22 Things That Record Companies Will Look For And Find Out About You
By Tom Hess
Before you will even be considered for a record deal, you must prove to record companies that you possess a broad range of skills, character traits and mental attitudes that they look for in potential partners (in addition to great musical skills). Since companies cannot simply rely on ‘whatever you tell them’, they will spend time investigating your background before deciding to work with you (or not). Important: most of the time you are completely unaware that you are being observed in this way, but you can be sure that you ARE being observed/tested 100% of the time, without exception. No serious company will put up hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk without thoroughly researching their investments beforehand.
Most musicians never pass this background check for 2 reasons:
- They don’t even realize that they are being tested (as mentioned above).
- (More importantly) They are completely clueless as to ‘what’ it is record companies actually look for. This makes it impossible for musicians to ever live up to all the expectations that record companies have of them.
To increase your chances of getting the opportunities you want in the music industry, you must know what record companies look for in musicians they work with. When you know what those things are, it becomes so much easier to set yourself up for success by delivering those things to the music industry, making yourself the only possible choice for a record deal and any other music opportunities you wish to acquire.
Here are 22 things that record companies will look for and find out about you when they are considering signing you to a record deal:
1. How much freedom do you have to pursue opportunities?
When a record company looks for musicians to work with, they want someone who has the ability to pursue any music career opportunities without hesitation. For example, if you get signed by a record label, you may need to go on tour for weeks or months at a time or spend 10-12 hours per day in the studio for an entire month recording an album. Many musicians do not have the financial or situational freedom to do this and as soon as record companies sense this, they will take you off the list of potential musicians to work with.
Fortunately you can gradually phase your way out of a day job into a financially stable, full-time music career, so you can say “yes” to opportunities when they come up. Learn how to do this in this article about starting a career in music.
2. Have you released your own music?
Before a record company will work with you, they want to see that you have taken some personal initiative to move your music career forward. One of the most obvious ways to demonstrate this is by releasing your own album (either independently or in a band/group with other musicians). When a music company sees that you have already released a finished product of your music, they will consider you much more seriously as a potential partner.
You can take the first step towards acquiring this credential by participating in a compilation album with other musicians. Such recordings are cheaper, faster and easier to produce and help you to get the experience needed to publish your own full-length music album. This is one of the things I help musicians to do in my Music Careers Mentoring Program in order to help them ‘get their foot in the door’ of the music industry.
3. What is the recording quality of your music?
Many musicians make the MASSIVE mistake of recording ‘demo quality’ music and releasing it to the public, promising for their next recording to become better. This screams ‘amateur’ to record companies (and everyone else). You don’t have to invest tens of thousands of dollars into making your record (in fact, you can make great recordings with little money), but understand that there is a big and noticeable difference between ‘good/great recordings done on a budget’ and ‘sloppy/amateur recordings done in a half-assed way’.
Above all, remember that the music you put out is not just a demonstration of your songwriting talent, but also a display of your band’s overall professionalism - something record companies watch closely for. Invest the time into learning how to make the highest quality recordings possible, with whatever equipment/budget/skills you currently possess.
4. Do you have good studio recording skills?
To a record company, the recording quality of your music represents not only the overall image of you or your band, but also the amount of money they will need to spend on studio fees editing poorly recorded tracks and/or bringing in studio musicians to re-record your parts. If you are unable to accurately record your music in as few takes as possible, you will be seen as a much riskier investment to music companies.
To turn this possible risk factor into an asset, you must actually ‘practice’ recording to become good at it, in the same way that you practice anything else on your instrument. Doing this regularly will set you apart from all the other musicians who completely ignore this skill.
5. What is your work ethic like?
Contrary to popular belief, becoming successful in the music industry does NOT happen overnight (or by luck). It takes TONS of consistent effort and hard work to achieve significant success in this business. In fact, the most successful musicians will put in incredible amounts of hard work way in advance before they ever see ‘any’ benefits from their efforts. This requires total passion, dedication and commitment (something that most people simply do not have).
Record companies will look for ‘proof’ of your work ethic in every interaction they have with you. It’s not enough for you to simply ‘talk’ about being passionate or how music is the only thing you want to do in life (this doesn't impress anyone). There also isn’t any ‘one’ thing that you must demonstrate to prove your work ethic - it’s something that the companies will get a general sense of by looking at your level of accomplishments in the other 21 items on this list. The lesson for you here is to become aware of the general importance of your work ethic and develop this capacity within yourself to the highest level possible.
6. How big is your fan base/database?
You will immediately turn heads in the music industry by having a MASSIVE following of loyal fans who you interact with on a frequent basis. This means not only having a list of followers on social media websites, but also building up a huge database (that YOU control) with a list of names, emails and other important information about your fans so you can directly communicate with them through ‘your own’ personal website whenever you want.
7. Do you have a strong local presence in your area?
Record companies are MUCH more impressed by you having a strong following in your ‘local’ area than they are by you having tens of thousands of contacts scattered around the world. There are 2 reasons why this is so:
- Starting up a loyal local following generally requires much more effort than building a list of contacts on social media (this gives companies a great impression of your work ethic)
- It shows that you have a good understanding of how to promote your own gigs, tours and drive product sales (this shows your potential to add business value)
Record companies know that when they invest additional resources into moving your career into new (non-local) markets/areas, it will be so much easier for you to repeat the process you have already followed in your local area to become successful.
Learn more about how to get fans in your local area by reading this article about music promotion.
8. How ‘fanatical’ are your fans?
It is a common misconception that ‘having a lot of fans’ is the main key to building a successful, highly-profitable career in the music industry. Although simply ‘having fans’ is a good starting point to build from, you will NOT take your music career to the highest level by only having a large following full of ‘casual’ fans. You must focus more of your time on converting your current fans into total FANATICS who are highly enthusiastic about you, your music and any musical projects you participate in. These are people who do things such as buy all your albums, wear your band’s t-shirts, come to all your shows, tell all their friends about you or even get tattoos of your band’s logo.
Record companies are well aware of the massive, long-term profitability of a band who has a strong following of true FANATICS. These companies will choose to work together with a band that has 1,000 truly ‘fanatical’ fans over a band that has 10,000 ‘casual’ fans every time. Even if you do not have many fans at this point, begin focusing your efforts on transforming what fans you do have into complete ‘fanatics’ to begin building a loyal, highly dedicated following that will serve as the foundation for your long-term success.
9. What is your experience with touring?
Record companies make A LOT of money from the tours their bands go on (and also put huge amounts of money at risk in the process). The more experience you have touring and playing live, the more likely music companies will be to work with you and send you across the country (or around the world) to play for your fans. However, if you have little to no experience playing live, a record company may hesitate to sign you due to the potential risk/uncertainty you present in this area.
You can turn the odds dramatically in your favor by getting music career mentoring to learn how to set yourself up for success in these avenues of the music business.
10. What is your world view?
Record companies exist in the world for one thing and one thing only: ‘to make a lot of money’. Thus they only invest resources into an artist/band if they believe their investment will help THEM (the company) make even more money in return. If you have world views that come into conflict with this, you will NEVER be considered as their potential business partner. Such damaging views include ‘believing that you are entitled to success without earning it for yourself’ or thinking that ‘everyone else must fail in order for you to succeed’. On the other hand, if you greatly value self-reliance and are always looking for win/win outcomes, your odds of being considered for a record deal go way up.
Hint: Contrary to what most people think about the music industry, your political views ‘can’ hurt you. How? Your political views will tell record companies very quickly and easily what your general world view and mindset is like simply by looking at your political views. Why is this important to many record companies? They are looking for the best chance to make money on the their investment. If your world view lowers that chance or causes other conflicts for them, this hurts your chances.
11. Are you loyal?
If a company believes for one second that you may become disloyal, you will immediately be barred from any opportunities to work with them. The more loyal you are to those you work with, the less ‘risk’ you offer in any kind of partnership and the more people in the music industry will want to work with you.
Similar to your work ethic, there isn’t any ‘one’ thing that defines your loyalty, but you can be SURE that this is something that record companies WILL look closely for as they decide whether or not to work with you.
12. What is your reputation throughout the industry?
Have you ever heard the saying: “Your reputation precedes you”? In the context of the music business, this means that record companies will look at what others say about their experiences of working with you a lot closer than anything ‘you’ tell them about yourself. This is why you must guard your reputation with your life by always seeking win/win outcomes, adding value for other people when you interact with them and not burning bridges whenever possible.
13. What is the reputation of the people you have worked with?
Even if you personally have a good reputation in the music industry, you can potentially sabotage any future music career opportunities by associating with musicians who have established a poor reputation for themselves. When record companies look for new musicians to sign, they will avoid these types of musicians at all costs because they present a huge risk that is usually not worth the reward. This is why you must be very careful to ONLY surround yourself with other positive, success-minded people.
14. Do you have strong relationships with other companies in the music business?
Although record companies don’t really care if you have a list of endorsements, the fact that you are associated with a variety of other businesses generally speaks in your favor, demonstrating loyalty and potential to add business value to the companies you endorse. By itself, this element is of very minor importance, but when ‘combined’ with other elements listed throughout this article, it makes it easier for a record company to get more proof of your potential value to them if they sign you to a record deal.
Note: This can also work AGAINST you if you have a track record of being disloyal to other companies you worked with in the past.
15. Do you have good musical skills?
As you can see, your musical skills are only 1 item out of a long list of things record companies look for, but they are (of course) highly important. That being said, do not make the common mistake of thinking that you must develop your musical skills ‘first’ before starting to develop the other areas of your music industry value. This is a crippling mistake for 2 reasons:
- There will never be a point when you are 100% happy and fulfilled with your musical skills. No matter how good of a musician you become, you will ALWAYS want to become ‘a little better’ than you are now. This desire to always become ‘a little better’ is a mirage that you can never catch up to - resulting in your entire life going by without your music career dreams being realized.
- Even if you did get to a level of musical skills when you finally feel ‘ready’ to work on other elements of music career success, realize that after years of musical training you still only have 1/22 of all the elements needed to qualify yourself for a record deal.
Solution: You must work on your musical abilities and refine them to the highest level possible ‘at the same time’ as you work on building the other pieces of your music career puzzle.
16. Do you have good performing skills?
Merely being able to ‘play’ your instrument well is only part of the package when it comes to being a great musician and putting on a good show for your fans. Record companies are looking to sign musicians who are able to truly ‘inspire’ their fans through their onstage performance and get them to tell their friends about their experience. The more fanatical your fans are about seeing your live show, the better it is for your and for the record company’s bottom line.
17. What is your overall level of commitment to building your music career?
To make yourself into an appealing prospect for a record company, you MUST have a complete, all-consuming passion for becoming a highly successful musician. You must be willing to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes in order to ‘make it’ in the music business. This trait is similar to ‘work ethic’, but it is different in that it deals with your ‘long term’ determination to stay in the music business, rather than your general capacity to ‘work hard’. Although this quality is intangible, it can easily be sensed by paying attention to every action you take (or don’t take) in the music industry and music companies will INSTANTLY see this trait (or lack of it) in you.
18. Are you a success-minded person?
There is NO room in a successful record company’s budget for musicians who have negative attitudes, pessimistic outlooks and win/lose or lose/lose mindsets. To get signed to a record deal, you must be 100% success-minded, committed to finding positive value in negative situations and dedicated to building mutually beneficial business relationships with other musicians.
Learn more about developing this quality within yourself by reading this article about building a music career.
19. Do you currently use drugs or have any records of legal issues?
If you have been involved with major legal issues or have a history of drug use, your level of ‘risk’ in the eyes of any company will go up exponentially (and will likely kill your chances for any business opportunities being extended to you). Be smart and don’t sabotage your music career success by allowing easily avoidable vices to take control of your life!
20. What is your personality like (are you mentally stable)?
Working in the music business often involves putting yourself in many high-pressure situations. To maintain a successful music career for the long term, you will not only need to write/play/record music, but do so quickly and accurately in as little time as possible, tour for months on end and interact with a wide variety of people with conflicting personalities... all while working under strict deadlines with many thousands of dollars at stake. If you are not mentally prepared to function well under this kind of pressure, record companies WILL quickly discover this and will hesitate to invest their money into your music career.
21. Are you taking consistent action to move your music career forward?
‘Consistently’ working (on your own) to advance your music career on an ongoing basis provides a significant demonstration of your work ethic, reliability and commitment. When record companies see that you are actively trying to ‘make things happen’ for yourself, it will positively influence their perception of you.
In contrast, if a company sees you taking sporadic or random actions and not taking the ultimate responsibility for the outcome of your music career, this puts doubt in their mind about working with you.
22. Have you taken any steps to learn about the music business (or have you been doing everything through guesswork and trial and error)?
Record companies want to know that you are not only taking consistent action to reach your musical goals, but also taking steps to secure your success for a long-term, flourishing career in music. The most obvious way you can show proof of this is by getting music career success training from a mentor who has already accomplished huge things in the music business (such as sold records on major record labels, toured the world and made big money as a musician). When record companies see that you have invested into your music career growth, they will be more likely to work with you for 2 reasons:
- They will see that they won’t need to invest ‘additional’ tens of thousands of dollars into coaching you on how the music business works
- They will see that you possess ambition, commitment and work ethic to grow your career - all things that the companies look to get as much proof about as possible before deciding to work with you
Now that you understand what record companies are looking for in you, start taking ACTION to develop the qualities that put you at the top of the list of musicians record companies want to work with. Follow the advice in the resources I provided throughout this article to learn more about how to do this. You can take an even greater shortcut towards becoming a successful professional musician by working with me directly in my music careers mentoring program.
Become a successful professional musician fast by joining the best music business success training program.