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.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

May 17   A&R   Advice   Music industry

“Can a label own the masters based on an email conversation?”

Hey there! I landed on your nice blog and started reading. I’m grateful I found some nice pieces of advices! I bother you a bit more, hoping you can help me – that would be so much appreciated if you have some time to give me your opinion. Here’s our story:

I work as an A&R for a new label. We signed in February of this year an artist, with proper contract. The contract transfers us the rights for a vinyl EP. Let’s say, that on this EP the strongest track is called “Karr”. Now we were ready/going into test-pressing on last Tuesday morning. But had to stop it all. Why?

Because a few hours sooner a big known label in the Techno industry *outed* a post on their Facebook page, promoting a digital V.A. in which we were stunned to see OUR main title track of EP being listed as one of the V.A. tracks.

It appears that ‘our artist’ had been in touch with that label during 2015-2016 and had discussed a possible release for 2016. Which never took place. Basically, that label has remained sitten (sleeping on that track they now outed) for two years.

Without any renewed expressed interest after December 2016, four months later and without warning, they sent the masters to our artist per email six days ago! Thing is, neither the artist neither us never planned that previous label would have the balls to do such! That’s crazy!

We immediately emailed that label, stating the artist had signed with us. Their defense line is the following. They state they own the masters because of the fact they had previous exchange of emails (that can be indeed be seen as a kind of an agreement), but they were discussing a release for 2016. Again: never took place in two years.

My question is: can a label state ownership over the masters, basing themselves on fact they had received the pre-master (-6db Etc.) and that, *this*, is considered as “transferring” the copyrights? In my knowledge, that agreement would only be valid on the discussed year (2016!) and not after that. Are they allowed to ‘further’ exploit a file, never saying anything in four months? Just sending it over “mastered” and boom! Six days later they post and promote it?? Not asking for any renewed consent of the artist? (poor dude, he almost did a heart attack.. as he was super happy to work with us.. )

We really care for that artist and the all situation seems clearly abusive. but it’s a big, big label.

We suggested they replace the file and keep the ‘Name’ as it’s only in pre-order on their bandcamp page (for now, will be released on 26th of April). We thought showing them we were okay to try limit the hurt to their image (cuz that’s what they fear – such a big label doesn’t want to be ‘in fault’ publicly. so they don’t want to retire the track.. first people could push play, now this morning i just noticed we can’t anymore.. good sign for us?)

What do you think? We have no money to afford a lawyer, so all we have is state our points and tell them that we think no label can say that they own a track indefinitely (time) if NO contract.. and if NO release in the planned period – in what they state is their “agreement” (exchanged emails...) right? I mean – if so, means that every pre-master we get ONCE = would bind an artist to a label lifelong? WTF?

Sam

Sam, thanks for sharing your story. I’m not a lawyer nor an expert in this field, so before taking any legal actions I suggest consulting with one.

As far as I know, the fact an artist sending a demo saying “I would like to release it on your label” does not allow the label to actually release it. It’s basically just a letter of intent indicating an interest of one party in the deal, but not the final agreement.

Typically, most contracts work this way: “everything that not clearly specified in the contract is not allowed”. This is why we see 20-paper contracts specifying every tiny and obvious detail. A notarized email conversation could have a legal power, but all terms of the deal have to be written very precisely. So unless your artist and that big label specifically discussed having a release on a compilation, I don’t think they had rights doing so.

Don’t start a lawsuit: it might be a long, exhausting, and expensive process with a unpredicted result. And if your and that big label are registered as legal entities in different countries, that means you would need an international court which makes things even more complicated and expensive. It’s just not worth it.

I would suggest trying to solve this situation peacefully. Ask them politely to pull-off the compilation from the stores or to remove that track individually. We at JOOF had to shut down a release once too, so I know for the fact it is possible. Your argument is simple: you have the contract signed by that artist, they don’t.

If for some reason they won’t agree on shutting down the release, ask them to deal a sub-licensing contract. In other words, to pay you and the artist a fixed amount of money in exchange for allowing them to release that track legally. This is a standard deal in the industry.

“Label re-released a track without my consent” 

As a measure of last resort, at least tell people the truth. Share this story (with the real names) in public. This probably won’t change anything, but it’ll bring some justice.

I’m keen to know what other label managers and artists think about it?

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

Apr 19   Advice   Music industry

Time traveller’s archive — 14

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Aleksey aka Sonic Elysium on sound design
  1. Ultimate Kick and Bass Tutorial by Sonic Elysium. Kick and bass are probably two of the most frequently asked topics, people asking how to synthesise it, how to EQ, how to fit them together. And I’ve written pretty much all about it, see “Kick and bass” tag. However, if you prefer to watch rather than read, I highly recommend watching this tutorial by Sonic Elysium, he nailed it.
  2. TechMuze Academy podcast with Budi Voogt. Interesting talk about marketing, promo campaigns, and automations. “Do you see a benefit in paid ad campaigns for producers? I’m actually inclined to say no to Facebook and Instagram [...] Revenue streams in music are very indirect. ”
  3. Is DJing just about beat matching? Great blog, as always from John 00 Fleming. I’ve also written about it before, see Vinyl vs. Sync button.
  4. A Beginner’s Guide To Audio Cables. If you don’t know what is balanced or unbalanced cable or what the difference between RCA and XLR — this article on DJ TechTools is right for you.

Time traveller’s archive — 13

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Eduardo Briceño talk at TEDx Manhattan Beach
  1. Eduardo Briceño: How to get better at the things you care about. I like how Eduardo separate activity between learning and performing, and funny enough, I’ve been using pretty much the same technique for quite some time. “Research shows that after the first couple of years working in a profession, performance usually plateaus. This has been shown to be true in teaching, general medicine, nursing and other fields, and it happens because once we think we have become good enough, adequate, then we stop spending time in the learning zone. We focus all our time on just doing our job, performing, which turns out not to be a great way to improve. But the people who continue to spend time in the learning zone do continue to always improve. The best salespeople at least once a week do activities with the goal of improvement. They read to extend their knowledge, consult with colleagues or domain experts, try out new strategies, solicit feedback and reflect. The best chess players spend a lot of time not playing games of chess, which would be their performance zone, but trying to predict the moves grand masters made and analyzing them. Each of us has probably spent many, many, many hours typing on a computer without getting faster, but if we spent 10 to 20 minutes each day fully concentrating on typing 10 to 20 percent faster than our current reliable speed, we would get faster, especially if we also identified what mistakes we’re making and practiced typing those words. That’s deliberate practice.”
  2. Research this music industry. Great blog, as always from John 00 Fleming. It’s posted in 2013 but its value hasn’t become any less since then: “Also look into the mechanics of how this industry works, many will have a track released and expect the label to get them bookings? The job of a label is to get your track (and name) marketed making sure it gets to the right DJ’s, into the right shops for sale, air play on radio shows and online and in magazines. Labels don’t have databases full of promoters and club owners, they have no need? The gig side of things falls to agents, its two completely different businesses that many think are one. A good label with assist an agent due to the marketing they provide, it makes the agent’s job easier to get gigs due to the exposure the label is giving the artist. ”
  3. Native Instruments: Making strummed acoustic 2. If you ever wondered how those guitar samples that you probably have in your library has been made of, this is gonna be interesting reading for you: “For the recording sessions, we teamed up with three different guitarists – each brought a fresh perspective and lots of great input. We focused on staying in the creative spirit as we wanted every recording to have the feel of a real take on a real track. So we would always warm up with a jam, and instead of recording to clicktrack, we used various drum tracks to help the guitarists perform each pattern with a distinct attitude. It makes sense that the more musicality goes into the recordings, the more comes out in the final product. Recording lasted around 6 months.”

“Is it worth releasing on a compilation?”

Do you think it’s worth to sign a track on a compilation? I’ve got a message from one particular label that interesting in signing me up, they said they’ll do the mastering and stuff but I’m not sure whether I want it in the first place because that compilation seems to be a multi-genre medley. Perhaps you have some experience releasing on compilations?

Radio Dynamica

To answer this question, you have to make a research to see what kind of compilation it is because not all compilations are equally good.

Due to my nature, I often organise things by categories, so I came up with three tiers of compilations.

“Shitty” compilations

“Techno Trance 2014 – 30 Top Best Of Hits, Acid, House, Rave Music, Electro Goa Hard Dance, Psytrance” by EDM Records; “Space Trance Vol. 2 State of Universe, an Ultimate Voyage into Electro Trance” by GR8 Trance Music

The first and probably the most common compilation type I call “shitty compilations”, as you guess the name is self-explanatory. You can easily identify a compilation from this category by its terribly bad cover artworks and the titles like “100 Top Best Future EDM Psytrance Hits”.

The only reason why such compilations exist is because their labels want to make money. Artists, decency, and reputation are not the things they care about.

“Recycling” compilations

“Goa Culture Vol. 34” by Yellow Sunshine Explosion; “Universal Frequencies Vol. 2” by Digital Om Productions

These compilations usually curated by the label’s DJs, and basically they recycling tracks from the previously released albums and singles. Don’t get me wrong: recycling is a good thing. It gives listeners an opportunity to catch up some tracks they probably missed, and also gives some extra income and exposure to the label and the artists.

As you can see, these compilations typically has much better visual look as well. They also often hit the top charts because over time they’ve built a reputation of a quality content provider.

“Featured showcase” compilations

“JOOF Editions Vol. 3” by JOOF Recordings, “Full On Fluoro Vol.1” by Perfecto Fluoro

Featured compilations are long-awaited releases that showcase the label where it currently stands and where it heading to. The tracks selection is picked very carefully, sometimes artists make new track specifically to get into tracklistings so the compilation often includes previously unreleased works.

Typically, such compilations generate a solid buzz in social media and press and also hit the top charts. That’s the reason why most artists want to be featured on a compilation like that, but not everyone can get there.

***

I want to say it again, do your research first, see what kind of compilation is it, check the label and their previous releases. Is it a credible name? What other artists are released there? Otherwise you may end up on a compilation from the first category which would give nothing but a bad reputation. Or, perhaps, you should make a solo release instead?

Read also:

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

Mar 1   Advice   Music industry

Time traveller’s archive — 12

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

John 00 Fleming doing his first Facebook livestream
  1. John 00 Fleming Q&A talk. John gave a nice almost 1,5 hours-long Q&A session prior to his set at Avalon and people asked a lot about the Trance scene which was quite interesting to listen. I like his advice for bedroom producers: “Best advice is keep it as a hobby and stay in love of it because a lot of people think they gonna hit ‘X-factor’, like a quick romantic story. It’s like you get a track, three months later you gonna be touring around the world, and that’s how the magic happens. But it is much more than that. It only happens for certain people. You’ll get angry, you’ll get stressed if you think that. Sort your day-to-day life first, get your day-time job which pays your bills, and slowly invest some extra money in music. At some point you’ll notice that your hobby will become more serious. But it takes a long time”.
  2. Making of “The Prodigy – Voodoo People” in Ableton by Jim Pavloff. This is quite an old video but I just stumbled across it recently. Great job on sampling. I didn’t know Liam Howlett sampled so many songs back then. Watching this video makes realize how I love Ableton, working with audio channels and processing are so convenient in this DAW. Watch also the other two tracks recreated by Jim Pavloff, you can find it on this YouTube channel.
  3. The Berghain Backstory: Building Berlin’s Most Legendary Nightclub. Some nice behind the scenes of one of the most important nightclubs in the world of underground Techno music.
  4. Rewriting bad writing. Nice advice, as always from the Basecamp team. This time on writing: “While writing isn’t an easy skill, people make it way harder than it needs to be. They think choosing complex language shows skill and smarts. It doesn’t! Writing plainly and clearly does.”
2017   Music industry   Music production   Sound design   Time traveller's archive

Time traveller’s archive — 11

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Richie Hawtin explains his DJ setup with gestures
  1. How I play: Richie Hawtin Model-1 DJ Setup. Despite that this video has a solo marketing purpose for promoting the Model-1 mixer, it’s still nice to know what happening in the mind of such an experienced DJ as Richie Hawtin.
  2. Roland TB-303 vs. TT-303 vs. TB-3 vs. TB-03. Great audio and visual comparison of the legendary TB-303 with its modern reincarnations, made by ADSR. This might be useful especially for those who planning to buy one of these synthesizers.
  3. Everything you hear on film is a lie. Nice and entertaining insights at TED from sound effects designer Tasos Frantzolas on how our mind tricks us when we hearing sounds; most “authentic” sounds (to our ears and brain) are actually fake. Now every time I watch a rainy scene I hear crispy bacon.
  4. 7 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me About Releasing Music. It’s good to read a confirmation of what I’ve written about myself. Particularly, this part: “There are lots of labels out there who may offer to release your music, but the reality is, unless they’re really putting in some serious promotion efforts, and have a strong, well established fanbase who are keen to follow the label, and not just the producers they have released, then you’ll probably not see much come from it.”.

    And this: “Let’s face it, you’re highly unlikely to make enough to live on just from selling music. Those making money from music are doing LOADS more than just releasing. We’re talking releasing music, remixing, DJing or performing live, doing sample packs or patches, tutoring, licensing, producing for other people, running events, and more. And even then, some will be doing other things to supplement income that are not related to music.”

Time traveller’s archive — 10

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Millennium Falcon. I love this ship since I was a kid.
  1. Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive malfunction SFX. Nice and funny insights from sound designer Ben Burtt. It’s also a great example of the layering technique.
  2. The Truth About Popular Music. “The diversity of transitions between notes, chords, melodies, and other sounds has diminished over the last fifty years. [...] The study also found that producers are baking volume into songs at the production stage making them artificially louder. This over-compression has the effect of sucking all the dynamics out of a song. Everything is beginning to sound the same. [...] Now any stupid fucking bimbo or brain-dead twag can be dragged-off a reality show, chopped into a recording studio and have their shrill wobbling auto-tune for mass consumption.”
  3. The Biggest Home Studio Lie We Tell Ourselves. Good points from Graham Cochrane on being lazy: whether you’re composing, doing arrangement or mixing, never say “I’ll make it better later”. It’s like taking a bad picture on a smartphone hoping that Photoshop will fix it. You got to get it right in the first place.
  4. If you want to follow your dreams, you have to say no to all the alternatives. This is something I have problems with: I want to achieve so many goals, so sometimes I feel like I’m going nowhere. This article shows why you should focus on only one big dream in a funny visual way.

Time traveller’s archive — 9

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Patrick Chen sharing insights about Psytrance scene
  1. Behind the Scenes: FM Booking. Some interesting insights from Patrick Chen: “In Psy scene, per an artist, DJ, or producer, the average price rate is about €2000 per gig. Nevertheless, prices can oscillate hugely. [...] price range can be from €500 up to €10 000 or €12 000, it all depends on the artist popularity. The most popular countries in Psy scene at this moment are Switzerland, France, Australia, Germany, Portugal, Israel. [...] There is something very important that an artist should have always: unique style”.
  2. D-Nox interview for Psymedia: “I run my labels to have a platform for my music or for my friend’s music. I don’t see it as a big business much more but rather as a space for the people I like.” Yet another confirmation of The truth about music sales I’ve written earlier.
  3. The Illusion of Truth, a nice talk from Veritasium about human psychology. I like this one: “The things we’re exposed to repeatedly feel more true”. It explains a lot of public figures.
  4. Will Music + DJ Gear Manufacturers Adopt USB-C?. It seems I will have to replace my old MacBook Pro for a newer model in the near future, so really hope to see a wider adoption of USB-C port among gear manufacturers.
2016   Music industry   Science   Time traveller's archive

Music producers mental fatigue is real

And what to do about it

As a music producer, I feel like I have too many things to do, production, promotion etc. I work 16 hours a day and still feel behind and running out of time, the world is just moving too fast! How to not being mentally exhausted in the pursuit of happiness?

Michael J

This is a great question with no simple answer. Such overall mental exhaustion is definitely an issue, especially for bedroom producers who trying to break through. Let’s try to find out the reasons of this fatigue and what we can do about it.

Why it happens

Back in the days, a music band would need a drummer, vocalist, and a guitar player just to write a song. Then they’d need a recording studio and engineer to record and mix the song, and a mastering engineer to prepare it for release.

Now you can program drums, chop vocals, synthesize leads, record, arrange, mix, and master all by yourself within a DAW. And even share it to the audience right away just in few clicks. Music producers are now one-man’s orchestra; it certainly has some benefits yet giving a double-edged effect.

As a modern music producer, you expected to have all of these skills and knowledge by default:

  • Digital audio fundamentals, music theory basic, synthesis, sound design, drums programming, DAW, MIDI, processing devices, routing, arrangement, structure, plugins, mixing and psycho-acoustic model , mastering basics, Djing, performance

We’re all know that having just great music alone won’t make you a career. To get an audience and do the business side of things, most likely you do the following:

  • Post at least on four major social networks, manage your website, run a podcast and record guest mixes, write blogs and guest articles, send newsletters, negotiate with labels, negotiate with booking agents, deal with press, bloggers, reviewers; plan ahead your promo campaigns

Besides, we’re living in a fast-paced world, gear and technologies are changing very rapidly. To keep yourself up-to-date, you probably:

  • Read magazines, articles, blogs and newsletters; attend seminars, tech fairs, shows; follow tastemakers on social media; study online courses; learn about management, marketing, and even laws
Sometimes I feel like a Swiss army knife, doing everything

The lists goes on. And that’s taking into account that most bedroom producers have full-time jobs to pay the bills, so realistically there are only a few hours a day available for all of these activities! Well, no surprise most producers who live like that not only feel fatigued, but also look like Earthworm Jim... without his suit (myself included).

But before you start to pity yourself, thinking to quit tough, unfair, and overcomplicated music industry for the sake of some ‘easier’ profession, think of the following.

You don’t have to be great

Yes, the music business is tough, confusing, and complicated, that’s for sure. But in reality, the reason of your mental exhaustion is not the profession you chose, it’s because you are trying to achieve something great.

Being great at something is extremely tough not only in music: ask any successful designer, lawyer, developer, scientist, surgeon, entrepreneur. It requires full commitment to what you doing regardless of what it is, whether you make music, write code, or run a business.

But the point is — you don’t have to. You don’t have to be great, being ‘normal’ is just as fine. Look around, there are plenty of mediocre workers (95% I’d say) in every shop, in every service profession, and many of those are happy people!

Even in music, ask yourself why you are doing this in the first place. Perhaps, just making music is what you need, without trying to climb to the top of the hill? Remember: you don’t have to. It’s your call, your life.

However, if you have serious ambitions in music as a career, then prepare to some sacrifices. There is no easy way. Here is what John 00 Fleming writes about it:

“This career comes at a heavy price, the sacrifice being the social aspect of my personal life. My life clashes with the regular World. [...] I spend most weekends in airports, hotels and clubs. The last thing I want to do if I manage to grab a sneaky week off is fly abroad and spend my time in yet another hotel. I associate airports and hotels with going to work. There’s no way I can relax in either of those places, my heads goes into work/DJ mode. So family holidays are out the question, as they wait all year for that annual vacation abroad.”

Cut the unnecessary

I don’t know a magic trick that would suddenly make your music producer’s life easier, and I doubt there any shortcuts. But I use a technique I call ‘cut the unnecessary’ which helps me to keep focused on what’s really important.

Every time you dig into new fancy plugins or read a review of a new DJ controller, ask yourself — “does it help me to progress toward my goals?”. Is it something you really need at the moment or it is your tired brain just needs some procrastination?

Re-energizing for music production after 9-6 work

We all are content consumers, we absorb new information through social networks and news media all the time. But sometimes (or most of the time?) this information gives nothing but a feeling of doing or learning something new whilst in reality it’s a junk ‘food’. It’s like if you would eat potato chips thinking you’re getting a protein.

Sometimes it’s good to have an informational ‘diet’ for your mind. If you cut the unnecessary, it might turn out that things are a little bit easier than you thought.

Recap

I know this blog might be confusing, so let me highlight three main points I was trying to say:

  1. Music business is tough and complicated. But there is no shortcut to success in any profession.
  2. You don’t have to be great, being ‘normal’ is just fine as long as you are happy with it.
  3. Focus on what really helps your progression.

On cover image: an illustration of Renton, a character of Irvine Welsh’s novel “Trainspotting” played by Ewan McGregor. His famous “Choose life” narration sums it up nicely.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   Career   Music industry
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