How to interact with the music industry, and maximize your chances of success

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How do you make sure your first contact with the music industry is the best it can possibly be? As an independent artist, you might have lots of questions about how things work in the music world. With this in mind, we asked for some insider knowledge from someone who ...

How do you make sure your first contact with the music industry is the best it can possibly be?

As an independent artist, you might have lots of questions about how things work in the music world. With this in mind, we asked for some insider knowledge from someone who has worked at an independent label for ten years. We creatively call them “The Insider.”

Here, The Insider gives the rules for interacting with the music world and explains how to make the most of your earliest contact with the music industry.

It can be a daunting task both being the creative director and spokesperson for your musical project. The music market is the most competitive it has ever been, with more artists than ever clambering for attention.

The good news is all of the infrastructure you need to succeed is available and laid out before you – even if you are considering going it alone, without a label. Plenty of artists I meet at conferences and festivals are strong musicians with interesting creative ideas but they fail to present themselves in the correct way. When it’s so competitive, as the music market is, using your time well and having the right attitude can make or break your career.

Unless you have industry contacts, your first interaction with the industry will probably be through cold calling: dropping labels, agents, managers or pluggers an email. Pluggers – publicists who will pitch your work to press or radio – will be especially important to get to know if you’re planning on self-releasing.

Many companies will have a ‘no unsolicited demos’ policy but there’s no harm in reaching out to people you admire and want to work with. It’s worth being honest with yourself and assessing what level you’re at. If it’s really early days for your project then reaching out to huge management companies and expecting a response is unrealistic. Instead, aim to contact managers working with other emerging artists you admire.

Tone is important. If I don’t know you, I don’t want to receive an email like we’re old mates from a bygone day. Equally, I don’t want to receive a message that feels like you’re trying to open a bank account. Something friendly but to the point is perfect. A link to hear the music and any other good news.

Obviously, you have to judge what is ‘good news’. Use common sense – a support tour opening for an established artist or a performance at a well regarded festival is good – something that the person receiving your email might already know about. This helps them form a picture of where you are at and which tastemakers are currently supporting you. Ten links to obscure corners of the web are less useful and will just result in no link being clicked, so please don’t do that to anyone you wish to work with.

There will be a lot of people who flat out ignore you and at times it might all feel pointless. That said, if you can represent yourself well, you might just make a connection that opens some doors. From my experience a lot of the best things in life emerge in unexpected ways. Contacting people like every mail matters could end up doing you favours in the long run, at some distant time unknown.

If the recipient of your mail liked what they heard, they might go on to Google you. So now is a good time to make sure your online presence is looking good. We live in a world of images and impressions, so making sure you’re representing yourself as best you can is vital. Having decent press photos or artwork is so, so important. I can’t stress this enough. It shows you care and are already putting the work in. I want to work with artists who are hard working and well rounded and that includes having the ability to present themselves visually.

Equally, from a music fan’s perspective, if I’m on Bandcamp or Pitchfork and there is an album cover with great art next to something hideous, I’m probably going to open the one with the better artwork. If you’ve made some amazing music and want people to hear it, you need to make it easy for them. Entice your audience with some good imagery!

If visuals are not your forte, then it’s worth considering bringing someone on board to help you with this. That could be a manager (who you can bounce ideas off) or a photographer or filmmaker who you work with across the whole visual side of your album campaign. Working with one artist will ensure consistency.

A lot of people working in the independent music industry are just music fans, who love music and actively want to find work to get excited about. If you end up chatting to someone you hope to work with, either on email or in person, remember to always maintain a polite and steady communication style. Please don’t become pushy.

Remember that these people are likely to be busy and it’s not their job to provide you with feedback on every one of your demos before they have even committed to working with you. Put the work in at your end, for example by booking in a well-regarded producer or mastering engineer to develop your work. If you show someone that positive things are happening for you, with or without them, and allow them the time to go over what you’ve sent, you’ll have more chance of success.

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