Reckless Yes shared a thread of advice for bands about working with labels, and releasing and promoting music on Twitter yesterday (17 May 2020).
Covering everything from what you should consider when thinking about working with a label, to how you should make submissions, through to the fine print of contracts, and the timelines for releases the thread was a comprehensive knowledge share.
Co-founded by Sarah Lay and Pete Darrington the pair have a couple of decades experience each in working in the music industry and shared their cumulative knowledge as well as experience of running an independent label in the thread.
Missed it? Head over to Twitter where you can add your comments or send in questions, or check out the full thread below.
Advice for bands from Reckless Yes
- 🔥MEGA THREAD INCOMING 🔥Here we go then – we said we’d share our thoughts on working with labels, releasing and promoting music. We’re gonna start with working with labels. This is our view based on the way we work – other labels or artists may disagree (let us know if you do!)
- First up: Reckless Yes is an ethical label, working collaboratively with our artists, to make great things for our members and for general release. Our priorities are being fair to our bands, and supporting them rather than dictating to them. More about us here
- If you’re an artist thinking you might want to work with a label spend some time thinking about why. Have you gone as far as you can on your own? What do you want from a label? Can you explain to them what <corporate speak> success looks like to you?
- But also: what is the point of modern labels? You can get your music out DIY so make sure a label is adding something you can’t do, don’t have capacity for, or are helping you scale. Don’t end up with someone who doesn’t add to what you’re doing but takes a percentage
- Spend some time looking at labels and finding out what they’re about, and what their roster is like. If you’re doing freestyle jazz and everything else on a roster is mainstream pop they might not be the right home for you. Don’t – and we cannot stress this enough – send a blanket email to as many labels as you can find. We don’t even read emails like that.
- Submission is one way of getting signed – but to be honest not many on our roster submitted demos to us. We knew about them already because we’d seen them play, had covered them online or played on our radio show, or other bands we like were recommending them.
- Back in the day @razorcuts was told by someone very smart that if you were submitting demos you probably weren’t ready for a deal. We believe this is more true than ever. You can and should do some stuff yourself, your label should be a team member not your saviour.
- We do have demo submission guidelines though. Other labels probably do too. We only listen to submissions from bands which have read this page (and we know who has and hasn’t) but the ones we love most of from artists we already have a ear on
- What we look for: the music has to be amazing (obviously) but we also want to know about your work ethic (coz we’re collaborative), and your values. You don’t need to have had a ton of press or radio play, or done big shows (we ❤️ @FirstTimers) but you do need to be doing something
- So, doing homework & an idea of what we’re about is important you do also need to stand out. Sending us a demo purely because people say you sound like Fightmilk / LIINES / Mark Morriss / Bugeye is a waste of time – we already signed them
- Does the music you send us need to be ready to go? No – we listen to everything from a rough mix to a finished track. Some labels may want more input, we tend to advise but not direct. Sometimes we help practically (@razorcuts for all your mastering needs, yeah)
- Found the label you want & they’re in to you too? Great. Make sure you have had difficult conversations about money, splits, rights and retention of them, & expectations on who’ll do what. Get an independent view (hello Musician’s Union)
- We know, it’s boring. And while there’s little money it doesn’t seem to matter. But if things go well it’ll matter more, & getting everything agreed and written down is massively worth your time. DO NOT SKIP THIS STUFF
- Be realistic in your timeline. We get it – you want your music out there asap but if you’ve spent time (& money) writing, rehearsing, and recording don’t miss out on opportunities by moving too fast. Especially if you want a physical release.
- As an idea for physical releases we look at a MINIMUM 20 week lead in. Ideally longer. This is for manufacturing, distribution, and promotion to all happen but also because you won’t be the only artist we’re releasing (and the label isn’t the only thing we do)
- Plus, hopefully gigs will be a thing again, and you’ll want to get those planned in when you KNOW you’ll have your records and CDs to sell. Nothing worse than tour dates with a low-stocked merch desk because your vinyl is delayed
- Before you invest in a certain format, or try to find a label to do it for you, do have a think about whether it’s right for where you are and who is listening to you. Not everything HAS to be on vinyl but if it is then do it well (we ❤️ @dmsvinyl)
- Digital: streaming is a bust in terms of income. #brokenrecord are saying this better than we can here so go and read their stuff.
- Streaming does connect to other parts of the industry machine – but go in with eyes open. Don’t pay for playlisting. Be wary of playlist plugging (make sure you see results before paying).
- You’re probably already on Bandcamp and hopefully benefitting from their fee waiver days. But think about running your own store, & getting on ethical platforms like @resonate (we <3 what they’re about)
- Lead in to a digital only release btw: we work to a MINIMUM of 10 weeks. Ridic right? Not when you want to get your promotion done, get your playlist submissions in, and work with a label who are caring for more than your release.
- The release date itself is a milestone and not the end of your efforts. Music can be discovered at any time…so plan for keeping things going, getting playlisted, and to keep sharing stuff online. Remember – not everyone enters the game equal.
- Don’t forget you need to sell the records that have been made too. It might not directly impact you to have boxes of stock sat around but you can bet it’s making things harder for your label. Put the effort in, do your best & expect the same of them & others in your team.
- Getting coverage: yes, this is important. But maybe not as much as it once was. And it hurts @sarahlay to say that, as a music journalist. Let’s talk a bit more about this…
- We’re definitely at a point where quality coverage is more valuable to you than quantity. If someone copies and pastes your press release that’s not a huge amount of help to you, unless the site as a MASSIVE reach. But even then…
- Like looking for a label you want to spend time working out which publications you are a fit for, seeing who writes for them or writes about bands like you, and – right now – be mindful that a lot of people who cover music may not be doing so. Be respectful.
- Good music journalism is really important but it’s sadly rare. Thoughtful, contextual critique helps you, helps music fans, and helps turn other parts of the industry machinery. Stand up for it where you find it, and respect the work which goes in to it
- Know that most publications will get more submissions than they can handle. You probably won’t get listened to & covered first try. Approaching a person is sometimes better than a generic submission.
- A good PR can help. But FFS make sure you get a good one. Check they have landed coverage, check they have a relevant and up-to-date contact list. Ideally find one working on commission not flat fee (rare as hell)
- And remember: you pay directly for PR, not music journalism. If a publication asks you to pay do it knowing you’re paying for PR / advertorial. We are less impressed with coverage from these publications so consider if its worth it.
- Radio – network radio – is different again. A good plugger can really, really help you here but you can do lots for yourself too. As with everything build your team in the right way to add to what you do, not duplicate it. Treasure the broadcasters who dedicate themselves to stuff outside the mainstream
- Doing your own promo online is important. But do it well, don’t just blast stuff out. Be on the right platform for your listeners and build community.
- If you are good at building community then think about how to grow it – Patreon, Bandcamp subscription (or, hey, a label with a membership 👀). @solobasssteve says good stuff about this.
- Coming back briefly to selling your music – we focus on direct sales, but you should also consider record shops. We have a distro deal for this but again, weigh up the benefit & the cost. Unless you’ve got stock at scale distro might not be worth it – but contact your local stores direct
- Remember than the path to success is rarely linear. A conversation had 7 months ago may suddenly bear fruit but you have no clue how the two things are linked. Trust those working for you that they’re making these connections.
- Most ‘overnight’ successes, most ‘breakthrough’ acts have been chipping away for years beforehand. They’ve been getting good at what they do, making connections, & getting noticed. But your wagon will roll many miles before others jump on board.
- We’ve probably gone on long enough for now. So, final thought: keep hold of your rights, find the right people to grow a team around you as an artist, don’t pay for anything you can do to the same extent yourself, & remember collaboration is always better than competition ❤️