Rock Bands And Record Deals: What Bands Need To Do

The music industry is cutting down on record deals; what your band needs to do. Industry insider Bernard Baur ("Music Connection Magazine") gives his advice and opinions. Also, several Los Angeles bands give tips on how to get the attention of record labels.

Ultimate Guitar

Rock bands searching for major-label representation are finding it harder to land the seemingly invisible elixir that has become the record contract. Lately, record labels have been signing fewer bands to record deals than years passed. In 2001, nearly 100 unsigned bands in Southern California inked a record deal with a major label. Last year the number shrank to 30.

Bernard Baur, Music Connection Magazine's review editor and columnist says the recording industry is in trouble. The recording industry is losing billions and billions of dollars annually and they're putting the blame on all the downloading. Sure that puts a dent into their earnings but they're also not signing bands for the long run. They've been focusing on what is hot and not concentrating on musicians with long-term potential, says Baur.

The constant use of file-sharing networks like Kazaa and Morpheus has put the record industry in a tight and uncomfortable position. Because record sales are failing to generate revenues, labels have decided to award less recording contracts. Music piracy on the internet has also changed the dynamics of record contracts and the relationship between record executives and musicians. Before, revenue created by a bands tour and merchandise sales primarily lined the bands' pockets. Now, record labels have begun to negotiate a percentage of those revenues into a bands' contract. Needless to say, bands are not pleased with the sudden fleecing. The recent change in the way contracts are authored is again related to the financial spider-hole that record labels have yet to pull out of.

Not only are labels offering fewer contracts, recording and marketing budgets have been drastically reduced. Today bands are lucky to siphon $200,000 to record an album. That sounds like a lot of currency to record 13 songs, but at one point that number was at half a million. Marketing campaigns are strapped for cash as well, making it difficult to effectively promote a group.

Sometimes too much emphasis is placed on getting a record deal that it overshadows the real reason why musicians took singing or guitar lessons in the first place. You don't start a band to get a record deal. If those are your priorities than they're in the wrong place, says Baur. You play music because you love it and are passionate about it not because you want to get a record deal.

So what should bands do to get that precious recording contract

Baur's Top Five Things Bands Need to do to Get Recognized by the Recording Industry


01. Write great music: Your lyrics should make industry want to learn more about your band. 02. Know how to play to an audience: A&R representatives love a great live show. 03. Market and promote your band: Play in as many cities as you can. 04. Get noticed: Get reviewers to your shows, but don't disappoint. 05. Show you have accomplished things on your own: For example, a tour, music video or your band headlines at a prominent club.

Bands also need to create a positive buzz. Word of mouth is very powerful when it comes to dispersing messages. You need to fill the clubs and you have to get people talking about your band. This will eventually create a strong following, says Baur.

Before Godsmack and The Dave Matthews Band were successful, they created a loyal fan base by selling out clubs and spreading their music through their fans, says Baur.

Landing a record deal, however, does not mean your band is the next Metallica. Even if a band is fortunate enough to get picked up, statistics prove the band will likely fail to meet industry standards. Ninety-five percent of bands fail to generate a profit for the record label, says Baur. Only three to five percent actually turn a profit. With statistics like that it's easy to see why record labels hesitate to open their wallets.

Q & A With Baur That Every Aspiring Musician Must Read

: Kacsinta: First off, what should unsigned bands avoid doing?

Baur: The biggest mistake unsigned bands do is invite industry to their show (this is called a showcase) when they're not ready. This creates problems because if the band is young and their show is flawed for whatever reason, then they just ruined their reputation or credibility with some industry representatives. Also, sometimes your manager can blow your deal too.

What do you look for in a band?

I'm looking for the complete package that is going to blow me away. Great songs, a great show and a stage presence that bleeds confidence.

What do record labels look for in potential talent?

Before labels sign you to a contract they're going to want to know a few things. One, can you draw crowds and fill venues when you're on tour. Two, how much have you accomplished on your own. Most acts that get signed have a large fan base and have been able to accomplish a lot without the help of a major label.

Which bands in Los Angeles are generating the most buzz?

Powder and Carbon 9 are known for their great live shows. Lily Siren is a great punk-rock band. Owl has been compared to A Perfect Circle and Simon Dawes is generating interest because they just graduated high school.

What are a bands odds of getting a record deal?

The chances of getting singed to record deal are comparable to winning the lottery. And after you get that contract the odds of succeeding are just as bad.

After a band signs with a label, what can propel that band to stardom?

I always say you're one hit, one great MTV music video away from selling a million records and getting famous.

Guy Staniar's of H is Orange Top 5 Tips:

01. Establish realistic goals for your band and follow through. It's amazing how much satisfaction comes from achieving goals, no matter how small. Once you get that ball rolling, it's hard to stop.

02. Record a decent sounding three-song demo. Lead the demo with your strongest song. Sound quality is much less important than the quality of the song. At the end of the day, it's all about the songs (the first song is very important because if that doesn't get industry's attention nothing else will because they usually only listen to the lead track).

03. Know who you are as a band and know who your audience is. Playing random shows to people who don't care is a waste of everyone's time.

04. Network with as many people involved with music as you can and keep those relationships open. It doesn't matter how small their role may seem, you never know who they know. The guy who is cleaning the puke in the bathroom at the club you played might just be related to someone at the local radio station.

05. Have fun. If you aren't having fun, and believe me people will know, what the hell are you doing it for?

Written By: Pierre Kacsinta

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    good article. our singer's the son of the president of the asian branch of EMI so we dont need to do any fancy stuff to get signed
    wait, so you just basically ripped this guy baur's article, added your own headings, then bam! instant article. You seeemed to have started this article because you liked what ths baur guy had to say, bu tcome on, dude.
    Start your own ***in' label!!!! *** the rest of 'em, they just wanna take most of the money you make
    So u think its hard to get a record deal? Try living here in South Africa where every single music journalist wants nothing to do with their own country. Seether come from here and before they went over to America, the industry here wanted absoulutely nothing to do with them. Anyway. a good article. Keep it real.
    just start ur own record company if no one will sign you. its in the true DIY punk fashion.
    Thank you! this could really help. although we r a band right out of middle school, we are beginning to get some attention, and hopefully by the time we graduate we can have an even bigger following. i really think this list could help. thank you once again.