How to Send a Music Demo to Record Labels

Pop Musician Listening to Music on Her Headphones in a Recording Studio as a Producer Watches a Video on a Plasma Screen
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So you've recorded your demo - now what? Now you need to get your demo in the hands of the people who can help you take it to the next level. But with so many people trying to get their demos heard, how can you make sure your demo won't get lost in the shuffle? Follow these simple steps to move your demo to the top of the pile.

Do Your Research

Before you start sending out your demo, you need to compile a list of labels who might be interested in hearing it. Sending your hip-hop demo to an indie rock label is a waste of time and money. What bands do you like? What labels are they on? What labels deal with the kind of music you play? Spend some time online researching artists you consider to be similar to yourself and the labels that work with them. 

Learn Demo Policies

One you have your short list of labels, you need to learn each label's policy on demos. Some labels, especially larger labels, will not accept unsolicited demos for legal reasons - they worry about people sending them demos, and then later suing them, claiming their songs have been stolen. Most labels have demo policies clearly displayed on their sites. Find out:

  • Are unsolicited demos accepted?
  • Acceptable demo formats (CD, mp3 clips, thumb drives, etc.)
  • Demo mailing address
  • Is there a specific demo (A&R) rep to whom you should address your package?
  • Follow up rules - OK to call? OK to email?

Keep it Short and Sweet

Remember, even small labels are inundated with demos, and many labels do listen to everything they get. Making their job easier will only help your case. Your demo package should include:

  • A short demo. Go for two to three of your best songs. Anything longer won't get listened to.
  • Your demo should be clearly labeled with your name and email address (NOT your number - you're more likely to get a response via email).
  • SHORT band bio. Keep it on the subject and to the point. No need to go for "My parents have known since birth I would be a musician..."
  • Press clippings, if available

Follow Up

Once you have sent your demo out to labels, you need to follow up with the labels to make sure they have received them and to solicit their opinions. If the label has a demo follow up policy on their website, make sure you stick to that. Otherwise, an email a month after you have sent the demo is a good place to start.

It may take months for a label to actually get around to playing your demo, but a friendly, occasional email will help your demo stand out from the pack. Unless you have been told differently by the label, Don't call. It puts people on the spot and won't win you any friends. Stick to email. Above all,  don't guilt-trip the A&R staff because they haven't yet listened. 

Steel Yourself

Sending out demos can be a little frustrating. Often, despite your best attempts at a follow-up, you just won't even hear back from some people. You are also likely to hear "no" a lot. Don't despair. It only takes one "yes." If you hear "no" from someone, ask for feedback, advice, and suggestions of other labels who may like your music.

Again, you won't get this advice from everyone, but asking never hurts, and you may end up with the piece of advice that turns everything around for you. Treat every "no" as a chance to learn something that could turn that "no" into a "yes" in the future.

Keep in Touch

When you do hear "no" from a label, that doesn't mean you have to scratch them off your list. Include labels you like on your emailing list, which should include an "opt-out" option, to let them know what is happening with your band. If you record a new round of songs, it is perfectly fine to send a new demo to a label that has rejected you in the past. If you're playing a show in the town in which a particular label is based, invite them to the show. Getting people to know your name is half the battle.

Mind Your Manners

How many times have you sent an email out or made a phone call about your band only to be ignored? It happens to everyone - and it happens a lot. That's why it is so great when people actually take the time to share some advice with you or talk to you about your demo. When it happens - say thank you.

Not only is it the decent thing to do (you'd be surprised how many people don't bother with the whole gratitude thing), it puts a little goodwill in the bank for you. Who do you think is more inclined to help you out in the future - someone who took some time out to share some advice with you and who was rewarded with a thank you, or someone who tried to help you out, only to receive no reply from you? Exactly.

Turn That Frown Upside Down

As I said earlier, the word "no" is one you're bound to hear a lot of when you send out demos. You can't take it personally, and you can't let it discourage you. When a label turns you down, most of the time it comes down more to your kind of music not being a good fit for the label or to the label not having any room in their schedule for new releases.

When you get turned down, consider your demo, decide if there was anything you could have done differently that might have made a difference, and then learn from it and move on to the next label. End of story.

Sending out demos can be a little bit stressful, but you can increase your chances of getting your demo to the right people by following these demo sending tips. Above all else, remember to follow the demo rules of the label and keep your demo short - you'll win instant friends at the label when you make their job easier in this way.

More Tips for Getting Your Demo Heard

It used to be the case that record labels didn't expect to hear professional recording quality on demos. The idea was that a great song shines through in the simplest presentation. With the proliferation of sophisticated home studios using the same digital audio workstations the big guys use, that's all changed. Present the best work you can; everything about your presentation counts.

Have a professional presentation. Take the time to print up a band bio that is clearly written and free of spelling errors. Jotting a few things about your band on the back of a napkin and tossing it into a package won't cut it. If you have press clippings, make a copy of each one a separate piece of paper and bind the pages together.

Make a database of contacts. Keep a list of every label to whom you send your demo, and of every person you talk to about your demo, whether the conversation is positive or negative. You never know who will be able to help you sometime down the line.

Pick songs with strong beginnings. When you demo goes into the CD player, if the song doesn't grab the listener out of the gate, then the listener is likely to press "next." Don't go for the slow burners on your demo. Pick the songs that grab people on the first listen, from the first note.