How to Get Signed to a Music Label

While there’s a ton of information involved with record labels and getting signed in 2017, artists and indie-label owners only need to know one thing, and that’s exactly how to do it.

I am asked how to get signed to a music label more often than I am asked anything. It comes in various packages, such as: “How do I get a record deal,” “how can I get my artist on a major label,” and “how do I get the attention of record executives?”

Turns out there’s a straightforward answer to the question.

You’re trying to get the attention of A&R reps, or artist-and-repertoire representatives. A&R reps are the talent scouts of the music industry. They work for big record labels sniffing out the next big thing, and they are the people who get artists signed.

Reps don’t usually look like those guys up there, though. They usually look like this guy down here.

So how do you get the attention of that guy? There are two ways, but really those ways are the same way.

  1. Build a large and growing fan base
  2. Start making money with your music

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “If I could do those two things, what would I need a label for?”

Exactly. That’s why the independent industry is bigger than ever in the 21st century.

But that doesn’t mean record label’s are worthless. There’s a point at which growing your fan base and profit margin becomes seriously hard work on the business end.

Once you’re touring twice a year, selling merch from your official website and booking shows for every Friday and Saturday night, you’ll need a manager. Probably, you’ll already have been recording and distributing your music through Mondotunes. You’re essentially running your own label at that point, and you may have noticed that it’s hard to find time to write new music while doing all that stuff.

That’s what labels are really for.

To get signed, then, you first need to worry about Number 1, above — growing a fan base. (If you’ve managed to make money as a musician without building a fan base, please let us know how you bent the laws of music physics to do it).

Building a fan base begins with making great music which people in your area will love to hear.

Once you’ve got that, it’s about getting the music to the people. This is traditionally done — and often best done — by playing live shows at venues. People at music venues go there because they like live music and are open to hearing new things. That’s your infant fan base, right there. Play for them as often as you can, and when you make them happy, they’ll come back for more. More importantly, they’ll tell other people about you.

[Watch this blog for other ideas on “How to Grow a Fan Base,” to be published soon.]

Once you’ve taken care of Number 1, Number 2 falls right in your lap. You can’t have people clamoring for your music without being able to sell them tickets, music and merchandise. You’ll be making money, and so long as you keep the good times coming for your fans, it’ll surprise you how quickly the fans and the money multiply.

This all comes back to the original question, of course.

Once an A&R rep hears about your music, hears that people are wearing your tee shirts and going to see your performances, he or she is going to ask, “are they signed?” before he or she even hears your music. When the answer comes back that you are not, in fact, signed, then you can expect a call.

That’s what record labels want in the end, of course: a piece of the action.

All you’ve got to do is be the action.

-S. McCauley