How To Pitch To An Indie Label

Ben Blackwell |

Oftentimes a germy ruffian in this fair city of Nashville will sidle up to me and loudly proclaim they want to be signed to Third Man Records. If I cannot quickly find the nearest exit and am forced to actually continue the conversation, I inexplicably find a way to be nice and give them these invaluable tips in how to pitch themselves to an independent label of this size and stature.

Be very aware that every label that has ever existed absolutely HATES being pitched. 99.99% of the time it is a complete waste of both parties’ time. There’s a Music City legend that the only artist to ever get signed from an unsolicited demo was Martina McBride, who had the smarts to send her tape in labeled as “requested material” in a purple envelope.

So to start, unsolicited demos are a waste of time and money. I cannot fathom the untold number of CDs that have been blindly sent to me and have very quickly met their fate in a garbage can with a sign saying “Demo Submissions” on it.

In light of that…if someone, ANYONE, sends me a piece of vinyl to listen to, I will never, ever throw it away. There’s something in my brain that will not allow me to toss it, and instead I eventually end up listening to EVERY LP or 45 that’s even been sent to me.  Unsolicited vinyl is just somewhat less offensive than unsolicited CDs.

Having a release on vinyl shows that you care, although as it becomes more and more popular this idea becomes less and less true. Regardless, folks who focus on CDs (or links!) in order to hear their music are almost always, without fail, something not worth listening to. I’m not saying this as an undeniable fact. I’m saying this from 15 years of experience in sifting through parcels and emails one step above “junk mail” classification.

But how do you actually get your music on vinyl? To a lot of these rubes, that’s the desired end result.

What I tell EVERYONE is that you need to start off by releasing your own music. CDs used to suffice for self-releases, but now, it has to be done on vinyl. The reasoning behind this is two-fold.

First off, when you self-release vinyl…you learn the process. It gives you, an average myrmidon with no foreseeable future, the acute insight into what exactly you’re asking others to do for you. This unquantifiable knowledge may someday also prevent a shady huckster posing as a “label” from ripping you off.

When you self-release, it immediately gives off the impression that you don’t NEED a label. That you’ve already got this shit figured out. And that’s what you want folks to think when you’re hoping they’ll sign your band…you want them to think that you’re doing THEM a favor by even talking to them. You don’t want to come off holier-than-thou, treating folks like pond scum. Just let them know that you’ve got your own thing going on, but if they’re interested, you might be willing to talk. That should immediately spark some inkling of interest in just about anyone.

Remember nothing in this business is easy. If you have the option to do literally anything else in life, I strongly urge you to take it. Even with these tips, be prepared to encounter anguish, hurt feelings, awkward silences and a general inability to make any money. But deep in my heart, I have a Pollyannaish belief that wonderful music, important music and moving music will always ultimately find its audience one day. That day may be long after the artist has given up, stopped caring or died. If you too believe in that, then you believe in music itself, and in spite of everything I’ve said here, that’s really all that matters.

Guest Blogger: Having spent more than half his life consumed with all things vinyl, Ben Blackwell’s experience spans everything from first employee and current archivist for the rock duo The White Stripes, recreational Detroit music archaeologist and historian, drumming fool in rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut the Dirtbombs and envelope-pushing vinyl idealist for Third Man Records in Nashville.


Solomon KIng's picture
Solomon KIng
Good attitude. I like the high school graduation picture too

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