10 best practices for submitting a demo, through the perspective of two label owners

Drafting a demo submission email for the label of your dreams can be a daunting process.

Black Octopus Sound and Westwood Recordings recently released “Westwood Sounds,” a collection of sample packs that represent the unique collaboration between a sample label and record label. Their owners Steve Roland and Nick Middleton came together to share ten practices that they would recommend for anyone who’s thinking of reaching out to a label with their work.

1. Keep your initial message short, but also thorough

There’s a wise proverb, “Time is the most valuable currency because when we spend it, we can never get a refund.” Label managers are busy people with multiple pots cooking on the stove at all times; it requires a high degree of mental focus to manage multiple projects with several moving pieces such as artists, graphic designers, videographers, mastering engineers, A&R teams, and customer support. When you send a demo to a record label like Westwood Recordings or a sample pack to a label like Black Octopus Sound, you’re essentially making a request for them to take their eyes off of their other projects and focus on you.

To help labels maximize their time, keep your message brief, but also say enough so you’re crystal-clear with your intentions, what you’re offering, and your desired result. The sweet spot is to be clear, thorough, and detailed, while having your email take 30 seconds to one minute to read.

2. Have perfect spelling and grammar

A mistake-free email is a big part of the pathway to being treated more seriously as a professional. As a general rule, we suggest you triple-check for spelling and grammar. It takes extra time, but when submitting a demo you often only have one chance to make an impression.

Does the label owner speak a different language than you? Composing impeccable emails can be difficult when two people who speak different languages are using tools like Google Translate. Translation software is seldom perfect, so if you’re sending an email using this technology, mention that you speak a different language in a short sentence. For example, we’ve received demos where the sender clearly states “I don’t speak English and am using Google Translate, sorry for any communication mistakes.” This helps us view the email through a different lens.

3. Emphasize what you offer to the label, rather than making demands about what you want

You’re not just requesting someone’s time when you send a demo; you’re also requesting a professional relationship. A label owner will always evaluate if a relationship is a good fit for their brand. If you make a case for yourself by clearly stating the benefit you would bring to the label, it’ll improve the chances of your demo being accepted.

Speak to your strengths. If you have skills in marketing, graphic design, videography, social media, etc., then definitely mention it in your email. If you’ve executed a record release in the past with excellent marketing, include some of your marketing assets in your email for the label manager to see. If your strength is being professional, attentive, and easy to work with, definitely mention that as well (and then demonstrate this consistently in further interactions).

4. Make sure your file names are consistent and organized

Disorganized, unclear, or improperly-named files are a nightmare to deal with. Always make sure your artist name is on all of your audio files. If you take the time to sweat the details and make sure everything is properly organized, a label will be more open to working with you.

5. Research the label and follow their instructions

Investigate what method the label prefers for submissions, including follow-up emails. Working with a label’s preferred track submission procedure will immediately make you more enjoyable to work with. Additionally, if you don’t hear back right away, wait a week or two before sending a follow-up email. We absolutely understand the hopefulness, excitement, and even anxiety that comes from wanting your demo to be accepted — learning to manage these intense feelings is a necessary super power for music producers. Through the perspective of a label owner, receiving a follow-up email every 24, 48, or even 72 hours can often be a turn-off as it can come off as pushy, demanding, or unprofessional. To manage the many emotions that come up once the submit button has been pushed, Steve from Black Octopus recommends breathing practices, mediation, yoga, and mindfulness practices.

6. Personalize your message

A label will take your message more seriously if you take the care and attention to personalize it. It can be very off-putting when opening a demo submission and realizing it was bcc’d (or even worse, cc’d) to a list of dozens of other labels.

7. Build trust

Trust can be enhanced or harmed through how we show up to our relationships. How are you doing with your integrity? Do you return communications in a timely manner? Do you hold up your end of commitments and agreements? Do you speak clearly and truthfully? Do you show genuine care for the other person’s wellbeing? Trust is built by continuously demonstrating competency and integrity.

8. Submit a body of work, not just one song

Labels want to know if there’s consistency in the quality of your music. If you’re submitting a sample pack to a sample label, submit your entire pack with a fully mixed and mastered demo track.

9. Leverage the power of relationships

If you have a friend or colleague who’s already a part of the label, leverage that to get a warmer introduction to the label manager, rather than cold contacting them. It can only improve your chances if you get an introduction from someone that has worked with the label as an artist or has a pre-existing relationship.

10. Differentiate between authentic vs. egotistical emails

It’s quite common for artists to submit demos declaring their music is ‘fire’ or that their song has the potential to become a hit. This is often interpreted as a coercive attempt to get a label to ‘buy what you’re selling.’

Alternatively, try gravitating towards more connection-based communication like storytelling. For example, did a specific event, epiphany, or transformational breakthrough inspire the track? Does the song have a deep emotional meaning? Did you make field recordings on your phone while lost in a jungle in Peru and incorporate them into your track? Did you try something new and experimental that was risky? Your email will be more relatable if you focus on true-to-life aspects of your music rather than self-inflated hype.

Closing remarks

Did you do a facepalm while reading a point you hadn’t previously considered? We hope so! That would mean we’ve done our job and provided clarity. We sincerely hope this information helps you on your creative journey. To your overflowing success on your dream record label!

—Steve Roland (Black Octopus Sound) and Nick Middleton (Westwood Recordings)

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November 12, 2019

Black Octopus Black Octopus is a Canada-based label dedicated to providing innovative and inspiring sounds.