Guest Blog Post: The Do’s and Don’ts of Demo Distribution
The Demo... The carrot-on-a-stick that will get your music noticed and launch you into the stratosphere of performing excellence, right? Or, at the very least, could put an end to all those late nights of fruitless plugging and self-promotion.
The first thing to acknowledge is that most label A&Rs are swamped with demos – also, due to the highly budget-constrained nature of the modern music industry, they’re probably also doing a multitude of other jobs for the label, none of which have the perceived glamour of being an A&R – which is why they will resolutely never mention this aspect. Especially at the end of an extensive Monday, spent doing tedious administrative crap.
As it stands, vying for attention against this backdrop is no mean feat. So how do you make yourself heard? How do you give yourself the best shot? And how do you make the most of the opportunity? Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for success – but there are a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance of it.
Do: Be Authentic to Yourself & Your Sound. Make the music that you want to make. The whole experience should be organic and born of the inspiration to do it. If you follow your own set of rules, then you may well discover a sound that defines you. It’s this that you’re trying to sell and if you like it, then others will too.
Don’t: Try to be the next Anybody. There’s no point in announcing yourself as ‘the next Camelphat.’ Camelphat have already got this covered, for starters, and will always be one step ahead in this respect. Being influenced by other artists is great (and do feel free to reference them), whereas trying to emulate their sound, not so much, because at best, it’ll always sound second rate – or worse, like one of those instantly forgettable ‘tribute’ / ‘in-the-style-of…’ type albums that you stumble across on iTunes / Google Play etc, when you’re trying to find the genuine version.
Do: Target Your Demos. When sending your demo to a label, it really helps to make it look like you focused on that label specifically. Signalling a broad understanding of their portfolio, both in terms of releases and genre is going to make the recipient feel like you’ve done your homework and that you really want to be on their books. If you can get the name of the person you want to address at the label, then so much the better.
Don’t: Spam Yourself All Over the Internet: Nothing is going to make the recipient of your demo feel more like you really don’t give a damn whether that label signs you or not, quite like noticing that their email address is lost in a sea of many dozens of other label emails addresses at the top of the page, particularly when accompanied by the inevitable, ultra-generic ‘Hey Guys, check out my latest track…’ introductory blurb. Being blind-copied also smacks of this and is just lazy.
Be High Quality
Do: Make it sound great. Whilst it’s not essential to spend a fortune on the finest equipment and recording facilities that money can buy – you do at least, need to put some effort into making your demo sounds as good as you possibly can. Composition is always the fun bit but don’t overlook the benefit that a decent mix and polished master can bring to a track. Even though a label is likely to want to run a track through its own finalisation processes, it’s important to remember that you’re trying to sell it to the them – so aim to present the best sounding version of it.
Don’t: Make it sound like you recorded it on a malfunctioning shoebox cassette recorder that was bought in an end-of-line sale back in 1986. Let’s be honest, if the demo of your thrash-punk band (that you sent to a label whose sole focus is electronic music) is recorded on second rate equipment, in the acoustically substandard surroundings of your parent’s garage whilst the neighbour’s dog intermittently barks in the background (complete with someone audibly complaining about the noise at the halfway point), it’s simply not happening. End of.
This has actually happened on more than one occasion.
Do: Send links. Providing links to a Soundcloud page or similar is a very good way to share your music. Making the page private is generally advised as an additional confirmation that your track isn’t already out there in the public domain. Make your demo look fresher by keeping the play stats low by removing the demo and re-uploading it from time to time. This is a good way to bypass the potentially fragile ego of any label A&R who would otherwise feel put out by 1000+ plays on your demo – because you didn’t come to them first.
Don’t: Send attachments. As previously alluded to, most A&Rs tend to manage inboxes that contain an awful lot of demos. These fill up to capacity an awful lot quicker when demos are sent as mp3 attachments and not links. Irritating your prospective label manager (and potentially their entire IT department) before you’ve even started is therefore not an advisable first step, as a rule.
Do: Bring Back-Up. You should aim to demo your strongest tracks but keep something decent in reserve. It’s possible that you might get asked to share some of the other tracks you’ve been working on to determine if you’re consistently operating at the same level. You want to be able to provide plenty of solid evidence that you have more than one release in you.
Don’t: Be a One-Trick Pony. Whilst you might have one stand-out track that is your pride and joy, don’t neglect your other children. You don’t want to be in a position where you have had to hastily finish, update or otherwise rush a follow-up track that ends up sounding like cluttered mess with an entirely unnecessary Garth Brooks sample inexplicably stuffed in there, purely because you’ve had some sort of deranged creative block. It’ll be a resounding ‘no’ after that point.
Do: Be Friendly / Humble. People who have great social skills invariably establish better relationships than those who don’t. By being a decent human being, there’s a good chance that you’ll still be able to create momentum even if your demo is unsuccessful. Engage with the label, ask questions about how they made the decision, network and get contacts / insights where you can. Just because one door closes, doesn’t mean you can’t find out the location of other doors – some of which might just open.
Don’t: Be a Raging Asshole. There’s a million reasons that your demo may be rejected and just because this one was, doesn’t necessarily mean the next one will be. However, nothing but nothing is going to scupper all chances of future success with a label than by being an enormous, all-encompassing dickhead about it. Remember, you’re also signed on the strength that people can work with you – so if you throw all your toys out of the pram and behave like a jerk, that’s going to instantly put people off. That, and telling people that they’d be lucky to sign you because you have 50,000 followers on Instagram. That is literally the worst. Plus, if you’re going to pull the ‘influencer’ line, you’ll need to be able to prove that you have actual ‘influence’ – and that your followers are not following you on the basis that they’ve been paid to do so (or purely on the basis that you might post more pictures of yourself without your clothes on).
Mark Trevor - Head of Full Flight Records // Aquaphonik , London, May ‘19