Twelve tips for a more successful mailshot
Time and time again, we receive boxes upon boxes of demos at Revolver Towers. A few of them are good, some not so much – but a lot of them are completely irrelevant, which makes us sad.
‘Why is this?’ you say. ‘How come you don’t listen to all the demos you receive?’ Well, for a couple of reasons… First: indie labels usually don’t have many staff members. Second: when we do get time to listen to some demos, it’s usually not much (twenty minutes here, ten minutes there)… Most demo appraisal happens in small bursts, just so we can work through the demo mountain a little bit!
We’re continually surprised at how we receive stuff which is clearly inappropriate for the angle of our labels… We sometimes receive Country & Western! In itself, C&W isn’t a bad thing, but (to be brutally honest) Revolver Records is probably not going to take much of an interest in this genre. This raises a few interesting points for artists on the prowl for label interest, and hopefully the following tips will help you save money and increase your effectiveness if you’re sending out demos.
So, here are twelve things (ten + two bonuses! you lucky people) to consider when putting together your demos.
- OPTIMISM: call it your promo, not your demo! Make it sound as good as it possibly can (both when talking about it and the actual sound quality of the music) – “quick GarageBand recordings” or “rough demos with my laptop microphone” just won’t cut it if you’re serious on getting labels interested in listening to your songs more than once.
- RELEVANCE: don’t send your music to a label which is never going to be interested. Miracles can happen, but they most likely won’t for you. Sending Hip-Hop to a Rock label, or Grindcore to a House label, will get you nowhere fast.
- DON’T DUPLICATE: don’t send people the same thing twice! Revolver Towers has (for over 30 years) also been where Heavy Metal Records and Black Records call home. We sometimes get two, three or even four copies of a demo from bands who have clearly just scraped all of our labels’ details from a record label listings web site, printed labels off and stuck them onto envelopes.If two labels have the same address, it’s going to most likely be one desk (and if you’re unlucky, one bin too). Plus it’s a waste of your time and money!
- THINK LIKE A LAZY LISTENER: if you’re sending out music via email, upload clips - don’t attach to emails. Make it as easy as possible for the recipient to listen without having to jump through hoops, as you’ll probably only get 30-45 seconds to impress whoever’s listening.Don’t ever attach MP3s to an email (or several emails), it just clogs up inboxes and music often doesn’t get listened to.
- DON’T NAG: more is not better! If you’ve sent your music over and the recipient has acknowledged receipt, a polite email after a couple of weeks is fine to ask if they’ve had a chance to listen to your tracks. If they like it, they will reply. Don’t constantly email asking for feedback – and similarly, once you’ve submitted your material don’t ring the label every other day! Getting your music heard may be your top priority, but for most record labels keeping the lights on and their current artists happy are far more pressing concerns.Find the happy medium – only call people if they explicitly say you can, and they give you their contact details. The author speaks from experience; a band member ringing your personal mobile number (which, mysteriously, was never even given to him) on weekends to ask for feedback is severely unappreciated.
- START SMALL, THINK BIG: split your promotion into rounds. Focus on the labels who you think you’ll have the most luck with, and devote more time and resources to luring them into your product. If you have no joy from the first round of PR, gradually widen your parameters and include more labels in your campaign.
- MUSIC SANDWICH: mmm, delicious music. The best way to grab someone’s attention is to make it appealing to them (first visually, then musically). You could have the best demo EP in the world, but if it looks boring there will be no desire on the part of the guy at the music label to listen to it. Think of your music like the ingredients of a tasty sarnie: your onesheet/bio is the bread, the press shots/posters/stickers are the ham and chicken filling, and your music is the butter which glues everything together. (Oh, and the eye-catching packaging is the paper wrapper!) The best demos have a well made presskit along with the EP in a jewel case and full colour artwork… It’s the musical equivalent of presenting someone with a readymade sandwich, versus handing them a carrier bag (with the unprepared ingredients to make that tasty sandwich in it).While doing this costs more than just burning a CDR, printing off a one-page bio from Word in Times New Roman and stuffing it into a plain jiffy bag, it can make the difference between someone passing it over or that same someone picking it up, opening it and taking a listen. Also, if you have to budget more carefully, you can only afford to send out fewer copies – so it also helps you separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of potential record labels. (See tip 6)
- TAKE THE INITIATIVE: don’t wait for a label to come along and do everything for you. Book yourself gigs, get touring, build up your repertoire. If you have some material which you think will be popular, maybe even self-finance an EP, record at local studios and sell it through an independent retailer / at gigs / through your own web site. This is infinitely easier to do today than it was even five years ago. Record labels *love* bands that have a proven track record and have shown that they can go and drum up some interest on their own, even before seeking label interest. Times have changed; where ten years ago some bands might be signed off the back of a demo EP, this happens less and less. A mark of maturity for a band would be to seek label support once they’ve taken these first steps themselves – the label can give them that boost which they need to take their music to the next level.
- PATIENCE vs. PRAGMATISM: don’t lose heart, but know when to cut your losses. Sometimes, your demo may be halfway up in a pile of demos which fills a cardboard box – your demo might sit unopened for several months before saying hello to the CD player. If you’ve heard nothing back after a year, it’s either sitting at the bottom of another pile of demos, or it’s been passed over. Maybe try again, or send in an email to see if the music was ever listened to. If your packaging wasn’t the usual brown jiffy bag (or had some crazy designs on it), DESCRIBE the packaging! It might inspire whoever reads your email to go looking for it.
- RETURN TO SENDER: just because a label doesn’t like your music doesn’t mean they still have to keep it. Some artists and bands send out demos with prepaid envelopes inside – although this costs money up front, it’s a great idea if you want to recycle some of your demos to send to other labels. If a label listens to your demo and doesn’t like it, it costs them nothing at all to return it, and once you’ve got it back you can send it out again. It beats having to put together another presskit and demo from your stockpile – and what’s not to like about that?
- PRUNE: keep your mailshots organised. if you receive replies back from labels (or even your demo, if you included a prepaid envelope), don’t send it to them again when you do your next mailout. Be organised and keep a record of who you’ve sent copies to and you will save time and money in the long run (plus, it’s not hard to do with a simple mail merge in Word – or even just a list of contacts with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ next to them).
- BEST FOOT FORWARD: get everything synchronised. If you have a web site, a MySpace page, a Facebook Page… Link to every page on each one. If you don’t have a web site, get one! And pick a good domain name. Set up email addresses for the band members on your domain name (it looks that little bit more professional emailing from ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ as opposed to ‘email@example.com’). Spellcheck all your material! If you have an EPK, put it on your web site and link to it on your other social networking pages / web pages. Photos from fans taken at gigs, official press shots, audio clips, bios… All of those should be on your web site from day one. Maybe take it a little further, get some friends together and make a weird and wonderful music video for one of your tracks! It’s just another thing that can help set you apart from all the other bands out there, and if it’s entertaining you might just grab the attention of someone who’s interesting in taking your music further. (It’s often coincidence and random luck which yields most success, so you never know…)
Hopefully some of these tips will help you on your quest to rockband superstardom. Do you agree or disagree with any of the suggestions made above? Have you already tried any of them? Let us know how you got on!