Why should we submit music to labels?

November 24, 2008 12:33 PM

Is submitting to a label worth it anymore?

I've been making songs lately, and while I doubt the quality lives up to anything salable yet*, I have been wanting to know how to get exposed to a wider audience.

I'm on myspace, last.fm, soundcloud, and of course mefi music. I get a few downloads off each, but honestly I got more downloads in a few hours from a highly-ranked reddit.com post than I have from all those other places combined over the course of weeks.

It seems to me the chief virtue of a music label is that they spend resources on promoting your work. I imagine music magazines and the like pay attention to new releases by way of press releases and such.

But I've heard it's a tremendous amount of effort to get noticed by a label. And I wonder if that time/energy would be better spent doing more guerrilla marketing (hand out business cards, online posts, MySpace friend adds, etc.).

As well, there is the issue of the perceived "death" of record labels in favor of online distribution.

What do you guys think? In particular, is there any hope for those of us in the experimental genres, or are we doomed to obscurity? :-)

* http://ninthagenda.com
posted by wastelands (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Shameless self-comment. I found this interesting article on labels while googling:

posted by wastelands at 1:46 PM on November 24, 2008

Here's my take in a nutshell, but I can't wait to here some more responses about this really great subject.

A label won't create an audience for you, but they will help you expand and existing one.

How do you build an audience/following? Gig, gig, gig! You really have to go out there and kick ass. That's when you self promote and start getting thousands of hits on the web, start playing bigger shows and opening for bigger bands.

By then you'll have been around enough to know some people who will steer you towards a label that will work for you and your audience.

Hell, start your own label. But it still entails lots of gigging and having lots of people behind you; your audience.

Thanks for bringing this up and sorry if I'm being silly/stating the obvious.
posted by snsranch at 4:03 PM on November 24, 2008

snsranch: Thanks for the comment. What about those of us who don't do gigs? I produce what might be termed "bedroom studio electronica" or "laptop music" or whatever. Not to say that people in my genre don't do shows. Hell, I've been to a few. But it's not exactly big, popular, crowd-pleasing stuff. Fairly niche market. That said, I haven't exactly looked into local gigs. Maybe there's something there. I just initially thought most people would listen to my stuff off the Internet.
posted by wastelands at 4:35 PM on November 24, 2008

Any respectable label that wants to stay in business these days isn't likely to sign anyone who hasn't built a solid foundation first. So you should focus your efforts on finding and pleasing listeners.

Whether you do it with gigging, or MySpace, or whatever really depends on what kind of music you play. You seem to be some kind of ambient/experimental thing, so examine what similar, signed artists are doing to that end and shamelessly steal their playbook.

Aim for self-sufficiency. A label deal would be great, but you could do everything right and still never get signed. But you can make music your whole lifetime, so write awesome stuff and put it in front of people who'll dig it.

Good luck. I used to dream of being signed, but these days I'm not sure I'd be willing to put up with the stuff I'd be expected to do.
posted by scottandrew at 5:06 PM on November 24, 2008

There are several sites like Tunecore. The label I work with uses a different service but they are all essentially the same. Anybody can be a label now and what was formally called a label should now be called a publicist or fundraiser.

Recorded music alone is not a viable career, as pointed out by snsranch. The profitable venture is showbiz. For musicians this generally means song and dance.

Where do people dance? Shows (or gigs) held at venues (from your cousin's basement to Broadway).

Venues no longer need t be physical. Dances can be replaced with emoticons but the idea is the same.

Find your market in your town or on the internet first. Then look for a publicist/fundraiser. Otherwise enjoy making music.

posted by dagosto at 1:40 AM on November 25, 2008

don't bother. it's extremely rare for bands to begin a relationship with a label on the basis of a demo or other unsolicited submission anyway (never mind all the reasons others have already covered for why being on a label isn't what it's cracked up to be).

i've heard of montreal got signed to bar-none from a demo, but that's the exception not the rule--and besides, in that case, of montreal had already established themselves long before approaching bar-none. if there's a label out there for you, make yourself visible to them and they'll approach you if you seem to know what you're doing.

the problem is most musicians (even many, many good ones) really don't know what they're doing. making good music is one thing; being on a record label/self-releasing and selling music is another. being in the business of selling music is more work than play (long, long hours for far less than what you could make from a minimum wage job, to start, if you're not well-connected or independently rich). and many artists find that making music for a living isn't actually what they want once they start getting into it.

i recommend selling your music online for yourself the way we (meaning my wife and i and the bands on our tiny "label" do). these days, on-demand production services like CreateSpace allow you to offer retail-ready finished products for sale with no real out-of-pocket cost. And of course, there are lots of physical/digital distribution services out there (but caveat emptor applies--CDBaby is probably the most reputable).
posted by saulgoodman at 12:06 PM on November 25, 2008

When I think about getting signed to a label (which is more often than I probably should), I find it useful to imagine myself as the label owner.

I basically would be running a small business. Let's say I have an nice stable of about half a dozen touring bands, getting moderately favorable press online and in various rags, and let's say I have maybe ten thousand in ready liquid funds and I want to sign a couple of new bands to the label this year. I imagine recording costs would be covered by the band, and I would take care of pressing, artwork, distro, advertising, etc. I'm looking at spending five to seven thousand making and promoting a new album by a new artist.

Looking at it from this perspective you can see the first obvious concern would be, how do I keep from throwing that money away. In order to make it back I need to sell all of those records, and the only way to reliably do that is to employ the band as salespeople via their live shows. I could try placing the record in a bunch of indie shops, begging for airplay from college stations, etc., and if I have the money and connections I probably will, but unless that band is actively performing and promoting their own stuff, those records aren't going to move.

So yeah, what people said above. If you can make yourself into a good investment by building a support base in your region that will reliably purchase your next record, perhaps a label will invest in you. Labels don't generally stay in business by pressing five thousand copies of some music by a bedroom-only artist they just happen to like the sound of.

Everyone knows stories of bands who get "picked up" after one good show, or after one important person hears them. I think those bands display something other than just "being good". They display a kind of drive that the label person sees as likely to produce a return on investment. A mediocre band that performs a lot is probably more likely to partner successfully with a label than a fantastic band that only plays twice a year.

Just two cents from a guy who has never had a label deal :/
posted by arcanecrowbar at 4:09 PM on November 25, 2008

wastl=elands, to speak more usefully to your actual situation (ambient, few or no gigs), I know some people who have gotten involved with companies who place songs in movies, TV commercials, etc. and some of them have had some good exposure that way. I have no idea how that actually works or which companies are the best, but maybe that's an avenue that could work for you.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 4:25 PM on November 25, 2008

I was going to write something earlier and then didn't and then came back to see saulgoodman wrote essentially what I was going to say. He knows so listen to him.

Being in a band that anyone besides your friends listens to (unless your in Dogstar or just released music under the name Scarlett Johansson or are somehow otherwise famous) takes about 90% work and 5% actually having fun creating music--the other 5% being spent if you record your own music and you sit around trying to figure out what you want it to sound like, recording and rerecording and rerecording and rerecording and rerecording and rerecording and rerecording and... well, you get the picture.

I've released music on small labels that had no intention of paying for a tour (nor would I ask that of them). You can try a reputable netlabel if you like, but otherwise if you're not going to be on the road all the time, release it yourself.

I imagine music magazines and the like pay attention to new releases by way of press releases and such.

Actually, yes they do. And you can pay promotion companies yourself. There's a lot of them out there.

As well, there is the issue of the perceived "death" of record labels in favor of online distribution

Yes and no. There's a lot of great mp3 bloggers out there who have helped the music I make, but they get a lot of e-mails from people making music now... I'd guess hundreds if not thousands, a day. Sadly, I still think you need to be a part of the machine to be "big".

I think I've written a lot about this and I don't want to sound negative because I'm really not. It's wonderful to make music and share it. To get an e-mail or social networking message from someone you don't know saying that a certain song of yours is really wonderful is a great feeling. What I want to say is don't worry about a label. Make it and send it.

Unless, of course, you're independently wealthy, then start your own label and buy everyone off.
posted by sleepy pete at 7:10 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think most of the above don't really get what you do. i.e. you are not in a 'band' and don't really do 'live gigs'. You make laptop electro stuff 'eh?

1. Labels are useful - even small ones..

Being on a reputable niche label can make things a lot easier. you can use the label's reputation to increase your exposure and you don't have to stuff around as much.

Self-releasing is a pain. you will spend loads of time trying to get press, find oversease or local distributors, and just trying to sell CDs. you will probably not make a profit.

if you can get a label to do this for you then you still won't make a profit but you will have more time to make music.

I'm talking little IDM/Electronica labels - they have their own - funny littel distro networks, and have a better chance of gettign decent press on say pitchfork etc.

Online Only labels get no respect, no press and very few downloads.. its a waste of time.

2. Do labels actually listen to Demos?
maybe... the small ones probably are more likely to do so - but you need to make sure you are contacting the right ones. I used to get sent the occasional demo because i had this small niche lable that only put out 6-7 albums. I'd listen to them but I never heard anything that really caught my attention.

3. If you cant' get a release on a label your music probably isn't that interesting or marketabloe.
posted by mary8nne at 6:07 AM on November 26, 2008

This reminds me of Kill Rock Stars' demo policy:
KRS does not accept mailed demos. Please do not send a demo CD, not only because we won't listen to it, but because it is a waste of resources (gas, trees, etc.) and your money. Thank you.

We will listen to music online if you send us a link and your tour dates so we know when we can come see you play in Portland. If you are not touring through Portland, don't send us anything. If you are in a touring band, or friends with a touring band, or know a great touring band, please send us links and dates for that band. We repeat: if you are not touring, do not send us anything. We do not provide tour support, and we will not put out records for bands that haven't figured out how to tour without it. This is what is known as the HARSH TRUTH. Thank you.

posted by buriednexttoyou at 7:21 AM on November 26, 2008

Online Only labels get no respect, no press and very few downloads.. its a waste of time.

I dunno if that's necessarily true. My on-line focused label's done pretty well in terms of press and downloads (but physical CD sales at live performances are still really where most of the activity is). Although we do sell physical CDs at live shows, through special order, and online, they're all produced on-demand. So I guess we're not so much an online label as an on-demand label.

Oh and as far as press and promotion goes, about 90% of the press coverage you see is probably a result of professional PR services (whether through an independent promoter or a larger organizations dedicated PR staff). PR is very, very expensive, considering how little guarantee there is on a return on investment. That's a big part of why labels are so reluctant to work with bands that don't seem marketable.

That said, there are still small boutique labels out there (beta-lactam ring, for example, which put out a record by some former band mates of mine who had a minimal ambient electronica project called whitelodge) that release more obscure stuff but that don't necessarily expect their artists to tour like crazy or become traveling salespeople overnight. But of course, you have to be good. And of course, keep your day job (unless you're independently wealthy), because being on a smaller indie label is like having a really expensive hobby--it rarely brings in more money than goes out.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:22 AM on December 3, 2008

i think you answered your own question. if you think the quality of your music isn't ¨salable¨ yet, don't even try submitting your worlk to labels.
first you have to practice, practice, practice and become GREAT. Once you're great, have played bigger shows, have gathered a following, etc... labels will notice you (you won't have to go to them. the right labels for your type of music and audience will come to you)
posted by alfonso-eudoro at 11:22 AM on February 28, 2009

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