Published Oct 25, 2010Bill Baker and his colleagues at Mint Records were in the midst of a tense meeting with an artist they were letting go from the label when in burst a guy dressed in an awful spandex combo carrying a boom box. "We're in the middle of a meeting!" Baker protested, to which this genius replied, "It'll only take a minute." He then proceeded to fire up the boom box and lip-synch his way through the record he hoped Mint would release. "He was doing these bad Mick Jagger moves... It was horrendous. We were just, like, 'GET OUT!'"
Years later, the story is comedy gold. It also serves as a Class A example of How Not To Get Signed.
Working in the music business (no, I don't just write about it!), rarely does a day go by without some artist sabotaging themselves with bonehead acts. Now, some folk are born annoying, for sure, but others maybe just don't know any better. So I canvassed some of my colleagues and have come up with a compendium of knob moves, which you should not emulate, and a few helpful hints, which you should.
I receive many emails stating, "I'm thinking about learning to play guitar, can I have a record deal?" and "it's totally cool that you signed Justin Bieber, can I have a record deal?" and my personal favourite, "I am an amazing, world-class, number one international best-selling solid gold artist, give me my damn record deal." To which I say (to myself, as I delete said emails) a) don't bother contacting a record label until you have some kind of fan base and at least some demos for me to listen to; b) as if! Do your research and know who you're reaching out to; and c) bully for you.
Sometimes I get 'tude for not answering. These also get deleted. Shauna de Cartier of Six Shooter Records points out, "Just because you send me an email doesn't mean I'm obliged to write you back. We have a policy not to respond because we find it just ends up wasting everyone's time."
If you do send an email, make it short and to the point, stating why you are reaching out, and what you hope to achieve by doing so. Send a Myspace link. Don't send your life story. On no account should you ever send a ten MB attachment, or any attachment whatsoever. If I read your email after it's clogged my inbox for an hour while downloading, it's only to get your home address so I can go there to kill you.
Don't send CDs and press kits to a label unless you've been asked to do so. "I feel terrible when I throw them away unopened," says de Cartier, adding that even worse are artists who cold-call or drop by. "It's just awkward. Don't harass everyone on the label hoping to get a meeting, and don't use false pretences to get in. Recently someone got one of our other artists to set up a meeting on the basis of 'picking my brains.' But when he got here, he had nothing to say. He just wanted us to sign him, I guess."
Agents, promoters, sound mixers, and venue owners should be treated as valuable partners (which is what they are) and not with attitude and condescension. Don't eff yourself by not confirming the show, being late for sound check, pissing off the sound guy, sneaking in 20 friends and trashing the dressing room. Don't demand a ridiculous rider, which if you get it, only eats into profits and pisses off the promoter. Don't show up with ten people in the band if the venue is expecting a three-piece. In fact, the biggest "do" with shows is to advance the show properly. That means getting in touch at least two weeks before the show and confirming the tech details, backline, schedule, parking, hospitality rider and all the details you need to know to make the show go smoothly.
Toronto promoter Amy Hersenhoren has been booking bands for 19 years. "Ninety percent of the time I have a good experience. Bands just need to have a healthy dose of realism. They have to understand, I have a budget to do the show and if they are demanding stuff that exceeds my budget, I won't be happy. They should think of it as a working relationship with give and take." Hersenhoren confirms that her favourite artists are the ones that show up on time, make an effort to work with and be pleasant to the staff, and get on and off stage at the advertised times. "Indie rock people seem to be more intelligent and responsible [than big agency bands], because they're used to doing things on their own. I don't deal well with bands who have unrealistic expectations."
If you're working with a publicist, understand that she is the bridge between you and the media. Good press is good, so you might want to cooperate, bearing in mind that if you screw up with the media, you will also have screwed your publicist. "It just really sucks when I have to apologize or cover for an artist," says Joanne Setterington of Indoor Recess, citing, for example, clients who show up still drunk for an early morning TV appearance. Not pretty. "I've had to let a few people go because they just didn't ever want to do it," she says. "I wonder why they hired me, if they hate doing media so much!"
To be successful at what you do, whether it's plumbing or rocking out, you have to be excellent. Being excellent is a rare and difficult thing to achieve, so if it seems like it's hard, that's because it is. Hone your craft, play as often and as everywhere as possible, be professional, nurture your relationships, and be prepared to build your fan base one fan at a time. Because there's no one in the business, no publicist, no promoter, and no record label, who can make you into someone people want to deal with. That's up to you.