Getting a record deal and signing your name on that dotted line is the ultimate, holy grail goal for many aspiring musicians. It seems like all of your current efforts are directed towards this goal, and you can’t be blamed for thinking that once you have a contract with a record label, things will only get better, and a lot easier.
But landing that record deal is more challenging than ever. There are millions and millions of musicians all working towards that same goal, so even getting a foot in the door and having a 5-minute meeting with an A&R executive is now almost impossible. It can be extremely difficult to stand out from the crowd — unless you’ve already got millions of social media followers or millions of YouTube views.
Music industry execs already have their inboxes (and mailboxes) full, so if you want to grab their attention, you’ll need a different approach. But let’s start with the most important question you need to ask yourself:
What is a record deal and do you really need one?
Although that elusive record deal with a major label seems like the end-all-be-all of career goals, it should not be the ultimate one. Just because you’re not able to sign with Geffen Records, Sony, or Columbia, doesn’t mean you’re not an amazing artist. A record deal should be seen as an important career milestone, but ask any established musician out there and they’ll tell you that there’s more to it than you might think.
Getting a record deal: Expectations vs reality
If you already have a strong online presence, a fanbase, and a moderate level of success as a musician, signing a deal with a record label would provide a major boost to your career.
When an artist already shows signs of success and there is palpable potential to be explored, the record label usually pays an advance to the artist. The label also takes care of all the marketing, publishing, and other related costs.
However, the label will also own the copyrights for all the master tracks you create, and you will not be allowed to work with any other label for the duration of your contract. You might also have to commit to releasing a fixed number of albums or do extensive touring while you’re under contract.
If you’re already relatively successful, you might be able to negotiate more favorable terms for yourself and have more leeway with the label. But if you’re a newcomer and relatively unknown, the label is taking a risk by signing you, so they will impose conditions. In many cases when it comes to new artists, record labels don’t offer to take care of the marketing and production costs. You will have to grow your fanbase and promote your music and your brand yourself. Most likely, you won’t receive an advance if you’re unknown, either.
So, landing a record deal does not necessarily fix all of your problems, especially if you’re new in the game. You’ll have to manage your finances, create your image and brand, promote your music and your sound, and grow your fanbase, so a lot of the responsibility still rests on you.
How to get a record deal in 2023: 7 crucial steps
Of course, you can always choose the indie route and still have a successful career without ever landing a record deal from a major label. But if you do want to give it a go and not have regrets later on, there are steps you can take towards getting a record deal, while continuing to hone your skills, explore and experiment, and grow your career at the same time. So, where do you start?
1. Identify your sound
This might be the most crucial — and most difficult — step in the process of landing a record deal and launching your career as a musician. With so many new artists out there, and so much music being released every month, standing out from the crowd is incredibly challenging. But do your best to research the market, research the industry, research labels and the genres they promote, and figure out where you fit in, and where you don’t.
Think about what makes you unique and what’s different about your music, and experiment as much as you can. Remember that this is a long-term process, and don’t try to rush it, just keep creating music and playing with different instruments, sounds, and arrangements.
2. Compile a great demo or album
Whether you’re eyeing a major record label deal or a release on Spotify, Apple Music, or other streaming platforms, work towards creating a great demo or album. There are endless resources and tools available nowadays that enable artists to create professional-grade music that sounds like it was mixed in a studio.
Leverage the power of technology and focus on creating music that showcases that you’re a professional who takes this career very seriously. Fans and record labels alike love to see that, and it will help you position yourself as a serious artist who’s dedicated to your craft.
3. Focus on quality
Long gone are the days when musicians would record music in dingy basements and garages and send raw demo tapes to record labels. You could notice a huge difference in quality between a band’s first self-released demo and their first professional album. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, given the access to powerful computers, apps, and other tools that allow musicians to record entire albums in their living rooms.
Artists nowadays don’t have to wait for a record label to notice them to release music to the world. Various online platforms allow you to do it, like YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, or TikTok. After all, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, and Ed Sheeran were discovered on YouTube, and they’re now huge international stars.
However, given that everyone has access to amazing technology, expectations are higher now, as well. Online fans watching YouTube videos or streaming music online expect quality from the get-go.
So, make the best of available tools and technologies at your disposal and focus on creating high-quality music that you wouldn’t hesitate sending to a record exec. Don’t rush to release music or keep up with trends; instead, focus on your long-term goals and take the time to craft the best sound you can.
4. Forge music industry connections
Creating a network of music industry connections is crucial to getting your name and your music out there, and creating word-of-mouth buzz. You never know, that person you chat with at an industry event might know someone who has contact with a major label.
Try to attend any relevant industry events that you can, and interact with other professionals. At the same time, build your social media presence and connect with professionals, follow artists and labels you’re interested in, and be active and friendly on social media channels. Grab any opportunity to grow your network and promote yourself — you never know who’s following.
5. Establish your fanbase
While it’s important to try building a network of music industry professionals, it’s equally important to establish a fanbase. Artists who already generate a lot of buzz around them have much higher chances of getting noticed by a record label. That’s because A&R pros like to see that there is an audience for the content you’re creating and that there is potential for profit and success, aka a low-risk investment on their part.
Be active on social media, and be present on every platform that caters to musicians. It’s a good idea to also create your website, as it will be easier to post all the information and all your music in one place. However, make sure you keep all of your profiles up-to-date, and that you’re active and engaging with your fans and followers. Respond to comments, reply to messages, and take note of their feedback.
Tapping into your audience will enable you to grow as an artist and continue to evolve and create your unique sound and style. What’s more, it can be highly motivating to see that there are people who are interested in your music and enjoy your content.
6. Perform live as much as possible
We can’t stress how important this step is, regardless of where you are in your professional career. If you’re just starting, it’s good to start performing live as much as possible, to get used to what it’s like playing in front of an audience. It’s all fun when you’re recording music at home and releasing it on online platforms, but it’s an entirely different experience to perform your songs live.
Music industry pros like to see that the artists they’re thinking of singing can already fill a room or a venue because that means there is untapped potential. Promoting your music can involve touring, so it’s important to start preparing for that and getting rid of any stage fright you might have (every artist has that at first, don’t worry).
What’s more, performing in front of a live audience will provide you with instant, invaluable feedback, and you’ll get to see which songs work live and which don’t. Talk to club owners, event venues, bars, and pubs, and try to collaborate with other local artists to boost your exposure.
7. Get feedback from the people who matter
Getting the attention of a music executive is close to impossible nowadays, as their inboxes are already overflowing with emails from aspiring musicians looking for a break. And yet it’s their feedback that matters the most because ultimately they’re the ones that can offer you that elusive record deal you’ve always dreamed of. So how can you get in touch with music industry pros and get their opinion on your work?
This is where Xposure Music comes in. We bridge the gap between musicians and industry pros and allow artists to get critical feedback from some of the most experienced people in the business. Our goal is to enable artists to unlock that ‘breakout moment’ and get to chat with an A&R professional one-on-one.
Various high-profile professionals in the music business have joined forces with us and are featured on our platform, including writers, producers, managers, and engineers from companies like BMG, Atlantic Records, Geffen Records, Universal Music, and Sony Music. Some of the pros who’ve joined Xposure include Black Eyed Peas member and Grassroots Music founder Polo Molina, Capitol Records’ A&R Director Kate Loesch, and Spencer LeBoff, A&R Director at BMG.
How to get started on Xposure Music
All you need to do is set up a free artist profile, find a music pro who seems a good fit for you, send them your work, and pick how you’d like to receive feedback. You can opt for a one-on-one video call or choose to get your feedback in writing — whatever’s more convenient for you. The fees for each professional are transparent and shown on their profile. If you’re not ready for direct feedback just yet, you can submit music for free onto the platform, but you won’t get a guaranteed response.
The idea behind Xposure Music is to get aspiring artists in touch with people who are otherwise almost inaccessible. These experienced professionals can provide timely, pointed, invaluable feedback that can take your career to the next level and help you improve your skills, and make sure you’re heading in the right direction. And these are exactly the people who can help you land that record deal you’ve always dreamed of.