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Q&A: Getting Heard and Demo Submission Tips

Today I was asked for tips that would help newer artists in the endless struggles of self-promotion and demo submission. Always happy to be of service, I responded with a lengthy editorial based on my experience. Not wanting to waste my thoughts, I’ve posted them below hoping it inspires other artists in their journey.

Today’s question comes from United Sounds of Bass (Kerem Çiftçi) of Istanbul, Turkey. Check him out:


Q: I’m looking for a label and I don’t know how things work. I checked out your tracks and I can easily understand that you are a pro. Could you teach me how things work on Soundcloud? Cheers mate. Keep on creating…

A: Thanks for the compliment, but I’m really not a big deal. I’m glad that you think so though, lol. I’ve been writing music as a hobby for 17 years, so I have some tricks up my sleeve when it comes to self-promotion. Bottomline: It’s not easy and you make next to no money if you manage to land a deal. You probably don’t want to hear that, but first and foremost, you need to write music because you love it. The life of an indie artist will leave you starving on the side of the road. You’re basically competing with millions of other artists to be heard in a massive sea of people all screaming for a “record deal”.

I have four songs signed across two digital labels and I sell my music independently on sites like BandCamp. I make maybe $100 a year in total. Not very much, eh? One of my labels is awful and doesn’t promote my work (I hope you’re reading this). The other does what it can to promote all of their artists and plays our music on Digitally Imported (the top Electronic Internet radio station). So, I get some exposure by being on a label, but it’s not the “be all, end all” of music fame and fortune. If I haven’t crushed your hopes and dreams and you’re still reading, I’ll give you some tips.

SoundCloud is a pretty useful tool in acquiring exposure, but you need followers and patience. Post your music to different SoundCloud groups, comment on other people’s music, make friends. You need to give to get. You can’t spam your music all over the place and expect people to care. Everyone is spamming their tracks and you need to stand out from those faceless artists. Post your music on forums, Facebook, Twitter, all social media, etc. and ask for opinions. What you want is a mix of feedback (to help produce tighter tracks as your experience grows) and general exposure/a fan base. The more ears that hear your work the better.

The biggest tip that I give artists is to be creative and original. Yes, you can make a generic track that sounds like everyone else’s, but that’s what everyone does and it only works for a small percentage of people. You need to write something new and fresh to stand out. You can’t be afraid to try something new. The music I write is inspired by video games (I’m a huge gamer), so I’ve tailored my sound to kind of have that old school gaming feel. I don’t want my music to sound like Armin van Buuren wrote it. All those tops artists are on top because they created a sound that worked for them. Emulating their work only makes it harder to get noticed and it makes it harder for you creatively because you’re not listening to your musical instincts.

To paint a silly picture, think of your favourite actor portraying your favourite character from a movie. Now think of yourself dressing up as that character for Halloween and pretending to act like them. It sucks, right? You probably can’t do it as good as the original guy. Listeners can tell when you’re trying to sound like someone else and, sometimes, they will grill you for it. People like to compare and argue what’s better by nature, so don’t give them the chance to misjudge your talent.

As for having your music picked up by a label, it’s a lot easier than you think. You have to look at the smaller labels and not just the big ones. The big ones are flooded with demo submissions, so your chances are extremely low. I can’t imagine how many songs they receive every day. The smaller labels are more open to taking a risk because their reputation isn’t on the line. Smaller labels can release subpar tracks and not suffer for it.

Essentially, digital record labels will sign one of your songs, create some artwork for it and upload it across the Internet (Beatport, Amazon, iTunes, etc.). The label takes a cut (usually between 30-50 per cent of your sales) and promotes your work through their network. Basically, they’re not doing anything that costs them a lot of money. They’re not pressing records or CDs or lining up a live gig. They’re simply uploading your music and taking some money for the service – the risk is minimal. However, once your music is picked up by a label it’s still up to you to promote your work, but now you have a bit more credibility.

To submit your demos, search for labels that release your genre and find out how they would like to receive demos. Some want an email, others have a form that you have to fill out. When you’re writing an email, write a small introduction, include the genre and time of your track, and post a link to a PRIVATE downloadable version of your track on SoundCloud. Making it private and available for download is important and looks professional. These labels are so fussy that the second you don’t do something right they will delete your email and move on. You need to make a great first impression like you’re on a date or in a job interview. To help with that impression, having your own professional website and artwork helps a lot. It’s less work for the label in the long run and it shows that you’re taking yourself seriously.

My final two tips create an illusion of self-worth and some help with exposure, but neither will necessarily generate money.

  • Don’t give your music away for free indefinitely. It’s alright to let people download your songs for a day or two, but giving people free reign over your work creates the wrong image. In my opinion, you’re saying that you’re worth nothing. You’ve spent all that time in the “studio” and your masterpiece isn’t worth a penny. People generally don’t want to pay for art, so you need to give the impression that you’re art is worth their time.
  • Submit your work to online radio stations, lesser known DJs and music blogs. These guys need new content and if you’re willing to offer it for free, they might just take it if it’s in line with what they want to offer their audience. The more people that hear your music, the better your chances are of “making it”. But remember, “making it” doesn’t always bring in the dolla, dolla bills. Work hard, be creative and love what you’re doing. The rest should be gravy.


November 12th, 2014

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