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Steps For Success

How does one best put together and present a musical package whereby a record company (in the traditional sense), is stimulated to react and show interest, and eventually sign an artist to a recording contract? Though this procedure is a difficult one, there are a number of basic do's and don'ts that will make the challenge easier.

  • I have always believed that the key to getting a record deal should be that the artist has a "star quality"--that special something that can stand the test of time and be the basis to a career. In recent years, the industry has lowered those standards considerably, caring more about the short term hits and not so much the long term career artist. I also believe that the public craves "stars" and when they are found, the public buys in very large numbers.

  • Be that as it may, artists, first and foremost, must believe in their music with great passion before they can expect an A&R executive to do so. Therefore, the most important first step is to create exciting, quality music and a classy presentation.

  • As basic as it may seem, the tape/CD that is put together for evaluation must sound good. It is amazing how many sessions are badly recorded, have bad tape hiss, etc. Considering the quality of equipment readily available for both home and studio recording, there should be no excuse for these mistakes. So don't present your music until the tape/CD has been double-checked for sound and proper contact information.

  • Some people believe that sending flashy or elaborate packages will get their tapes listened to before others. For example, sending along a baseball with a new version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" probably won't influence the decision making process.

  • Be professional. A tightly worded bio centering on your performance history, independent record sales, TV appearances and airplay, is valuable. Writing about growing up in Iowa and dreaming of becoming a star, is not.

  • A good photo is important, but not one taken in your living room or one that's too grainy to view. These types of presentations are all too common.

  • Most important is what's on the tape. I would suggest three (maximun of four) of your strongest, best-performed, best-recorded songs. If you've created a full-length CD, mark these three or four tracks clearly. It's crucial to capture the listener's attention very quickly. If this doesn't happen, it's on to the next tape.

  • In your short cover letter, point out the strengths you have. If there is a killer guitarist in the band, a unique structure change or a monster chorus after the second verse, tell the listener so he can key into it.

  • If you are presenting the music in person, make sure your time is well-managed. Don't expect long periods of small talk or hype. State the facts and take the "less is more" approach. Go with the meat! Once you make it to first base and there is some interest, then more information and music will be appropriate.

To put this all in perspective, picture yourself in the shoes or behind the desk of an A&R staffer who is generally very busy and constantly being hounded by too many people. Remember-everyone thinks he has the next hit! Ask yourself these questions:

How would I want to be approached?

One mistake I definitely don't recommend making is to press up a thousand CDs without having a marketing plan firmly in place which outlines how and to whom you will sell them.

What would capture my interest and attention?

There are many, many others who have the same objectives as you do, and only a great sounding tape coupled with a classy, professional presentation can get you noticed.

Don Grierson is a 25-year veteran of the music industry, having headed up the A&R departments of Epic, Capitol and EMI-America Records. Add to that his expertise in marketing, international music affairs and promotion, and you understand why he is every bit as cutting-edge today as he was when he began.