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So you want to get yourself a record deal? Here is a quick 101 for aspiring artists on doing your press kit.

Music Industry 101 For Artists: The Art of the Press Kit

As a former record company weasel, I still get frequently asked by artists about how to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack when it comes to getting noticed by record companies. So this is a little Music Industry 101 for anyone out there looking to get signed.

The importance of a good press kit cannot be stressed highly enough for any aspiring artist. I am actually going to take that a step further. Not only do you need a press kit, you need one that is going to stand out.

Understand that record companies, club owners, and the like literally get hundreds of these things a week. I've personally sat in A&R (Artist and Repertoire) meetings at record labels where there were boxes and boxes of tapes to go through. So you already know what's next right? Many of them get thrown out, never to be listened to or checked out.

The first ones to go are usually the sloppily packaged, handwritten ones in a plain envelope with a cheap Wal-Mart tape inside. Next are the more standardly packaged, but bland and ordinary-looking ones.

Here is what an average press kit should contain:

  • A one-page bio: This is your chance to tell your story to the record company big wigs. Emphasize your sound, your history, accomplishments, CD releases, your website, anything that’s an essential part of who you are as an artist. But unless your name is Bruce Springsteen or Diddy, keep it to one page. Nobody wants to read War and Peace.
  • Your Artist Photo: A standard black and white or, better yet, a color glossy photo.
  • Your Music: A CD (cassette tape won't cut it anymore) that can be full length if it is a commercial release, but should be kept to your four best songs tops, if it's a demo. You will need to have attractive eye-catching cover art if you expect to avoid the trash can as well.
  • A "Fluff Sheet": This is a second page that you can basically have fun with. Make it humorous, make it interesting, but what you are essentially doing is emphasizing bullet points. Keep it short and sweet.

    To get past the trash can, you will again need to package this nicely in a folder. Most of all, you want this to stand out in a box full of hundreds of demos going to an A&R meeting.

    A personal story that I can relate here happened when I was working at Def American Recordings in the nineties. This group called Decadent Dub Team (DDT) got everybody's attention there by adding a very colorful T-shirt to their press kit (I still own the shirt today) that said "NO WEAK BEATS" on it. On the front it had a picture of Jimmy Swaggart crying. On the back it showed an artist signing a record contract with the devil. Funny shit.

    Their tape not only got listened to, but everybody from the mailroom guy to the head of A&R eventually wore one of those shirts. I also saw several L.A. record executives sporting the shirt around town, too, at places like The Troubadour and The Whisky. I don't think they ever got signed. (They weren't that good, to be honest.) But their tape did get a fair listen.

    Why? Because they did something to stand out.

    When Sir Mix-A-Lot used to come to my record store back when he was just one of many artists trying to get me to listen to his tapes or write about him in The Rocket. He also did something that stood out. He made a tape for me where he was talking to me by name in a rap. I know it sounds corny now, but the bottom line is he got my attention then and we know the rest of the story…

    Finally, where to send your package:

    Record companies (specifically A&R, do a little research and get a name, too); club owners; booking agents; radio programmers and Mix DJs; press (magazines like The Stranger, Spin, and anyone else friendly to your cause… this can and should include local newspapers as well); buyers at retail – specifically independents as well as head buyers at chains like Tower (if they even have a main office anymore); key Internet sites (like this one, and some of the bigger, better read blogs out there) as well as places like Amazon.

    Basically you want anyone and everyone who can help you to know who you are. This is how you do it.

  • About Glen Boyd

    Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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