10 essential tips from Manual Music label owner, Paul Hazendonk on how to properly submit your demo

Manual Music Label owner Paul Hazendonk drops in with some essential tips on how to submit your demo properly.

So you’ve been working hard in the studio, haven’t seen daylight for ages and your vitamin C levels are running dangerously low, but the result is worth it: you have made your best work up to date and are ready to find a proper home for it! Now let’s talk about what NOT to do, shall we?

As a label owner / A&R for quite some time now, I must have seen nearly every possible way of demo submitting throughout the years. And I tell ya, the way people are often submitting their demo is on a dramatic level, and it has quite decreased in the last couple of years. It probably has to do with the fact that more and more people seem to be producing music nowadays, caused by the relative ease of setting up your own studio. Get yourself a DAW, a midi synth and some sample packs and VST’s and there you have it: your basic studio setup whilst in the past you needed (often expensive) gear and at least some knowledge of technology before you could start.

Don’t get me wrong tho’, I think it’s a good thing that more and more people get involved, the more the merrier I’d say. Leave it up to the industry professionals to do the cherry picking so the best quality tracks find their way to the consumer. Anyways, that’s another discussion. But, now that “everyone” is a producer, it also means a decrease in professional behavior, often not even caused intentionally, but simply because people don’t know what to do now that they have their demo ready. Hopefully this little blog will help you..

01. Do your research
Make a selection of labels on which you think your sound will fit. It doesn’t make sense to send your deep house demo to a techno label and vice versa. This seems obvious, but trust me, it happens all the time. Once you’ve decided which label(s) you want to submit your demo to, search on their website / Facebook / Soundcloud etc. for their demo policy. Each label has a preferred way of to to receive a demo, stick to it to maximize your chance of getting heard. If they don’t have a demo policy mentioned anywhere, see a little bit further on in this blog.

02. Keep it personal
If you know the name of the person behind the label- or the name of the person responsible for A&R, start your e-mail with ‘hi (name)’, it already gives it that personal touch. Send your demo to only a small selection of labels, or maybe one at a time and give each label some time to respond before approaching the next label. Don’t send one e-mail with 50/100/200 labels in BCC (or even worse, CC!). If you have released on notable labels before, feel free to mention it, but don’t overdo the namedropping. A label honestly doesn’t care that you’ve “shared a stage with namedrop, namedrop, namedrop” because it doesn’t say anything about your production skills. Keep it personal, short and relevant.

03. Keep it exclusive
Most serious labels would like to get something exclusive. If you send them a public Soundcloud link which has already been listened to hundreds- or even thousands of times, it doesn’t really trigger the label to do something with it, because “everybody” has heard it already. Speaking for myself, if I get a demo like that I instantly press delete and I’m not even going to bother listening to it.

04. Mail in English or the native language of the label owner / A&R
Yes, I know not everyone in the world speaks proper English, but a simple “hi, my name is blabla and I would like to send you my demo” isn’t that hard. I often see demo’s written in French, Spanish, German etc. whilst I’m located in The Netherlands. So again, do your research! I’m not sending my demo in Dutch to a foreign label too, obviously. Makes sense, right?

05. Easy access
Often described in the labels’ demo policy, but even if they don’t have a demo policy online, don’t just go around a do something. Speaking from personal experience, in any good week I’m receiving 30 to 40 demo submissions, and whilst Manual Music is quite known, I’m for sure not running the biggest label around, so imagine the amount the ‘a-list’ labels are receiving. Easy access is everything, so any demo link that a label can click on and it instantly starts playing is always good. Get yourself a Soundcloud- or Dropbox account, or put the mp3 on your FTP. If a label has to download the track first before they can listen to a track, you just upped the barrier to get listened to, and you don’t want to do that.

06. Only send full tracks
Personally, I absolutely hate it when someone sends a preview of a track as a demo. Yeah wow thanks, that middle 2 minutes is really good! Now can you also produce a full track? Sending a preview of your demo to a label is almost like saying you don’t trust them with your music. Well, if you don’t trust them, then why are you contacting them in the first place? I can see why people might have this trust issue, with ‘everyone’ starting a label nowadays, but if you’re contacting an established label, sending a preview is a serious ‘no go’.

07. Don’t include remixes / artwork
It often happens that people are sending a full EP, including remixes and artwork as a demo. Whilst some labels might find this very handy, most established / serious label wouldn’t like it. It happens quite often that the original is cool, but the remixes suck, or maybe 2 out of 4 remixes suck. So what are you going to tell your remixers? Thanks for the time you’ve put into this, but the label is only signing the original? Arranging remixers is something you should do together with the label, not on your own. About the artwork: often a label has got it’s own graphic designer and look. Doesn’t really make sense to make artwork for your demo. You might think it helps for presentation values, but in the digital era that ship has long sailed and no one is sending demo CD’s anymore.

08. Only the best tracks please
As mentioned earlier, labels often get swamped with demo submissions. You might have a lot of music laying around, but it really doesn’t make sense to send out a truckload of links. Choose the 3/4 tracks of which you are most proud of. You can always mention that you’ve got more stuff laying around. If a label likes what they hear on first listen, they can always ask for more.

09. Never argue
Got a negative response from the label? Too bad, there’s no need to argue about it, because you can’t win anything by doing that. Move on..

10. No response? Don’t be mad!
Yes, it would be nice if you got a response from a label, even if the answer would be negative. But many labels are simply swamped by demo submissions, especially the big ones. Getting signed to them all starts by making good music, but at the end you need a bit of luck. Often it’s a timing issue. Sometimes the release schedule of the label is simply packed and they are not after any new music, and when not after any new music to sign, demo listening gets set to a lower priority obviously. If you believe in yourself, persevere and if you truly got the talent, your big break will follow sooner or later.

Good luck!