How New Artists Can Sign A Record Label Deal In Today’s Music World

Dale Kawashima
Dale Kawashima

(Note: Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse. He has also been an A&R exec for Mercury Records, an exec for Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and he’s worked with Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Prince).

For young artists & bands who are trying to become successful, securing a record label deal is still one of the biggest goals. Signing with a major label, or a label affiliated with a major label, can help promote an artist’s music and provide excellent exposure on a worldwide level.

Over the past few decades, the criteria that A&R execs at record labels use to determine which artists to sign, has changed greatly. In the old days (prior to the rise of music streaming and social media), artists would pitch their music (CDs) to the A&R execs at labels. The execs would decide if the music was artistically unique and compelling, and commercially viable. If so, the exec would want to see the artist perform live.

Seeing the artist perform live has long been a critical factor in deciding if an artist should be signed. Here are the factors that execs look at when they see the artist’s live show: (1) Does the artist sing and perform as well as they sound on their recordings? (2) Does the artist have “star quality” and perform with charisma onstage? (3) Is their show well-attended by the artist’s fans, that prove the artist already has a solid fanbase?

If the A&R exec liked the artist’s songs & recordings, and was impressed by their live show & performance, then the exec could decide to persuade the top execs at the label to sign this artist to a substantial label deal. FYI, most lower or mid-level A&R execs only have the power to sign one or two artists per year, so they are extremely selective about which artists they recommend for a label deal.

Here’s a video about 10 famous artists who were discovered
via YouTube or other social media.

Now in today’s music world, the criteria for signing an artist to a label deal has changed dramatically. Of course, it’s still very important for the artist to be an outstanding talent, to be a strong performer and have good songs that are well-produced. But now, there are several other factors that label execs will be looking at.

Besides the music quality of the artist, the most important questions are: Does the artist have a large following? Is the artist already well known on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud and other media? Does he or she already have music available for streaming via Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music and Tidal?

These days, record labels are not just looking for artists who create great music, but are also well on their way to becoming famous. It’s tremendously helpful if you’ve filmed videos of your songs that have thousands (or millions) of views on YouTube. Label execs will also be studying how many YouTube subscribers you have.

Many young artists will initially build exposure on YouTube by recording versions of them singing cover version’s of other artist’s popular songs. Here’s a link to my interview with U.K. pop star Jasmine Thompson, who explains how she started her YouTube channel when she was a teenager. Now, she has co-written her own hits and worked with top artists & producers such as Marshmello, Zedd and Anne-Marie.

Also important, is for an artist to have a popular Facebook music page. When a music exec visits the artist’s Facebook music page, they will quickly examine how many followers the artist has. If the artist has at least 10,000 followers, that may be impressive. But it will be an uphill battle for an artist to be signed if they don’t have a large number of Facebook followers and YouTube subscribers.

Here’s a good video about how to market your new single
for maximum online impact.

It also helps if an artist is well known on other platforms. Being popular on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and other apps will further build upon an artist’s popularity and exposure.

Another important platform for an artist is to be on is SoundCloud. Not only can an artist post a large number of their songs on this site, but there are excellent networking and collaboration opportunities available for both artists and songwriters. In addition, SoundCloud is a highly useful tool for pitching songs to an A&R execs, music publishers, managers and other execs. It’s very easy for an artist to send an email to an A&R exec, that contains a link to their SoundCloud page so the exec can hear their songs.

To summarize, today’s label execs are not just looking for talented music artists who have good songs. They are fully aware that their label will need to invest a large amount of money and resources to promote a new artist, so they will want to sign artists who already have a large following. Having a large following gives the artist and record label a great headstart in building the artist’s fanbase worldwide.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima