10 Not So Obvious Reasons Your Band Won’t Get Signed
Many of you reading this will get signed, and are well on your way. I still recommend you read on. But for others, it’s time for some tough love. All of this is meant to help you gain the knowledge and resources to accomplish your goals. Some of you are independent by choice, and could care less about getting signed. There is nothing wrong with that and I’ve seen plenty of independent artists doing just fine. This list is based on my most common observations made recently and during my time managing record labels. I back up each point with some actionable advice.
1. Not following online best practices
Bands need a website and an email list. Those are assets that show a label the artist has traffic, a fanbase, and a business. Your band needs to be on all 3 major social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and those pages need to be optimized. My best advice is to study what signed artists on reputable record labels are doing. To be fair, look at the newly signed artists, that have smaller budgets. Pick ones that have albums coming out 3 months from now. Study their setup process. There is no reason why your band can’t do EVERYTHING they are doing online. The only difference is you won’t be plugged into the label’s social network and fast tracked on introductions. But the internet is a level playing field. All the information and strategies you need are in plain view.
2. Poor visuals
Bad photography, graphic design, typography for example. There is no consistency between your music and your visuals. Some band photos look like your modeling band merch. I understand the temptation, but think about what message you send fans and the industry? Your identity becomes “we’re fans”. Press photos are a way to express your identity and reinforce your brand, not other bands. Limit that to one, and try not to make it one that your band sounds like.
Clean up your photos section on social media and get rid of any poorly taken goofy photos. I found artists with no press photo at all. Also, don’t put videos or photos up that show you playing to a dead room. Think about it. Nothing good can come of that. There is an overall look of an unsigned band, and one for a signed band too. It doesn’t take a big budget or many resources to achieve the look of the biggest names in music. Look at the bands on top, and make sure you stack up. One free tool I can recommend that makes it really easy to have good graphics is Canva.com.
3. You’re Hyper-focused on getting signed and skipping steps
Focus on building a fanbase, having a world class live show, and growing your audience with each show. Create great audio and visual content, build strong relationships, increase your music sales and streams. None of these things magically appear after you get signed. You have to bring this to the table. Many artists reach out to labels too early, before they are ready for a record deal. It’s just not realistic. There’s no chicken and egg here. The thought that getting a record deal comes first is wrong.
You might notice some artists getting signed that don’t have a fanbase yet. There are few examples of bands that fit that description. They may be signed, but it doesn’t mean they have accomplished anything beyond that. There are A&R out there that still believe good music is enough. They think a band can be “plugged into” the system, or radio will single handedly break it. I haven’t seen it work in a very long time. Show me a successful band, and I’ll show you their track record of smart decisions and determination to accomplish their goal.
4. No strong identity
Marketing is a battle of perceptions. Bands with the most interesting story behind the music end up on top. The bands to one side of the spectrum or the other get noticed. The ones in the middle are brushed over. When a label announces a new signing, give them an interesting story to tell. Think about this. You get a call from Alt Press, Kerrang, or Revolver. They ask you, “What makes you different from other rock bands? Do you like your answer? The question is tough, but you need to be ready for it. This is your chance to give journalists and fans a reason “why” your band is important. Dig into each band member’s story and maybe you’ll uncover something interesting there.
5. Not putting the best content front and center
It can be a great music video, some big news like hitting 100,000 streams, or a big press feature? You can keep a link to your focus track or best song in a pinned post at the top of your page, or call that out with imagery on the header. Maybe you have a list of great press quotes (called “pull quotes”) about your release that you can keep front and center. Furthermore, if you chart somewhere, make that visible.(i.e. Nielsen, Billboard, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, BandsInTown). Most music press have features like “New Bands”, “Up and Coming Bands”, “Unsigned Bands”, etc. Make it easy to discover your best content. When I’m looking to program my Spotify playlist, it needs to be clear which track you are focusing on, and I’d say in 70% of the cases it was tough to figure that out.
6. Work ethic is lacking
The most successful bands I’ve had the pleasure of working with were hustling way beyond the signing of their record deal. I’m talking about the really successful ones with Platinum and Gold awards. They’re in a class of their own when it comes to hard work. In every case I can look back and remember their intense work ethic and determination. They pushed us (their team) and motivated us day in and day out with their commitment.
A third of the bands I have come across lately haven’t posted on social media in a few weeks. Building a fanbase is your responsibility. If you don’t work on the band every day, most people in the industry won’t want to be on your team.The recommended post frequency for Facebook & Instagram is once or twice a day and for Tweets it is 15 times a day. Split up the duties in the band so that it doesn’t fall on one or two people. Buffer and HootSuite are nice options for social media scheduling tools and they offer free trials. Split up all the work in the band so that everybody can have something to work hard on. Use my Market Map to divvy up the duties.
7. Instability and turnover in band
If a label can tell certain members are problematic or they have maligned goals, it’s risky for business. Sometimes it’s easy to see that a band will split up or lose members. If there has been a lot of turnover in members this is another red flag. I’m not suggesting you keep problematic members. Sometimes a change can be the spark you need. But lots of turnover of members is a bad pattern. You bet if a label is going to invest, they want to ensure you’re all on the same page and in it for the long haul.
8. No comments / No Fans
Labels want to know what the fans think. After listening to the music and checking visuals, the next thing A&R does is read the comments. If there are none, it’s a bad sign. It can be frustrating when it seems like you’re doing everything right, but you don’t have the fan engagement to show for it. Very few comments on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve noticed so many unsigned bands that have fantastic music, but they are not connecting with their fans in a meaningful way. Try to find a purpose, a cause, or a mission to involve your fans in. Constantly ask yourselves “why” they should care (other than good music). When you find the answer to that, things will turn around. This goes hand in hand with a strong identity.
9. Junkies don’t make good business partners
What more is there to say about this. When making an investment in a band, risk is a huge factor. Would you go into business with an addict?
10. Engaging in tasteless behavior on social media
Getting into public spats, criticizing and talking down to people, or making culturally offensive remarks. No thanks, pass.
And The Obvious…
You lack one or two great songs that draw listeners in
For this I recommend Songwriting Sprints. Labels and fans are not expecting an album worth of material from you early on. This is an advantage. Release singles and EPs until you have a track catch fire.
Vocals aren’t good enough
It’s the toughest part. You really can’t start promotion of your band until you’ve found a singer that can compete. If you build your band on a bad foundation with poor vocals, it will be very difficult to get a second look.
Low social media follower counts
It’s rare that a label will take a chance on an artist that doesn’t already have a fan base. The most popular music sells, not the best music. My artistic side hates this fact, but my business side understands. Art and business are a dirty mix. It doesn’t have to be. I know plenty of musicians who choose to put the art first, and not look for a record deal. Getting signed is not for everybody.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tough love session. If you are trying to get signed, review these tips before reaching out to industry contacts. What did I miss? Keep it going in the comments below.