Here’s a new litmus test I’ve been using in order to help bands determine if they have reasonable goals to develop themselves within their scene. It’s an easy one too. If you can’t name 5 record labels who would realistically pick your band or a band like yours up for your next record assuming everything else was sorted then you need to sit down and re-evaluate your choices. This is something I see all the time with bands I try to help out. They tell me “We want to get signed!” but have no clue, not just what that entails, which is a different story entirely, but who they should even approach for that sort of thing. While I do appreciate that it is my job as a consultant and manager to help them with that, the general apathy and inability of bands to dig in and try to figure out what might make sense for them to attack is kind of shocking. This is something I wish more bands would sit down and figure out because once you know the movers and shakers you are getting somewhere.
I would like to clarify that when I say you need to name 5 labels, I’m not saying you need to know someone at all 5. Hell, I’m not even saying you need to know someone at one. You just need to know they exist and be aware that some of the bands they are putting out are doing similar things to you or are doing things you want to be doing. And no – you can’t just read this far and then try and google some labels so that you can feel self righteous. That’s not how it works. If you’re not already aware of the scene you are trying to grow in then you might as well quit before you record anything. And again – it’s not about knowing the mainstream scene, every band is trying to get that, you need to show you have a deep knowledge of the harsh realities of the underground of whatever type of music you play. That’s where you are going to find genuine interest and be able to build towards something that doesn’t suck.
This isn’t even a question of ‘knowing how the industry works’ because I’m not trying to talk about the importance of labels or what labels can give you. I’m just talking about a basic approach to getting signed. Most bands seem to not realize that there are a ton of steps between where they currently are and, say, Interscope. Sure they might have the sound that matches the major labels, but they don’t take the time to look at what other steps they might need to take in order to get the interest that they want. Ultimately, as with any problem, it’s a lot easier when you break down whatever monster you are facing into its component parts. Well the component parts of getting signed to a big label usually start off with approaching smaller labels for a long time in order to build up a reputation and get the sort of support that we need in order to grow our bands both on a regional scene and a national one. This test is a key for people striving to develop themselves.
I think part of the beauty of the naming 5 labels litmus test is that it implies a degree of seriousness well beyond ‘I know so many bands in the local scene bro!’ because when it comes down to it, you are trying to go further than those bands. If you’re trying to break out of the local slog then why try and emulate the other locals? That makes no sense. What you need to do is figure out what the next step is, and for a lot of bands out there, after an initial EP release or whatever the goal is to get connected with someone else. In this case it would make sense for the next steps might very well be signing to a small label. Hell – even if you don’t want a label, you can turn this litmus test into one of countless other things, like saying “What are 5 booking agents I should try and work with?” or “Who are 5 PR people I should connect with?” Again I want to point out – this isn’t a question of connecting with people you go drinking with. This is about looking for that next step, really looking for it.
When it comes down to it, knowing promoters in your city and the next one over doesn’t really count as making moves. So much of this game is just working really hard to connect with people from other places by going to shows, talking to everyone online and continuing to develop. This may seem a little hokey and like it will take forever, but that’s sort of the thing you need to be doing. You need to be addicted to the research aspect and realize that even if you do find someone who wants to work with you, they are going to want to see that you took the initiative to do something grand. They don’t want you to be another band who they need to drag along and help through every little thing. You want to be the band who are interesting and motivating for people to work with and you want them to realize that you have your shit together and are worth other peoples energy. The perfect way to do this is to be able to call up a potential manager who has expressed interest and say “I want to sign to X, Y or Z”.
The only way you are going to make it to the next level is by paying close attention to the bands who are higher up in the scene than you and who they choose to affiliate with. Hell, you might not even be at a point where you know what 5 labels you want to sign too because you can’t name 5 locals bands. So maybe that’s your priority first. Just realize that ‘making it’ is a question of two things, longevity, and being able to cut your problems into a lot of component parts and working on it until things start to come together and make sense. So what’s holding you back? Some of you may have been nodding along to this and are ready to take the next step. The rest of you – get researching – you’re going to discover a lot of great music!