record deal. If you are an artist looking for a British label to sign to then have a look at our list of the top 15 UK record labels.
Major record labels UK
- Parlophone Records
- Island Records
- Polydor Records
- Virgin EMI Records
- Relentless Records
- Ministry of Sound
- Syco Music
- Black Butter Records
Independent record labels UK
- XL Recordings
- Lex Records
- Warp Records
- Domino Recording Company
- Rough Trade Records
- Dirty Hit
- Ninja Tune
What is the biggest record label?
Universal Music Group, including Polydor Records, Virgin EMI Records and Island Records is the biggest record label. Sony Music Entertainment, which includes Relentless Records, Black Butter Records and Syco Music, is the next biggest. The largest privately owned record label is Warner Music Group. It is the third biggest major and includes record labels Parlophone Records and US giant Atlantic Records.
The biggest independent is the Beggars Group, which includes XL Recordings, Rough Trade and 4AD.
What are you doing to get signed to a record label? Do you have a record deal already? Please comment below and share!