How to approach a record label

Co-director of Sub-Label Recordings and dBs Tutor, Ben Jacob shares some insight into how to get your music noticed by a record company.  

Alongside his role as a tutor and technician at dBs Plymouth, Ben Jacob works as an A&R and Mastering Engineer for Sub-Label Recordings. Formed in 2012, the Manchester-based multi-genre label releases music from across the spectrum of house, techno, electronica, and drum and bass. Having also released a suite of his own tracks on a range of electronic music labels, we caught up with Ben to find out his seven key steps for a successful demo submission.

1. Use a reference point

In any section of your musical journey, it’s important to use reference points to anchor your approach. Targeting a label is no different. Before sending your music out, try to identify a few labels you would like to release with and spend some time getting to know their sound. This will help you work out whether your music is suitable for the label, or can even provide you with a reference point for you to work towards as you write. Beware of simply re-creating what somebody else has already made though – the aim is to submit something which supports the sound of the label but also showcases your unique sound. 

2. Ask for feedback first

It’s always good to get as much feedback as you can before submitting your music to a label, but you need to make sure you’re asking the right people. Friends and family are unlikely to be able to provide the constructive criticism you need to improve. Instead, try approaching other artists who produce music within your genre, as they will be able to offer a more neutral perspective. 

3. Start with smaller labels

When you’re looking to secure your first release, you stand a much better chance if you approach smaller labels. Although a lucky few get picked up with the first piece of music they write, on the whole, there are a lot of people trying to achieve the same thing, which means it can be very difficult to cut through. In comparison to major labels, which may get many thousands of submissions a day, smaller labels will have more time to respond to you and to offer detailed feedback, which is essential to building your confidence in the early stages of your production career. 

4. Research the right format

How you submit to a label is just as important as what you submit. Every label is different so it’s essential that you do your research to find out what submission format is suitable in each case. Many of the larger labels use Label Engine submission forms, but others may ask for MP3s or Soundcloud links. Unfortunately, no matter how good your music is, if you submit it in the wrong format, you risk being overlooked entirely. This could leave you thinking that your music isn’t good enough when this isn’t the case at all. 

5. Keep it personal

If you want someone to take the time to respond to your demo submission, then you need to take the time to write to them properly. Personalisation is key here – instead of addressing your message to the brand or ‘to whoever it may concern’, find out the name of the person you are writing to and address them directly. Make sure you get the details right and steer clear of group mailouts. (Even when you send them as BCC, it’s pretty obvious you’re cutting corners). Lastly, think about the needs of the person on the other end of an email. Sending them direct attachments is only going to contribute to their inbox crashing. Make their life easier by sending files as streaming or download links instead. 

6. Learn from your mistakes

If you don’t hear back from a label, don’t take it personally. There is all manner of reasons why you might not have received a response, not all of which will be to do with the quality of your submission. Either way, take the lack of an answer as a chance to review your pitch and identify opportunities to improve. Were there any glaring errors in your email? Did you miss your reference point in terms of sound? Once you’ve learned from your mistakes, send your music to a few more labels. The more you contact, the greater your chances of being discovered. 

7. Take your time

Sending your music to anyone is a really exciting thing, but it’s important not to get caught up in the spur of the moment. When you have everything together and you think you’re ready to press send, go to bed and check everything over the next day. It sounds like common sense, but there is nothing worse than firing something off at 3 AM, only to read it back and spot a glaring error in the morning. So remember – there’s no rush. You’ve come too far to undermine your hard work at the final hurdle.

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Sub-Label Recordings is always on the lookout for fresh and innovative sounds. If you would like to be considered for a release, you can submit your music to the label here.

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