The life of a professional musician has all the allure of a million dollars and a one-way ticket to being famous. Is it worth it? Heck, yes! But the only way to becoming a professional musician (and by "musician," we mean singers and bands, not professional flautists) is to land a record deal. Whether you're aiming for a mainstream or an indie share of the pie, you need that label to get heard.

Wait, but it's tough to get signed to a label, right? True. And while there are many changes happening in the music industry right now (especially on the technological side), there is still no better way to make money as a musician than by having an established record label market your music. So how do you sell your soul to the corporate devil? It's rather tricky, but we'll walk you through the steps. (And don't worry, it won't involve an evening with RIAA President Hilary Rosen, a bottle of tequila, and a Barry White album.)

One more quick note: this article is written under the assumption that you do not have a manager and that you are trying to get signed on your own. If you do have a manager, let the poor guy or gal do his/her job and you just stay out of the way. Otherwise, you need us bad.


A mechanic would never attempt to fix a car's engine without the right set of tools. Similarly, a band or artist who feels that they are ready to approach a record label in the interest of getting signed better be prepared. With literally thousands of unsigned bands looking for love, the competition is fierce. Here are some requirements:

  1. You must have good music. This may seem pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised how many bands never get signed and don't understand that this is the reason. We're not talking about "good" as in taste (which is great news for the Backstreet Boys). We mean "good" in the sense of talent and experience.

  2. You must look "signable." No one will want to sign you unless you're going to make them money. As such, you and your band must be confident, experienced, dedicated, and have it together (in other words, you must look like you will bring in money). Unless you're the next Beatles, there are a thousand other bands like you - so make yourself stand out from the rest by being professional from the beginning.

  3. You must have a professional-looking demo package. In the music industry, image and first impressions are the name of the game; for the unsigned band, your demo package is the first (and usually only) impression a record label will have of you and your music. As a result, it should be as attractive, informative, and to-the-point as possible. For a good tutorial on how to make an effective and attractive demo package (also referred to as a "press kit" when sending it to press or radio accounts) pick yourself up a copy of the book The Billboard Guide to Music Publicity by Jim Pettigrew, Jr.

    What? You're too poor to buy a book? Oh yeah, we forgot - you're a musician. So while this isn't a complete explanation, here are the basics to making a good demo package:

    • The package should have a cover letter, demo CD, band biography, band photograph, and press clippings. With all of these things, how do you make it attractive? We have three words for you: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Why? Because your demo package is likely at the bottom of a very large pile and after a few hours of going over them, an A&R rep (we'll get to them later) wants to spend no more than a few seconds deciding if your package should go in the trash or the "will-review-later" pile. By keeping it simple and elegant, the A&R rep should be able to get a good feeling of what your band is like in a few seconds.

    • For the demo, use a CD instead of a cassette. With the ubiquitous nature of CD players these days - the higher sound quality, the lower price to manufacture versus cassettes, and the fact that sending a nicely packaged CD looks impressive - CDs are the best way to go.

    • Keep the band biography to no more than one page, and if the reader can't figure out within the first few sentences who you are, what your band is up to, and why he/she should care, then you need to rewrite your biography.

    • The standard band photograph is a black and white 8"x10". A smaller and/or color picture can be sent, but either way it should demonstrate your band's visual image. There is no need to spend a ton and a half of money on a professional photographer. As long as it looks good, no one cares. Poor college photography majors are great resources for saving money when looking for someone to take your band picture.
  4. You have to understand that most record labels are only interested in your music in so far as whether or not they can sell it. Your band may very well be brilliant, but to the average record label, your CD is just another product. This does not mean that record labels are out to give you the raw end of the deal. More often than not, record executives have an honest and true love for music and passion for working with bands. However, by understanding that selling music is above all else a business, you can put yourself in a much better position to get signed. So we suggest that you read as much as possible about the music industry and how it works. This SYW is a great start.