Are Your Sales Numbers More Important To A Major Label Than Your Music?

In a word, yes. As a consultant to major labels and their sub labels, I
will let you in on the hidden secrets of how major labels evaluate the
artists they are considering signing to their rosters.

First, let's dispel the myths about A&R people in general. Even though a
major label may have anywhere between 10-30 A&R reps running around the
country checking out independent artists, there is a limited number of
people who can actually sign an artist to their company. In most labels,
it's only 2 or 3. These are the people who are responsible for signing
the new artists who will (hopefully) make the company profitable. It is
their job and their neck on the line to make sure the artists they
sign, have the greatest potential of success. With that thought in mind,
here is how they typically pick a new artist.

When a junior A&R staff person is interested in you, they will conduct
what is called a market by market analysis. This involves:

  • Getting a copy of your Soundscan report to verify how many CDs you
    have sold and where. (It should go without saying that you need to make
    sure that your bar code on your CD is registered with Soundscan. If you
    got a free bar code from someone, most likely it is not registered. If
    it is, it is not registered to you unless you have filled out the paperwork!)
  • Attached to your Soundscan report will be a copy of your Venue
    Verification Program Report. That's the program that tracks all of your
    CD sales you have at your live shows. (When you are checking on your bar
    code with Soundscan, you better make sure that you are signed up for
    this as well).
  • After reviewing your Soundscan reports, market researchers or even the
    junior A&R person themselves, will call the various record stores in
    your home market, where your CDs should be and selling out of. They will
    try to verify with them how your CD is selling.
  • Then they will call the commercial radio station's Music Director,
    daily newspaper and alternative newsweeklies music writers in your home
    market, to see what they know about you and your CD. If they have played
    your CD, or if they have written articles or reviews about your CD and
    what the response has been.

Then if a major label or A&R person is truly interested, they will ask
you for 3 things.

  • Several copies of your CD and promotional materials. (This is a good
    time to remind you that you should NEVER SEND A PRESS KIT to an A&R
    person. Always send your Artist Profile. It is always good to have a
    downloadable version of your Artist Profile on your site in case someone
    loses their copy!)
  • Copies of your sales reports from and other online retailers. (As you
    know, they are 97% of all online sales for independent artists). It is
    usually a good idea to include a copy of your State Tax Report from the
    State Board Of Tax & Equalization to help verify sales.
  • A copy of what is called your Marketing Book. If you are not
    familiar with this or (God forbid) you haven't started one, it is a
    journal that includes a copy of your marketing plan, with the written
    comments on a weekly or monthly basis, as to what worked and what didn't
    in each aspect of your marketing campaign.

Let's take half a step backward to answer your questions about these 3

  • They need copies of your CD to obviously review the music and see how
    commercially viable it will be to their contacts in your home market,
    state, regionally and eventually nationally. Your promotional material
    will show them how much you really know about what you are doing.
  • They ask for copies of your Internet sales reports to verify the
    virtual online sales that are not typically reported to Soundscan.
    However, some companies now report to Soundscan to make your
    life easier. A copy of your tax report can account for hundreds, or even
    thousands, of hidden sales.
  • Providing a copy of your Marketing Book is extremely important to show
    the company, how and where you succeeded and to keep them from repeating
    the efforts in areas, where the promotion didn't work. Especially so
    they don't repeat them later on, when you are signed and hold it against
    you when it doesn't work for them!

Once all the market research is done and your sales history has been
verified and your potential success has been measured, the record
company will decide what kind of offer they will make to you.

So is this the magic formula to getting a record deal?

No. There really isn't a magic formula. But I will tell you from my 20
years of being a consultant to these companies, an artist with a sales
history of at least 10,000 CDs sold in their home market is considered
far more interesting and valuable than an artist without a CD, or with no
sales history.

Does this mean you canít get a record deal without releasing your own CD
and selling 10,000 copies?

No, but the odds are severally stacked against you. Let's say several
million to one, unless, the person who brings your music to the company
has a successful past history with them or in the industry. There is
still the possibility that they may think, you are the greatest artist
of all time, but that's pretty rare. Considering that successful A&R
people pass on groups that go on to sell over a million copies every
year, the odds aren't good they will just hear it in the music.

Artists with a sales history of at least 10,000 copies will get a much
better deal than someone without a sales history. Artist with a sales
history also have something very important. Keeping in mind that the
average major label artist won't even sell 1,000 copies nationwide, an
artist with a sales history has a position of strength to negotiate
They will most likely be listed as a Priority artist when
signed to the company.

Obviously, once you are signed to a major label, it's all about how
many copies you sold. You can make a great record but if it doesn't
sell, the record company and the shareholders who invest in the
company, don't care how great the songs are or how it sounds. It didn't
sell enough copies.

Here is an interesting thought to leave you with. If you can sell 10,000
copies of your CD in your home market and then duplicate that in the
surrounding markets, do you even need a record deal? You will be making
a lot more money than if you are signed.

Food for thought.

Author Tim Sweeney is head of Tim Sweeney & Associates, who are entering their 18th year of being, "the only true artist development company in the world."

Tim is one of the music industry's most sought after experts and consultants, and has written several influential books including "Tim Sweeney's Guide To Releasing Independent Records".

Tim Sweeney