How to Get a Record Deal These Days

Over spring break I went to Nashville with my mom, who used to work as a back up singer for Barbara Mandrell in the 80’s. The little boy my mom would babysit before she began working with Barbara in Nashville is now a Writer-Publisher relations director at Broadcast Music, Inc, better known as BMI. Over spring break I had the pleasure of meeting him and his father, Tom Collins, who produced Barbara’s albums for years. Tom’s favorite saying about the country music industry, “Nothing stays the same but change” is evident in music’s sound, top artists style, lyrics and in many other ways. I wanted to know how becoming an artist had changed.

Did aspiring country music stars still go door to door on music row with a guitar in hand hoping to land a record deal? Or did scouts from music companies do most of the work, finding artists performing live at small open mic venues? So I asked the Collins men, “What does it take to get a record deal these days?” Bradley was quick to answer with a reply that surprised me. Many artists BMI signs today come in with an already produced album of quality original songs. By this point the artist has released and promoted these songs, and preferably already gained a following. Bradley said the company was holding back on signing new artists and keeping them for two or more years waiting for their big break. The days of empty handed but talented artists are virtually over. Singers have to walk in with material to show, a fan base to prove the music’s potential and a lot of leg work already done. Artists like Sam Hunt used this approach and have seen amazing success.

At this point I was wondering how I would ever go about this on my own. Do I have the resources to record a demo? How would I promote my music on my own? Do I have the talent to write original songs? I decided to ask about how to find songs to sing on a demo. He asked who my favorite writer is and I told him Kacey Muskgraves. He advised me to look up Shane McAnally, who writes a lot of Kacey’s songs with her and look through his catalog, or list of all the songs he has written. Then read through these and find one that I like that hasn’t been released as a single or hasn’t been played often over the radio. This is a great way to find a song to put down on a demo to show record labels, but cannot be sold because of copyrights. 

Shane and Kacey with Kenny Chesney at the ACM awards

Another option is to write your own music. The first step to writing is to listen to the radio, find songs you like, look up the writers and look at other songs in their catalog. This way it is easy to find patterns in song structure, lyrics, and music that you find appealing. Start by copying the patterns you like and eventually, once you’re comfortable, come up with original material. He said playing an instrument is not vital, there are many successful lyricists who can only write the lyrics to their songs. I loved hearing that since I don’t play any instruments! After you have an original song, you have to find a recording studio with good studio musicians and an idea of how you want to produce your song. Once your song is recorded with the right instruments and arranged the way you want it, it’s up to you to get it out there. With the internet it is so much easier these days to promote new music, but without any fan base, it is a difficult task to get a song out to the world. Through social media and word of mouth it is possible for a hit song from an unknown artist to reach millions of ears.

The key is to be as prepared as possible when walking into a record label, even if that means doing a lot of work on your own. A few talented singers, like Lennon and Maisy have been found from a simple video on Youtube, that is rare and takes a lot of luck. I believe quality is the best policy when promoting music. Another tip is to make connections. The best way into the music scene is if you already know someone involved. Go to that person for guidance and advice. Some advice Tom gave me that I will never forget is “Don’t be intimidated by competition, there might be someone out there who is better than you. There will always be someone better. The successful person is the one who wants it the most.” This advice definitely applies to the new style of getting a record deal. The artist who works the hardest to promote their music will come out on top.


Filed under Reflection

7 Responses to How to Get a Record Deal These Days

  1. Courtney Gonzalez

    I found your post very interesting even though I am not looking to join the music industry. I remember watching a Taylor Swift Documentary many (many) years ago where she talked about how she went door to door asking every record company to sign her. While I’m sure it was a lot of work for Taylor Swift to hop on a plane every weekend and go up and down the street, making a demo on your own and promoting it is certainly much more difficult. Best of luck to you and your journey into the music industry! It sounds like hard work but in the end I’m sure it is very rewarding.

  2. Abby Wills

    I found this post super intriguing. I never really spend much time wondering how these new artists get discovered. You always see movies and TV shows about how people get discovered and it’s crazy to think that those easy days are over. This seems like such a scary process – having the technology and ability produce an album seems so difficult. I couldn’t even imagine having to have a fan base on top of that. I give major props to artists that have been able to do this and find success. I loved how you talked about the ways that artists find songs or write songs. It was incredibly interesting to read about.

  3. Madison Comstock

    I thought this post was super interesting! It was really great that you got an insider’s perspective on this question, because it made the article that much better and more legitimate. I don’t think I am a fan of how to be signed these days you have to have had prior experience, I’m more of a fan of the Bristol Music Sessions that we have talked about in class, where anyone can go record and potentially make it big. I kind of like the idea of the artist with no prior experience having all the same chances as the artist who has a solid album of original songs.

  4. Jordanne Mickle

    First, I want to say it was such a treat to have your mom speak to our class. She was really entertaining and I could tell she was passionate about her previous work. It seems like you are pretty passionate about getting into the music business as well. I’ll admit the whole making your own demo thing and starting your own fan base must be difficult, but Tom’s advice rings true. With the support from your mom, friends, and family I’m sure you can make it. I would suggest, if you have the time and patience, to learn an instrument. That might give you a slight edge over another person in the future; and if there’s something like that you can do to put yourself above others even if it isn’t learning an instrument necessarily, do it.

  5. James Pruitt

    Your post is especially interesting to me because a buddy of mine is trying his luck at becoming a country singer and I’ve seen him do a lot of the things you discussed, like recording a demo and attempting to write original songs. We went all around the Austin area handing out demos at places like the Broken Spoke (with little success), and I saw how frustrating it can be for an aspiring singer. Like someone already wrote above me, maybe all the hard work makes the end that much more rewarding. I hope your quest for a record deal works out!

  6. Shelby Conine

    Lynden this is so cool! First I just thought it was awesome that your mom actually lived and worked in Nashville and had so many insights into the music industry. But the fact that you traveled out there and are actually learning the ropes and trying to write new music is inspiring. I really didn’t know how much work young/upcoming artists have to do just to get signed by a label. That’s incredible. As someone who enjoys writing, I attempted a song once– and learned that I should probably leave it at that. Writing for music is so much harder than free verse or prose! I’m so impressed by you’re willingness to put yourself out there and I hope to hear some original music soon!!

  7. Keaton Schlueter

    I really enjoyed this post, and I am really jealous that you actually got to go to Nashville and have some first hand experience into how the music industry works. I knew there was a lot of work that had to go into getting signed with a record label, but I never realized just how much. I’ve always enjoyed playing music, I actually play drums and a little guitar, and in high school I decided to start a band with some friends. We played a few shows around Fort Worth, but we always had trouble just writing our own songs, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to get a record deal, so I really admire you for putting yourself out there and trying. Good luck!

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