Ashwin Baburao, our co-founder and one-half of Audio Units breaks down the process of sending your demos to the right labels in the best manner possible
Over the years of making some of these mistakes early on and facing so many rejections from labels, I’ve learnt a lot of things along the way that I would love to pass on and help you get past this.
Arguably, this is sometimes the harder part finding the right labels to send your music compared to churning actually producing it. Finished demos sometimes sit on your folders for weeks and months after you’ve rendered an umpteen number of ‘final’ versions. Now, you got to get that elephant in the room to start singing some label names you could possibly send your music to. So, let’s talk about the entirety of this process from start to finish.
We’ll talk about a few mistakes producers make during this process and how to avoid them. But remember, the most important thing here before you
Finding the right label
What makes it the right label? To answer that with one word, that would be sound. As a beginner, it may be pretty hard for yourself to discern where your sound fits, let’s say for example you make house music, but there are so many different kinds and sub-genres, whilst labels try to stay as unique as possible by having their version of the sound. So, your research into finding the right labels will take a lot of time and patience, especially if you’re not a DJ. So, even if you’re just into making music, I highly recommend you check out and buy music regularly keeping you abreast with all the latest developments, and during this process, you’re bound to encounter so many labels and figure out their palette.
Look for labels that may have a small eco-system around what they do, some of them curate showcases and label parties which is a great added advantage for you to have a chance in the near future to play if you release on the label, study how their communication and design language is as well – you don’t want to work with a label that puts shitty stock images with comic sans font as their artworks that you’d even be embarassed to share on your socials. Stalk their social media to get more information that is musically relevant like who are the DJs playing and supporting their music and if it’s in line with what you’re looking for.
As you keep coming across the right labels, I’d recommend making a document or sheet with all their valuable information like Location, A&R Name, E-Mail, SoundCloud link, and other information along with a column on if you’ve sent them a demo or not, and the date when you sent it.
Engage with the labels
Once you’ve identified the right labels, start engaging with them on social media with genuine comments on the releases, buying their music, including their tracks in your charts, playlists, and mixes. Explore their past discography to get an idea of how they’ve evolved, head over to Discogs and dig through the comments sections for tidbits of information, think of the label as the next company you’re signing up for a job with, you’d obviously do your due research, yes? All of this might give you more insight into the label and if it’s actually right for you, rather than shotgunning through their last 5 tracks and deciding “Yes, here you go, hear my demos!”
How many tracks?
Definitely not one. That by far is the most noob move, it may come across like you’ve worked all along to just finish one track and you’re not giving the label a choice nor a palette of what your sound is. Ideally, send them nothing less than 4 tracks, make sure they’re the best ones out of the 10 you’ve produced. Someone wise on the internet recently said “It’s not the audience job to listen to artist demos and figure out what’s the best, it’s for the artist to filter their best music for release”. If you want to include a couple more go ahead, but make sure the first 4 are your best ones. Now, in order to discern if they’re really the best ones, you will need a feedback system, establish one or two friends that have good taste in music even if they aren’t necessarily producers (well if they are that’s an added advantage about them asking you to probably compress your kicks more!). Since we’re subjected to listening to our own music so much while making it, I personally think sometimes we don’t hear the good in our music easily, but we just start to hear every production decision we took as the track plays along.
Most importantly, make sure you haven’t uploaded these tracks publicly. That is a 100% chance for rejection even if the music is good.
Format & Mastering
One of the questions I get asked most often is about mastering the tracks. In my opinion, if you have someone that will do it for you for free or if you know you’re way around the basics to get them up to 0db with minimum use of limiting and compression that does not alter the dynamics of the track, go for it. Otherwise, just bring up your pre-master to 0db and make sure to mention in the file name or in the e-mail that it has been self-mastered or leveled up to 0db. Sending them at your pre-master levels of -6db or -8db might be a bit inconvenient to have a quick listen on a laptop or mobile device. Contrary to most of you thinking that the label heads will go into the studio and listen to your demos, that stage will only come through if they liked your track on the first listen. Also know that 90% of the time labels receive demos that don’t fit their sound even 10% because some didn’t follow the first step properly.
Format wise, you can upload an AIFF/WAV, but if you’re the paranoid kind because there have been some shitty labels that have a habit of stealing demos and releasing them under other names, you can do a 320K MP3 and add a note in the email saying you’d be happy to provide WAV/AIFF on request. But don’t try to be too clever and send like FLAC or something!
But please remember to rename your files properly with the standard Artist Name – Track Name format, because labels may download a lot of files from various senders and not remember whose tracks they are if they don’t have the artist name in the file name.
One at a time
This needs a detailed mention for sure, one of the stupidest things producers do is to send a bulk email with 50 labels that too all in its ‘cc’ glory for the rest of them to know who all it’s being sent to.
Not only does this piss each member off for exposing the email addresses, but it’s a sure shot for sending your email right into the trash can, forget about your music getting heard. Like I mentioned earlier, make a list of labels that you’d want to approach, put them in an order of priority, start with the one you think is the best for you, wait a couple of weeks before you send it to the next one down the line. A polite follow-up email after a couple of weeks is perfect, but if you don’t get a reply to that, then stop following up. In some cases, I’ve had labels come back to me after nearly 2 months, so there’s no guideline on the timeline. Just be patient and wait, you can of course gauge if they’ve downloaded or heard your track with the SoundCloud stats
The demo communication
Different labels prefer different methods of communication, but social media DM is definitely not one of them. Start with their website or SoundCloud, you should ideally be able to find an e-mail address or a contact form that is dedicated to demos. Sometimes they may have a general contract or press contact email unless they’ve explicitly mentioned “no demos here” just comply with it. Instead, if you’re having trouble finding the contact, then reach out for that social media DM and send out a very polite message starting with asking if they’re accepting demos in the first place and if they are where should they be sent to.
Another way is to befriend one of the artists that have already signed music on the label and ask them if they’d mind introducing you to the A&R or sharing the contact. I’ve also had someone tell me a very unconventional method, I’ll literally quote what he said: “So, I know that the guy’s name was Chris that worked at A&R, so I took a chance and send my demos to firstname.lastname@example.org and turned out that my guess was correct”. This dude managed to sign his first release with THE biggest progressive house labels in the world. I’ve obviously changed the name here, so don’t be up to any cheap tricks trying to send your music by guessing what label this could possibly be!
Now that you’re ready to draft that demo email, you’d probably get stuck with the subject line for the next 30 minutes, just keep it simple, here are a few examples
Demos from ‘artist name’ for ‘label name’
Demos for an EP for ‘label name’
‘Artist Name’ Demos
Any good email must start with the basic salutations addressing the person you’re writing to, so look around to find the name of the label owner or the A&R. If you can’t find it, then try to build a rapport in the next few lines talking about some of your favorite artists or releases on the label and why you’re inclined to sending them these demos. Keep this brief and don’t get into any personal stories here. Now, we’re coming to the point, which is the link for your demos, I can safely say that SoundCloud playlist with download enabled on all tracks is the best way to deliver your demos. A cardinal mistake most people make here is either to forget to make that playlist private or not sharing the secret link (the link displayed in your browser will not work once you’ve made a SoundCloud upload private, so you will need to click on the Share button to generate the ‘secret link’). Also, go ahead and name that playlist ‘Demos for xxx Label’so they know that’s being sent to them exclusively. One more little tip: You can disable the stats so that it won’t show the number of plays to the listener, but you’ll still know when they’ve listened to it as you can see the stats. If you’re going to send it to another label as well at the same time (which I don’t recommend) then you can make another playlist with a new name for the other label and add the same tracks in there.
Now finally wrap up that e-mail on a positive note, but not one that says “I hope to see this release soon on your label” but one that’s more modest asking them to reach out if they like anything and if they’d like to perhaps here more tracks. But, also show some kind of persistence about you believing in the label. Basically, even if they reject your demos, you want to try and open a line of communication with them, it’ll only make the next round that much easier.
Another great tip here is using e-mail clients that support tracking, it’ll give you a notification when the sender has opened the e-mail, if not you can always see the stats on your SoundCloud and know when they’ve heard it, allow them anywhere between 2 days to 2 weeks to respond back before you decide to send it to another label. Because honestly, you don’t want to be in a situation where both labels want to sign the same tracks, and you’re going to have to burn your bridges with one of them in that case.
I know this is actually the most nerve-wracking part, just be patient, don’t be afraid of rejection, you’ll learn a lot more from that I assure you. Sit back and wait until you hear back, make more music in this time, in case they ask you for a second round of demos, it’s pretty impressive to have some ready at moment’s notice.
This by far is the most important part, you’re being very naive if you think the most popular label in your genre is going to sign your release as a brand new producer or as someone that has released on some not-so-well-known labels. You need to start somewhere, so be honest about where you stand with your music, but at the same time don’t be desperate to just sign your music with any label, trust me it’s harder to get your music off the internet than to get it on. In 2010, when we started to put out music, I was very naive to sign what’s called a publishing agreement with a really shitty label and they kept putting out possibly the worst music we had released again and again on different sub-labels of theirs and compilations until I figured as per the contract I had signed, I needed to give them a 6 month notice period to close the contract, which I eventually figured out in 2020 and did the needful.
So look for labels that sign fresh talent but at the same time have a very good standard for their music, good labels don’t release something new every week or twice a month, because on average a release costs a label anywhere between 50€ to 300€ considering costs like mastering, artwork, premieres, and other quirks. The ones that do weekly releases are most likely to DIY on the aforementioned things having a direct effect on the quality.
Needless to say, send in your best music, that is the of utmost priority if the music is irresistible, sometimes none of the other things will matter. Take your time to build a strong portfolio of music, take feedback from multiple people, and don’t stop innovating. Labels don’t want to hear something that sounds exactly like another release on their label, so don’t get into the copy-cat syndrome. So, go on and get your best tunes together and hit them up, we’ll talk about rejection and how to deal with it in another article I’m working on.
I’ve been a DJ since 2001, having played at prestigious clubs, festivals and other dance music events, I head the DJ department at Beatworx. I’m a technology enthusiast, and love sharing my knowledge and experiences here.