Because I have lots of experience with them, I'm always getting asked how to attract the attention of record labels. If you've ever asked then you know I normally don't really answer, or I skirt around that particular question. I've decided to finally give my two cents, here's what I have to say on that subject:
These days labels are pretty much only interested in bands that already have things going on. They want to see that you're out there playing packed shows & that you are selling cd's & downloads and have a large online network via things like Facebook/YouTube/ReverbNation & a mailing list. (If you don't have an email list, stop reading this right now and go start one.) That's really the only way to get the attention of a label in the current state of the music industry...they'll come knocking only after you've already gotten yourself to a point where you are doing well enough to not really need them anymore.
I suggest you give it a shot at being your own label, at least to start off. Look into releasing your own music through TuneCore or CD Baby and don't worry about labels yet...unless you want to give away a disproportionate amount of your earnings. (I use TuneCore and they landed my new band The Hollow Glow's latest release right on the homepage of the iTunes Rock section for a solid month!) Instead of focusing on labels you should work on growing your email list & fan-base (offline & online) and putting together a kick ass live show. Also, by being completely indy you have total freedom over your music and marketing strategies and you can try whatever you want to get your music out there. Check out what I'm doing with The Hollow Glow:
If you really do want to approach labels, the way to think of approaching a label is as if you were approaching an accountant, they want to see your numbers more than hear your music. Labels function mostly as a specialized bank of sorts, they'll loan you money (and tell you how you have to spend it)...admittedly some definitely do have some pretty decent connections, and if the record flops...well, you don't have to pay them back...but what's the cost?
What a label does is put up all the money to record and promote your album, but remember all that money is “recoupable” which means you have to pay it back. The hitch is that the way you pay the money back is through however many “points” you have on your album through your deal...which basically means whatever percentage you make on album sales as stated in your recording contract, that's the only portion of the sale that goes towards paying the label back. Simply put, you don't make any money on album sales until you pay back the label, but only a very small portion of the album sales money actually goes towards paying the label back.
Lets say that through your deal you get $1 per album sold for the sake of keeping it simple (and this is actually approximately what the deal Ra got through Universal was...at the time I was told that was a "good" deal.) That $1 is the only portion of the album sales money that goes towards paying back your loan - ie “recouping” your album advance. While the label may be selling your album for $10-15 a pop, you don't see any of the other money and the lions share of it doesn't count against the money you have to pay back...only that $1 per album (or whatever you get though your specific deal) counts towards your "loan" with the label. So if you get an advance of say $100,000.00 to record and promote your album...which sounds like a lot but really isn't when you're speaking in terms of Majors - (Ra got $1,000,000.00 album advances, which also sounds like a lot..haha! But believe me I didn't see anywhere remotely near $1,000,000.00.) A $100,000 advance would mean you have to sell 100,000 albums (with that $1 deal) before you make even one single little round penny...and remember an advance is spent on recording & promotion you don't actually get the money..you don't even get to choose how the money is spent & a lot of the time you probably won't agree with how the money is spent (ohhh that could be another whole rant for me right there...) A band can be selling thousands of records every week and still be eating oodles of noodles and staying in dirt-bag motels living like vagabonds on the road to promote that album, all while the label is pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars on record sales from that band...believe me I lived that life for years. Also these days because music doesn't sell like it used to a lot of labels are going for what's called a 360 deal, which to put it simply means they also take a slice of your touring and merchandising on top of taking most of the money from album sales...where do I sign up for that? ;)
Now I'm not saying that it's impossible to find a cool little indy label that's in it for the love of music...and that happens to love YOUR music. In my mind, that would be an ideal label situation...but again that is probably not going to happen until you can show em the numbers that they want to see.
If after all that you still want to attract a label here's what I suggest you do:
1. Start selling your music through TuneCore or CD Baby, they'll get you into iTunes, Amazon and many other places. They also keep track of all your numbers and allow you to go in and check all your stats anytime you like...very valuable info to have. (In all honesty, I've made more money selling music through TuneCore then I've made selling hundreds of thousands of albums on Universal Records.)
2. Grow your email list. I use FanBridge, but there are lots of options. I know ReverbNation has one as well, I've been meaning to look into theirs. FanBridge offers some really awesome “analytics” that tells you how many people opened each email and who it actually was that opened the email. They also tell you how many people clicked on which link you have in the email and some other nifty little things.
3. Don't be afraid to giveaway downloads! I use Bandcamp for this. They allow you to give out download codes which means you choose who gets free downloads, they also allow you to set your albums up for name your own price downloads with any minimum starting at $0.00. And more importantly, they collect email addresses for you when your music is downloaded...see #2 above.
4. Think outside the box! There are so many things you can do to get your music out there. The music industry is at a point of complete turmoil right now. Use that to your advantage! Build your own pirate ship instead of waiting on an island for a label to come and rescue you! (unless you've got Keira Knightly and a lot of Rum...)
My guess is that if you build up your band using some of the ideas I mentioned here as well as some of your own ideas, by the time a label comes in and starts sniffing around & showing interest in signing you, you'll be like - “OK...and what the hell do I need you for?!?”
So...do I regret the day I signed to a major label? Hell no!! Would I do it again, will you see The Hollow Glow on a major label? Hell No!!!
Ben Carroll is RockSource360's most sought after guitar instructor. Sign up for a free lesson consult with Ben here: http://www.rocksource360.com/free-consult-with-ben-carroll/
Ben Carroll is a well-known Universal recording artist, musician & songwriter. His band Ra (Universal/SMR) has released 5 records over the past 9 years with combined sales reaching over a half million units. Ra has had multiple charting radio singles, songs used in multiple movies, television and sporting events, has played with the biggest bands: Korn, Godsmack, Disturbed, Seether, Alice in Chains, and the Deftones, to name a few, and has worked with the industry's top producers and engineers. The ESP endorsed guitarist has also released his 2 instrumental solo albums, "A Dream Between Two Fires" & "Tasty Tunes" and is in the process of launching a brand new band, The Hollow Glow. The Hollow Glow self-released 2 full length albums in 2010 ("Into the Light" & "Out of the Darkness") and are continuing at the same breakneck speed in 2011.