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Article - Aug 28, 2003

“The first step to getting a record deal is to take a do-it-yourself approach to your career.”

picture Bobby Borg is a professional musician and the author of The Musician’s Handbook: A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business. In this two-part article he gives career advice to artists and musicians. Part 2 deals with treating your band as a business, preparing effective promotional material and increasing your odds of getting signed by understanding more about A&R.


Being in a band is no different from being part of a professional sports team, or of any group of individuals united in achieving a common goal, each person playing a unique and integral part and the motto—at least in theory—being, “All for one and one for all.” But unlike the professional sports world, where athletes must meet extremely high standards before getting into a draft and being picked by a team, young bands often form with little more consideration than just being friends or sharing similar musical tastes.

Unfortunately, this criteria is just not enough for a band to succeed. Personality differences, as well as opposing views of how business matters should be handled, eventually rear their ugly heads. The results: the band calls it quits, a member is unfairly kicked out, the group suffers setbacks due to member changes, or everyone gets entangled in an ongoing legal battle.

This fate can be avoided, however, if a band maps out a simple business plan from its inception, thus ensuring that every member has similar expectations and goals. Though playing music is supposed to be fun, being in a band is a business just like any other and should never be treated as anything less.

The Personality Test

Before getting down to the legalities of running your band, it’s important to consider the personalities and goals of the people with whom you're about to get involved. When everyone is excited and eager to get things rolling, character flaws and differences of opinion are often overlooked—but when problems are left to be dealt with later, they will always come back to get you.

By asking each member a few honest questions up front, a band will know whether or not it is worthwhile to proceed with the venture. These questions may include:

* Are you ready to work your ass off and treat the band as a serious business?
* Would you relocate to another city and commit to staying there for a few years?
* Are you able to hit the road for extended periods of time for little or no pay?
* Can you deal with traveling across the country in a small passenger van in the dead of winter?
* If you have a girlfriend, how serious are you about getting married and starting a

The questions are endless, but don’t look on them as an interrogation! Think of them as a screening process to ensure that your proposed business venture is a fruitful and long-lasting endeavor. No matter how good the musicianship is in a band, if there are too many opposing opinions regarding how the band should be run, problems will eventually surface. The last thing you want to do is fire someone, have someone quit or for the band to break up after having spent several months or years building it up.

Getting Down to Legalities

Once you’ve got all of your members in place, you need a written agreement that defines the terms of your business relationship. This document, called a “band membership agreement,” compels a band to deal with important business issues before they become problems.

The terms of the agreement should stipulate:

* How the band will make decisions (for example, by unanimous or majority vote)
* How income, such as record royalties, music publishing, concert money and
merchandising will be divided
* What happens to a member's share of the group's assets (such as equipment) when he
or she quits or is voted out of the band
* How disputes will be resolved (in a court of law or otherwise)
* Who owns or controls the rights to the band's name and its continued use

Not all members of a band may have an equal level of control or receive an equal share of the profits. Sometimes the founder, the lead singer or the main songwriter of a group are the only members who own the rights to the band's name, or who control the vote and have the final say in business decisions. In any case, the record company may consider these individuals to be the “key members” or those who are most important to the functioning of the band. If a key member decides to leave and start his own solo project, the record company may exercise their contractual right to drop the band.

Draft that agreement today

A band membership agreement won't stop a band from running into conflicts or breaking up, but it will avert any misunderstandings or confusion regarding compensation and control. It is much easier to discuss business while a relationship is new and everyone is the best of friends. Though rock n' roll is supposed to be about having fun and being carefree, it's also a business. Bill Wyman, reflecting back on his years with the Rolling Stones, said it best: "It's only rock n' roll. Is it really?"


Promotional materials, such as demo tapes, photographs, biographies and press clippings, help people to get to know you. When these materials are assembled in one package or folder, they are most commonly known as a press kit.

Press kits are most useful when trying to get exposure in newspapers, magazines and on websites. They are also helpful when trying to get booked in clubs and other live performance venues. A press kit may even entice an attorney or personal manager into representing you.

On the other hand, press kits are not very helpful in getting your band signed to a recording contract! The reality is that out of the thousands of tapes that record companies receive in the mail every year, perhaps one group gets discovered, if that. The odds are heavily set against you. In fact, your package is likely to end up in the wastebasket without ever being listened to. This is the harsh reality! Though there are exceptions to every rule, record companies typically do not accept unsolicited mail.

Another misconception about the press kit is that it will lead you to a great audition and gig. Musicians waste their time, energy and money sending packages in the mail instead of just getting out there, being heard and making friends. Keep in mind that the majority of work you will get will be on the basis of personal relationships that you have developed and nurtured over the years. If anything, building a website and then personally handing out cards that include your URL (uniform resource locator) is a much more useful way to promote yourself than a press kit.

Now that some of the misconceptions about press kits are out of the way, let’s discuss what your press kit should include.

The Demo, CD or Cassette Tape?

Your press kit should include a demo CD containing three of your best songs, with your best song first. If you include too many songs or you include songs that are too diverse in style, you may send the message that you're not sure what it is you do.

The production of your demo should also be of as high a quality as you can afford. The key is not to leave anything to the imagination of your intended audience. Fortunately, digital equipment has enabled musicians to cut quality demos right out of their own home. If you don't own your own recording gear, chances are that you have a friend who has home equipment and who will be willing to help.


You should certainly include your photograph in your press kit. People will not only want to hear what you sound like but also see what you look like. Keep in mind that photographs are also used for reprinting in newspapers and magazines, so make sure your prints aren’t too dark.

Give your image and style some serious consideration as well. Your picture must be consistent with your music—if you’re a hard rock band, then you must look hard rock. If you’re not sure of the image you want to portray, review magazines such as Rolling Stone and Details to see what other bands are doing. The print size of your photo should be 8x10 inches and you should include your band's name and contact information at the bottom (telephone number, mailing address, e-mail address and website URL).


A biography (or bio) should be as short (typically 500 words) and as unpretentious as possible. If there's a unique story about how your band formed or about any of its members, include it. This gives writers at newspapers and magazines a special twist or hook when writing about your band. If you have any flattering quotes or reviews, include them here as well, but don’t overdo it. To include 15 quotes from people no one knows is pointless. Check out other bands' bios on the Web and see what their approach is.

Tear Sheets

A press kit should also include clippings, known as tear sheets, that you've collected over the months and years from newspapers and magazines. Clippings help prove you’re established and not just another fly-by-night operation. Again, don't overuse them.

Cover Letter

Lastly, when mailing out your press kit, include a cover letter that clearly addresses who you are, what you do and what you want. Be sure to include all of your contact information here as well. It also helps to call the person you're soliciting to inform them that your package is on the way. Follow this up in a few weeks with another call to see whether they liked what you sent. Keep in mind that editors at magazines, just like people at record companies, receive hundreds of packages a week. Chances are that if they haven’t asked you to send them a press kit or they haven’t heard of your band, your package will be left unopened in a pile or tossed into the garbage can.


Most artists dream about getting signed to a recording agreement, yet few know anything about the record company personnel responsible for discovering new talent, what these people look for in an artist, and where and when they look for it. You might just find that the first step to getting a record deal is to take a do-it-yourself approach to your career. A discussion of A&R (an acronym for Artists and Repertoire) might easily take up hundreds of pages, but here's a brief overview.

Who Are A&R Reps?

A&R representatives are record company personnel whose job it is to discover new talent and help develop careers. The further A&R reps climb up the corporate ladder and the bigger their salary, the more stressful their job, and also the more fearful they become of losing it. They have a great responsibility to make money for their companies and to justify their career positions. For this reason, A&R reps often follow trends, look for “sure things” or wait to see what A&R reps at other labels are pursuing.

Contrary to popular belief, most A&R personnel do not have "signing power". Once an A&R representative finds a potential artist, they have the difficult task of getting the approval of their record company presidents—and getting approval is often the hardest part of the job! The average life span of an A&R rep at a label is three years.

What Do A&Rs Look for in New Talent?

A&R reps look for artists who have potential hit songs, a signature sound, a marketable image, long-term career potential (i.e., youthfulness and adaptability) and a great live show. A&R reps prefer business-minded bands who help themselves first. Artists who press and sell their own recordings, perform live, build a strong fan base, design their own websites, establish a strong web presence and have a very clear vision of their goals are far more attractive to record company representatives than those who don't. Musicians who know what they want, from the image they put forward to their album-cover artwork and videos, make an A&R rep's job that much easier.

A&R reps also look for artists who have a great work ethic. Will the members of the band continue to work hard at creating their own opportunities once they get signed or will they rely on their label to do everything? Will they have the endurance to tour relentlessly or will they burn out quickly? Do they have wives, kids, substantial bills and other domestic responsibilities that may inhibit the pursuit of their goals? Simply put, record labels look for the path of least resistance to ensure that they'll make a profit from their investments.

Where Do A&Rs Look for New Talent?

A&R representatives discover new bands through independent record labels, by listening to college radio stations, searching the bins of mom-and-pop record stores, attending local club performances, reading reviews in local and national trade magazines, attending annual music conventions and conferences, surfing the Internet for mp3 music files and keeping a watchful eye on Sound Scan reports (a service that reports album sales figures by tracking registered bar codes).

They also rely on referrals from established bands, record label scouts, friends and relatives of industry executives and reputable producers, managers, attorneys and publishing companies.

When Do A&Rs Sign New Talent?

Pinpointing the exact time of year that A&R representatives are most likely to sign new talent is difficult; however, one thing is certain: there are not usually many signings during the fourth quarter (October to December). During this period, most companies' financial budgets for new projects are likely to be accounted for or depleted. Additionally, because it is the holiday season, most companies focus on pushing their major artists, whose new albums are usually timed for release right before the holiday shopping season.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule: it’s possible for a really hot band in the middle of a bidding war to get signed in the fourth quarter, but October to December is not generally a good time for new bands.

Final Thoughts

In general, A&R representatives don’t like to be approached directly by fledgling artists. In fact, most record companies don’t even accept unsolicited material through the mail. Though there are exceptions to every rule, the rep's philosophy is that when you're truly ready to get to a recording agreement, they’ll find you! So be realistic about the music business and your career goals, learn to be more proactive about your career and just get out there and be heard doing what you love best—PLAYING MUSIC!

Bobby Borg is the author of The Musician’s Handbook: A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business, which is available by Billboard Books at or in a store near you.

For more information:

Mail to: Bobby Borg

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