It’s every up-and-coming producer’s dream to turn what they’ve slaved over in their bedroom studios into
the sort of track that climbs the charts, is played at every club and festival, and is recognized by fans all over the world. But how do you actually go about getting that opus into the right hands? Toolroom Records A&R manager Pete Griffiths has got some thoughts on the topic. Read up on the most common mistakes newcomers make and what you must do to get your demo heard.
How should a producer go about sending a demo to a label?
I’m often asked this question, and there are several ways people send us demos. We have a specific email address that demos come through to at Toolroom Records. We do our best to get back to as many as possible, but as you can imagine we receive hundreds each week, so it can be difficult to reply with feedback to each one—but we do listen to them all. One tip would be to upload a good-quality MP3 that can be streamed as well as downloaded; it can make it much easier to listen to the demo this way rather than downloading large WAV files. And make sure the track has some basic mastering—even just a limiter or simple EQ plugin will help it have a little more life.
We do also still receive CDs in the post to our main office, and this is always a welcome change from emails and can give a little more insight into the person sending. It’s also always good to do your homework and discover who does the A&R for the label you are sending to, as that personal touch always stands out.
What information should he or she include in their submission?
One of the common mistakes is not naming the music file with artist and track name. It’s amazing how many demos we receive called “demo1.mp3” or “Paulfunky.mp3.” If we can’t find the original email or letter and only have the track to go by, it’s quite difficult to locate the artist!
How important is it to have a bio and press shot?
A bio and press shot aren’t essential as it’s the music doing the talking here, but a small bit of information about the producer is good to know: if they have released on other labels before, if they are an up-and-coming DJ, or if this is their very first production. New producers might not have press shots or a bio written at this stage in their career. It’s also good to include links to SoundCloud, Facebook, or their own website, if they have one.
Are you looking for the finished product or an artist with potential?
It’s amazing to listen to a demo or discover an artist and hear something you think is the finished product, but it’s more common that we will hear tracks and find artists we think could benefit from our help, advice, and experience. We like to work closely with artists to offer our expertise to help them grow and produce to the best of their ability. It becomes a friendship that builds into becoming a part of the Toolroom family.
Do you look for a particular sound when signing artists to Toolroom?
Toolroom has always been a purveyor of quality club records, but we like to keep an open mind when it comes to listening to demos and new music. The A&R team have a wide range of musical tastes which enables us to also look a little further than just the current trend in dance music. First and foremost, it’s about quality—and if it has that magic, that hook, or something different that makes it stand out from the rest.
Should producers send their tracks to you already mastered?
Not all producers out there have access to professional mastering, but I would recommend investing in a basic mastering plugin; just adding a limiter or a simple mastering strip will help your track stand up to others—just include a note on this in your submission. We do receive unmastered demos and some that aren’t yet mixed down and as much as this is not recommended, we are able to hear past this and listen to the overall idea and sound of the demo.
What are the common mistakes people make?
Sending very short and impersonal emails, not including any background information, and not naming the music file properly are quite common.
How many people listen to the track before it’s signed?
This can vary between where we feel the demo may sit on the label and the potential we see in the track and artist. Initially, it’s listened to by one of our A&R team before we listen again at regular A&R meetings with the whole team.
How often do you sign tracks from unsolicited demos?
It doesn’t happen very often and it’s a pet hate of mine to be bombarded with impersonal emails that are also going to a hundred other labels, but at the end of the day if the music is of a high quality and we have a good feeling about the artist, we will always follow this up!
What’s been the best demo you’ve ever received?
One of the most interesting has been a badly timed rap about the label and our hometown, and another we received in the post was a bottle of beer wrapped up alongside a CD! (Please don’t do this [laughs].)
Also, some of the classic Toolroom releases were signed from receiving a single demo CD—Dave Spoon’s At Night was sent to us on CD and signed that same day!