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Interview

Want to get signed to Size, Big Beat, Axtone, Spinnin', Toolroom, or Refune? Here's what you need to know.

By Dan Carter
Labels

At the outset of 2013, electronic music has remained one of the hottest entertainment commodities out there. Be it the luxurious-seeming lifestyles of DJ culture or the sophisticated technology now readily available to seasoned professionals and ardent teenagers alike, there has never been a greater influx of artists waging to make their mark upon the industry then right now.

While the debate about what makes a groundbreaking record-signing continues, label heads and A&R professionals remain the gatekeepers of the industry, consistently seeking out and serving as essential hands of hope to new talents across the globe. And as much a game of luck as it is, there is still a right way and a wrong way for new producers to take the plunge.

Beatport News turned to a host of the industry’s more sought-after imprints to discuss the imperative etiquette of making your move onto a label.

Simon Hills, label and artist manager, Axtone
First off, don’t think that A&R guys don’t love receiving demos. Signing new artists is what we are all about. As a general rule of thumb, avoid sending a bootleg unless you have really reinvented the wheel, as this area is completely saturated at the present. Contacting the right person is uber-important—you have spent months on making a track so the least you can do is spend a few minutes finding the right person, as a personal email to make that first connection can make all the difference. As a side note to this, if you cant find these details, DO NOT send an industry-wide email with all A&Rs on CC—this is a major no and a huge professional turn-off. Don’t explain what is wrong with the track—just provide cold hard facts about yourself and most importantly, be honest, as it doesn’t necessarily matter if this is your first attempt. Being your own worst critic can really help the process, so definitely gauge some opinions from fellow DJs and producers before submitting, as regrettably your family and friends may not always provide the most constructive feedback available. Compare your music to other tracks and artists that you admire and aspire to be as good as. Can you honestly say it would stand up in a DJ’s set after their biggest track? It is also worth saying that you shouldn’t feel bad if you get a “no” first time. The contact has been made and the door is then open for future offerings.


Mark Jackson, various label- and artist-management roles, Size, Refune, Phazing, Ultra Music Europe
Don’t be pushy as far getting a response from anyone within the industry is concerned. The more you push it, the less likely you are to get a response at all. Manners and politeness are pretty important also in making first contact. For all you know, you could be on the path to long and prosperous relationships with the label, so treat them as you would want to be treated to get things off to a positive start. Getting tracks to a particular imprint can be hard, so it always helps to have a contact within that circle already. This isn’t always readily available, however, but a little perseverance and some tactical (yet dignified) networking will always serve you well. I would be lying if I said that I personally respond to every single demo email, but don’t take it personally if you don’t [get a reply]. The nature of the beast means that responding to every single request is physically impossible. It is important to think towards the future and safeguarding your creative work, so always keep copies of sent emails just in case someone you send the track to attempts to rip it off—thus safeguarding you with tangible proof!


Pete Griffiths, Toolroom Records
One of the key things for me when receiving demos is being personal. Receiving an email on BCC with just a download link and “please consider” won’t help you to stand out from the crowd—even worse, forgetting to BCC and including my email with another 50 A&Rs at other labels. Knowing that the producer has done a little homework on the label and understands that the music could be right for us is great to see, and a little background information on the sender is good to know. How you present a track is important—people still send links to MP3s named “Demo 1.” Now I would advise including your name, track name, and even contact info on the title, as iTunes is often the first place I will refer back to the track rather than find the original email. Keep it as accommodating as possible and remember that labels receive a lot of demos these days. We do still receive CDs in the post and, like the aforementioned, I would advise to keep it well presented and clear with all of your contact information included. Last week we actually received a bottle of beer wrapped up with a CD demo in the post! Whilst it was greatly appreciated, I’m afraid it won’t help us to sign your track anymore than the music speaking for itself. Finally, if the label you like is within easy reach, then try popping in and delivering your demo in person. You can’t beat the old-fashioned face-to-face introduction!


Jorn Heringa, A&R, Spinnin’ Records
The most important thing for upcoming artists to remember is not to go about spamming record companies’ social-media pages or email addresses with their demo links. I have seen some of the younger artists send out the same demos on a daily basis. This is very annoying and is unlikely to do anything other than tarnish your chances at connecting with a label. Impatience never got anyone anywhere and given the current climate and frequency of new demos, our immediacy in responding can be a little delayed. As above, I echo the need for a personal email to any A&R scout. Keep it short and include a brief introduction about the artist (including their age, location) and about their former production history. The back-story is vital, such as other label releases, collaborations, previously charting material, and potential prospects. We are looking for a good signing and a bigger picture for the artist, so it helps if we are well informed. Most importantly and too often forgotten—make sure you send the audio! Big files in emails are a big no, but I always find stuff like Dropbox or Wetransfer makes this seamless and easy for both parties. You should be 100% sure about the track you are sending out, because we deal with music on a daily basis and it is easy to scope a rushed track over one that has been passionately perfected by an artist. Suitability is also important and you should exercise an appreciation of what that label stands for musically.


Jeroen Te Rehorst, A&R, EMI Dance Netherlands
Ideally, my job involves working together with an artist whose career I can expand, drawing out the best of their creative ability and investing in a constructive and long-term industry relationship. In that sense, getting off to a good start is vital, and first impressions play a key part in the process for both new artists and myself. I always like to know what makes the artist tick and how well organized they are on the business side, such as agency and management, but it is also interesting to know whether they are actively touring at the present time of reaching out to me. Personality is a big piece of the puzzle also, as a proactive attitude is a huge plus for any potential artist wanting to be involved with the label. There are also considerations as far as any previous brand image, and the scope there is to develop this and naturally. It helps to have evidence of an active or potential fan base. I am really approachable, but one thing I cannot stand is being added on Facebook and pursed regarding new tracks, updates on chart positions, and questions about label policy. People need to take the time to make the proper formal connections with industry people, either by email or in person should the chance arise, rather than over personal social-network platforms.


Matt Engelman, A&R and sales, Big Beat
When exploring options for label signings I look for a few things: music that is original or unique first, not music that “sounds like” someone else. I’m finding that there are many upcoming producers that are talented, but don’t have a unique sound. Secondly I look for “home run” radio records that are obvious hits and that will stick in people’s minds from the first play. Lastly, I look for artists that are hard working, creative, patient, unselfish, modest (but confident), and most of all passionate about the music that they make. It’s a real bonus when artist management is reasonable and the artist has some legitimate technical understanding or background in music production.