Why artists very rarely get signed from an unsolicited demo

Opinion

Why artists very rarely get signed from sending an unsolicited demo to established independent record labels.

This article explains why an unsolicited demo sent to a record label has a slim chance of being signed, and what you can do to increase your chances of being signed and have a career in music.

I’ve never signed an artist from an unsolicited demo sent to me. Ever. I don’t know any other managers or label heads that have signed an artist in this way either. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, I’m sure it has, but the reality is it’s scarce.

Momentum

An artist needs to have some momentum already for A&R to be interested. For example, as an artist, you have better chances if:

  • You have an established catalogue of releases already with good support 
  • You’ve released remixes on an established label 
  • You’ve released bootlegs on SoundCloud (that have had thousands of plays)
  • You are represented by an established manager
  • You have decent branding and a social media presence with a following of fans

When an artist has momentum for several of the above reasons, then their music is more likely to be played in a DJ mix, played on the radio or featured in a popular Spotify playlist. An artist like this has a presence and is more likely to appear on the radar of a record label A&R, who will then reach out to ask for demo’s, and hopefully sign the artist.

Competition is fierce

Let’s look at the odds of getting signed to an established indie record label by doing some simple maths.

We’ll assume you want to sign to one of the top leading record labels in the style of music you produce. I’ve worked mostly in heavy electronic genres such as dubstep, electro house, and drum & bass genres so I’ll use those as a reference point.

In any genre of dance music, there are usually about 6-8 labels that are the leaders. The leader labels are ones that have been around for more than five years, consistently put out good music that hits the specialist charts and have a roster of artists respected by fans and DJ’s alike.

Let’s say a label releases once every three weeks, let’s look at how this equates to release slots per year.

12 months = 52 weeks. Minus 4 weeks for Xmas/NYE (typically an indie label won’t release then) = 48 weeks.

48 weeks divided by 3 weeks gives you 16 slots per year.

16 release slots x 8 top leader record labels = 128 premium release slots

I know what you’re thinking – 128 slots, I’m sure one of those can be mine, right? But don’t forget that labels will already have signed artists, and each of those artists wants at least 2 releases a year. If on average there are 6 exclusively signed artists on each label wanting 2 releases a year, that’s 12 release slots already taken.

So you’re now down to 32 potential spaces over the 8 labels per year. Doesn’t sound too bad… However, visiting UNTZ.com and looking up all dubstep artists (for example) you’ll see about 3200 have released music and are potentially looking to be signed. That’s a big ol’ pool! If your music quality is on par with the top artists currently signed, you still have a 1 in 100 chance to be signed to a top independent record label or 1% chance.

Aside from the generalisations made, the point is that there is a lot of competition. Even when you’re signed to a label, you are competing with labels existing artists for available release spaces. I’m sure this is the same across most genres of music, not just electronic music.

What you can do about it

So, what’s the best way to get signed? Create your own momentum. Be organised, disciplined, and consistent with putting out music and branding yourself and connecting with fans. Start your own artist-led record label. And not a label to sign other artists, or make you rich (these may still happen), but start one to release your own music in an organised, disciplined, and consistent way.

It is that simple.

Other benefits are:

  • You will have ultimate control over creative direction and release schedule of the music.
  • A good understanding how the back-end and mechanics of record labels work, so if you do get signed you will be in a better position to negotiate a deal.
  • You can find out if your music does connect with people, and you have something that fans value. 

Increase your chance of getting discovered and ultimately being signed by starting a label. You may discover success along the way and ultimately never have to be signed anyway. So crack on and make it a reality!