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Posts related to my A&R work at JOOF Recordings.

Managing a record label duties with Trello

An insight look at an A&R routine

When I joined the JOOF Recordings team as an A&R assistant in 2015, things were done using the typical tool that everyone uses — email. Each release goes through various steps, such as getting the mastering done, getting the artwork done, arranging remixes, making sure everyone got what they need etc. So as a big label that typically has a few dozens of upcoming releases in the pipeline, we had a bunch of emails sent back and forth. The problem was obvious: it was difficult to get an overview of the pipeline and hard to track individual status of each release.

Eventually, I came up to using Trello as a mission control centre for our releases, and in this blog I’d like to tell more about it. Perhaps, my experience will be helpful for other label managers out there, and for regular listeners, it might be just an interesting insight look at an A&R routine.

What is Trello

If you never heard about Trello and don’t know anything about it, I suggest watching the Getting Started With Trello or read the Beginner Tips for Using Trello first to get an idea of what this service is all about.

Basically, Trello is a free web-service for organising stuff. One of its common application is using it as a Kanban board, with cards moving across that represents a task in a production process. Like this:

Drag-n-dropping a card in Trello feels very intuitive and works really well

This concept allows you to get a big picture and see each individual task simultaneously in a nice visual way, something that a typical to-do list fails to achieve. It is commonly used for software and web development, marketing, customer support, and other teams and businesses.

The workflow

Our board has lists that represent the workflow and cards that represent releases. Here are the lists:

Forthcoming For releases that we’re expecting in the foreseen future, usually from the label’s artists. E.g. “A follow-up EP from John”
New demos For incoming demos that we found something worthy and for the releases from the previous list once it’s done. Here we have our internal discussion whether this particular release fits or not
In Progress For approved releases from the previous list. A release in this list means we’re currently working on the mastering, the artwork, the remixes etc
Submitted For releases that are good to go and submitted to the distributor. Once a card is here, we just waiting for the release date
Released For released titles that are out in stores, our back catalogue. It means our job is done here
Rejected For tracks that don’t fit JOOF for any reason. Rejected demos go straight here from the second list above
Profiles For cards that include our artist information: name, contacts, address, pictures etc. We use it a shared contacts book and for the contracts

Feel free to use these lists as a template for your label board too.

Here is the overview of our JOOF board just to show you how these lists look like visually (all text labels are pixelated on purpose, for obvious reasons):

Trello board with JOOF pipeline

Even through the pixelated filter you probably see some colour strips on the screenshot above — that’s the labels, a sort of a tags system built in Trello (I will call it tags to avoid confusion with the word “label” in this context). You see, recently JOOF Recordings launched two more labels under its wings, JOOF Mantra and JOOF Aura, so formally speaking we’re managing three labels at once at this Trello board. And this is where those tags come really handy.

Here are the colours of the tags we use corresponding to each:

  JOOF Recordings
  JOOF Mantra
  JOOF Aura

Such colour code helps dramatically as I can instantly tell what’s status in each of our label just by looking at the board. And of course, I can also filter these tags or just search when I need to find something specific.

Card details

You probably noticed some square icons on the screenshot above, they are visible even through the pixelated filter. Let me show you a zoom-in screenshot of a card:

Trello card

See my user icon at the bottom right corner? Since here at JOOF we have several people receiving demos, we assign a person who managing that particular release to avoid miscommunication. A kind of “account manager” in sales and customers relationship.

For example, if I see an icon of my fellow colleague Gary, I know that he’s taking all communication with that artist regarding this particular release.

If you open up a card, it shows all the juicy details such as attached files, lists, due date, and the chat our team have about this release. Here’s how it looks like:

Trello card detailed view

Well, that’s pretty much it. Trello is a great tool for collaboration and management, but its application can go far beyond this. Personally, I also use it for tracking my radio show, vlogs schedule, gigs database, and so much more.

Feel free to ask if you have any question, I’ll keep the comments box below open.

Insights on sending a demo to a record label. Part 2

It’s safe to say that my previous advice on sending a demo is one of the most popular articles on this blog: there are thousand of upcoming producers looking for a proper way to reach out record labels, and I hope these insights helped to shed some light.

Today, I would like to continue that topic and share five more short tips on sending a demo to record labels based on my experience of A&R.

“Void — A Sector To Avoid” art by Kuldar Leement. So as this artwork title suggests, in this blog we’ll talk about things to avoid

Send only finished track

People often say something like this: “here is a 15-seconds draft of my new track, I’ll finish if it fit your label”. What? How can label approve something that doesn’t exist yet? What if this 15-seconds snippet is fine, but then you will suddenly come up with something entirely different that not suits the label?

Demo is a demonstration of your best skills. So show a finished track, not a half-assed product.

Double-check your links

You’ll be surprised how many broken links labels see in their inboxes! From my experience, roughly every third link is broken due to incorrect privacy settings of the track or just because of copy-pasting a wrong URL.

Apparently, I’m not alone with this. Here is what Basil O’Glue, a manager of Saturate Audio, wrote on Twitter:

Producers! Please, double-check your links, be sure another person can open it.

Simplify your signature

Have you ever received an email with a signature that includes full sender’s address with ZIP code, fifteen links to all of his social pages, several international phone numbers, fax (who the hell still use fax nowadays?), and a huge wall of text of “dont-print-this-email-save-the-trees” and other bullshit? If so, you probably know this feeling: it’s annoying.

Such signature is nothing but a visual noise, it takes extra effort to scan the email searching for some meaningful text. Please, don’t do that. Keep it simple, your name and one link to your website are totally fine.

Don’t brag too much

Ah, this is my favourite: listing the entire discography, every single DJ’s support, and all chart appearances. Why, just why are you doing that? What the logic behind it? Every time I receive an email like this, I imagine two label managers having this conversation in my mind:

— A quite mediocre demo, not for us...
— Yeah indeed, not good enough...
— Hold on, he said his previous track has been supported by David Buretta!
— Seriously? Sign him up!!!

Jokes asides, please don’t show off all that stuff unless it’s relevant to the label or that particular track, it’s not cool.

“Please suggest some label where it might fit”

Sometimes, when I say that the demo doesn’t fit the label, some smart guys come back asking “can you suggest some labels where it might fit?”. This question sounds harmless at first sight, but just think about it for second. Imagine if you would fail a job interview and then ask: “do you know other companies that might be interesting in hiring me?”. Sounds, erm... not quite appropriate, don’t you think?

if you don’t make any attempts to learn the industry by yourself, how are you going to work in this field? This is where we came back to what Part 1 begins with: do your research first.

2017   A&R   Advice   Music industry

The benefits of “no”

Success story: Tim Bourne’s behind the scenes on reaching out goal through rejections

“Per aspera ad astra”, 1894

One of my daily duties as an A&R at JOOF Recordings is listening to incoming demos we receive on a regular basis. And whether I like it or not, I have to say a “no” as an answer very often. Artists react to rejection differently: some of them never reply back, some others get angry. Well, no surprise: getting a “no” answer is tough, I know it myself perfectly.

But one guy stood out: every time I told him “no”, he came back with the updated track asking for new feedback. Four months later, he managed to make an amazing track that I was happy to sign on the label.

The guy I’m talking about is Tim Bourne, a 22-year-old aspiring music producer from Indonesia. I invited Tim to share his progression in this blog and I hope other up-and-coming producers will find his experience useful and motivating.

From there, Tim tells:

“To me, this drive of wanting to get accepted into JOOF started two and a half years ago when my friend introduced me to the label, ever since then my perception towards electronic music completely changed (in the best way possible). Since that it was something that I had to do, it was more than just a goal for me to make a track that lives up to the standards of the label.

I wanted to know where I sit when it comes to producing, am I really making something that is up to par — quality wise — or am i just making tracks that only sound good to my own ears, even then, my ears wasn’t really catching the small details of music production, I was missing out on so many essential parts of production.

I knew that it was going to be very tough because in my country there is very limited access to production courses or even Psytrance producers, so I had no one to really guide me on what to do technically or musically.

I would have never evolved with my music production if it wasn’t for no’s and rejections.

I started sending out demos to the label since 2015 — 20 years old by that time — and it was just no’s after no’s after no’s. In total, I’ve probably sent over ten tracks and one of the tracks I had to re-do and re-edit over five times due to song length, sound design, not enough variations, you name it... and it was still a big ‘no’. It actually got to a point where I was so pessimistic about myself and my music that after a couple of days after sending ‘The Wounded Healer’ I emailed to Daniel again and assumed that the track got rejected.

But alongside the no’s, Daniel was kind enough to actually give me very useful feedbacks, he gave me constructive criticism that was essential for my learning. And to be completely honest, I would have never evolved with my music production if it wasn’t for no’s and rejections. It was through this that I was able to learn and not just force any kind of sound into a track.

Here are some of the conversation we had on the track:

Of course, it was really hard to accept the fact that my music wasn’t quite cutting it, but either I stop and give up or just push through and make a track that I would have never imagined I’d be able to make a couple of years ago.

It started with this very flat sounding bassline loop with no melodies at all, just a pitched down FX:

Then I played around with the sound, added a little bit of processing, added hats and a clap and i played around with the notes because my ears were so exhausted of hearing the same note playing over and over again. Came up with this kind of groovy bassline:

As I was trying to fiddle around with the bass, I found a vocal sample that was perfect for creating anticipation for the groovy bassline. So I decided to add the vocal alongside a drum fill. I also added more processing to the kick and bass to make it sound more thick:

After creating what I thought was a strong body to the track, I know I have to accompany it with also a strong melody:

But i was not pleased because it felt like it was forced and it didn’t go smoothly with the track, so I changed the sound and came up with these two melodies:

Then comes the breakdown which I really enjoyed creating. I always have a thing for breakdowns, to me it creates the emotion of a track. This was the very first version of the breakdown, very empty and the arp melody just didn’t feel right:

So I decided to completely change the arp melody because turns out that it was the melody that made it sound a bit weird. I changed the arp melody, brought back the FX’s and i added some ethnic percussion which drew the breakdown more into the theme of the song:

I created this melody as a draft but It just didn’t sound right to my ears, I was okay with it but i wasn’t happy with it:

I tweaked the notes of the melody a little bit, got rid of the acid and added more saw’ish sounding synths to layer. And this is what i came up with:

And alas, ‘The Wounded Healer’ was born:

I want to say thank you to Daniel who has given me the opportunity to tell a little bit about my upcoming EP, The Wounded Healer and also the story of how I managed to pull through after so many ‘rejections’ and ‘no’s’. ”

Blacklisted: Drexander

We had a nice release out yesterday on JOOF from a guy called Samer Soltan aka “Drexander”, two atmospheric Progressive tracks. But turns out, this guy is a con man: he stole other artists’ music. He not just make similar tracks, not even take some samples, but literally take other guys’ tracks and says: “Hey, this is my music”. Moreover, this guy has also tricked other labels in the past, even big ones like Armada.

I deliberately want to make this info public because I believe there is no place for frauds in music. I can’t stand this especially being a producer myself. Whether you are a label, musician, agent, promoter, or listener, be sure to add that con man to your blacklist.

2017   A&R   Music industry

Insights on sending a demo to a record label

And how to increase chances for response

cover transparent white

Hi Daniel, as far as I know you are an A&R at JOOF. Can you share some insights on sending demo, how to increase chances for reply, what are common mistakes and how to avoid them?

Brian Timms

It’s almost a year now since I’ve joined JOOF Recordings as an A&R Manager. It’s not much yet, but enough to see the picture from both camps. Brian, I’ll be glad to share my experience and try to answer your questions.

A new role

Do research

Surprisingly, how often producers sends non-format tracks that don’t match labels genre. it may sound obvious, but first of all do a little research before submitting a demo, make sure it is totally suit to style and concept of the label.

Some producers use mass mailing in hope that at least some label will pick their track up, but I assure you, chances to get released on a decent label by mass mailing are very, very low. Unless you want to get picked by “some” label that probably doesn’t really care about your music.


In additional to the previous point, I advise personalizing your submission. Rather than simply say “Hi, here is my demo”, which may indicate that you probably sent this demo to other labels as well, add that particular label name in subject line, or in track title, or in track description, or wherever.

This little trick instantly gives a feeling of personal demo sent specifically for this label. And this is important. If you don’t care on which label you want to be released, then most likely label won’t care much about you either.

Use official contact

Pretty much all the people in the music industry have public accounts: on Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Google+, and other social media. But the fact that you know these accounts, and each has a “send a message” button, doesn’t mean that labels would be happy to receive your demos there. In fact, it might be quite the opposite.

Personal and business communication are different things, and not all people like to mix it together. I advise to respect the privacy and do not send demos in personal messages on social media.

Instant messengers vs. email for business communication

For instance, Facebook has a sort of protection mechanics, and once a person reached out a certain amount of friends, he no longer receives notifications about new messages and friends request. This said, sending a demo via Facebook is not only disrespectful in terms of business ethics, but also has a very high chance that your messages will not be visible, at all. Think about it.

I recommend using label’s official contact for demo submission instead. Go to the label’s website or Facebook page, open contacts section, check the procedure. If they accept demos via form on their website only, then send via form. If they ask to send an email to specific address — send an email to that address.

Send links, not files

Never ever attach audio files to the email message. Firstly, because some mail servers and filters have a limit on incoming file size, you risk that your message won’t be delivered at all. And secondly, well, it’s a question of business ethics.

I recommend uploading your files to one of the trusted and reliable platforms, such as SoundCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, or WeTransfer. Make sure to name files properly with artist name and track title, rather than something like “ID1.mp3”.

Personally, I prefer SoundCloud links most of all. But there are three things to keep in mind when sending over SoundCloud:

  • Turn on download option. Yes listening online is super handy, but sometimes a person who make a decision may want to download this track to listen in another environment, let’s say on the phone while flying on the plane.
  • Keep your uploads private. Labels want to get exclusive material that no one heard before, so public uploads significantly reduce your chances to get it signed.
  • Make sure you send a private link. This one is a common mistake: to get a private link, you have to click on the “Share” button, and then copy text from the “Private Share” line. Double-check it: the link should include some few random digits at the end. If you just copy-paste regular link from your browser, everyone but you will see this:

Send a brief, but specific message

It’s surprisingly how often I receive emails like this:

I hope you’ll like my new track!
Sent from iPhone

Who is the sender, what’s his artist name? What a track he sent, and for what purpose? You can only guess! Most likely, eventually such message will be simply ignored in a favor for other incoming messages in the queue. Remember, credible labels with good reputation receive huge amount of demos, dozens on a daily basis! But please don’t write a huge wall of text either.

Best practice is to briefly introduce yourself, tell something about this track and why do you send it. It’s okay to mention some other tracks or artists you like from the label, this shows you as a fan of the label, which is always a good sign.

A good message may look like this:

This is an example of a clear, simple and polite message, and you can be sure, this one get higher priority to listen and reply among all incoming queue.

Feel free to use this as a template: one short paragraph about yourself, one or two sentences about this demo, and signature with the main website link.

Be patient

Don’t expect to get a reply back instantaneously. Good manners and business ethics implies to wait for the response at least within a week, this is one of the main difference between online chatting with friends and business communication.

Instant messengers vs. email for business communication

Keep in mind that A&R Managers are often acting artists that have a busy schedule with music production and touring.

It is okay to send a reminder if you haven’t got a reply in 2-3 weeks. But don’t fall into a trap of false illusions: probably, you won’t hear back at all. In one thing you can be sure: if your track is really amazing, well produced and totally fits the label, you will get a reply for sure.

Learn to accept “No”

Being an acting artist myself, I perfectly know how frustrating it might be. But don’t be afraid of “no” as an answer. In fact, this is the only answer that helps you grow up as a producer. 

Frustration. How to move forward

Here at JOOF, we give advice and do a sort of mentoring to those artists in who we feel a potential. I’m sure other labels do the same. This is how all together we make our beloved music scene better.

I hope it helps. Good luck with your submissions!

Read also:
Insights on sending a demo to a record label, Part 2
When sending a demo, should I do mixing and mastering by myself?

On cover image: astronomical radio telescope at the Atacama Desert. Sometimes sending a demo to label is like send a radio signal to outer space.

2015   A&R   I am