Some Advice About Unsolicited Demos

Most label owners are overwhelmed with demos. Speaking as someone who has, at times, attempted to actually get to every demo arriving in my inbox, the vast majority are not worth looking into, and I don’t blame any label owner who ignores unsolicited demos—sorting through what might be worthwhile to release is actually a full-time job known as A&R in the industry! I happen to handle A&R for my fledgling netlabel group so I have a lot of first-hand experience reviewing unsolicited demos. My rate of release based on such demos is non-zero but it can’t be much higher than 1%, and most of that would be established veterans calling on me, not new artists.

For those wishing to send unsolicited demos I have some advice:

  • Read what you find on the web. Most labels and distributors have a process you need to go through to be heard. 90%+ of demos don’t follow the process and end up in the trash.
  • Know the label or distributor you are sending a demo to. If the label specializes it won’t help to send a style they have no interest in releasing. Do some research and make an educated guess instead of spamming people randomly with a form letter press kit. Make it personal.
  • Include a direct link to the music in your very first message. Don’t waste time. If you happen to catch someone’s attention you want them to be able to act on it immediately. Make it easy, too. CAPTCHA codes on file-sharing sites are label owner kryptonite.
  • Your demo should tell a story. By that I mean you should include a concise bio and some information to “situate” your music (what the style is, what your artistic aims are, who inspires you, and so on).
  • Mastering helps, but it doesn’t have to be serious. A hint of compression is probably the only thing you might want to do to your music before sending it out. Don’t have it professionally mastered unless you are willing to absorb the expense when the label has it mastered their way.

Some of this might sound harsh. These guidelines extend from the supply and demand economics of the situation. There are many musicians wanting to be heard but only so many good labels and distributors. As such, the onus is usually on new artists to cater to the needs of the labels and distributors.