Do you dream of getting a record deal? Here, Santa Monica, CA singing teacher Lauren C. shares her tips for breaking into the industry and getting your voice heard…
I coach a lot of young singers who aspire to secure record label deals and establish successful music careers. Some of my students have secured contracts with labels like Motown Records, and I myself have recorded with Grammy-award winning producers in Los Angeles and recorded tracks with chart-topping artists.
So, what are the labels looking for today? What tips can you employ to get ahead in the cutthroat, competitive world of recording music? Here’s my best advice on how to get a record deal and make it in the industry.
Do invest in voice lessons.
We live in the era of The Voice, after all, and there is a taste for truly good vocalists in the entertainment industry as much as ever before — perhaps more than ever before. We are in a golden age of vocal acrobats and technique. It’s hard to compete in this saturated market if you do not have real chops. There are always unique and untrained voices in the world of pop and rock, but it’s important to learn to sing in a healthy way to preserve your voice for many years. You will also more easily and quickly expand your range, and diversify the tones and vocal colors at your disposal.
A good teacher will never hinder your style or your unique tone — he or she will help you sing with healthy technique and increase your vocal potential. And gone are the days that voice teachers only teach classical technique. Many of us are still grounded in this technique; I am. But these days, many teachers teach all styles (I do) or are particularly suited to a particular singing style or genre. Find a teacher you gel with, and commit to years of study and regular vocal exercise.
The Internet is your friend. Use it.
We are all familiar with artists who have “broken” on the Internet. If you want to gain exposure, you don’t need to wait to get signed; in fact you need to start gaining exposure and attracting fans before a label is going to look at you these days. Create a YouTube channel, join SoundCloud and post your tracks, join TuneCore and distribute your own music via iTunes and Spotify, and check out ReverbNation. Utilize all social media platforms to cross-publicize your work. Post your latest SoundCloud release on Twitter, on your Facebook fan page, etc. Comment on and follow other artists to expand your network and get their comments and likes back.
But don’t forget – the Internet is not everything.
Sing locally. Sing at your school, church, find a local open mic, get a permit to busk if there is an area in your city this is popular (like the 3rd Street Promenade here in California). Also, network — make human contact and collaborate with other local musicians. Try co-writing — most songs are NOT written by just one person. Check out Musicnotes.com and download your favorite pop song. Chances are you will see at least two co-writing credits. Try to connect with people who may have more experience or knowledge than you, and see if they are interested in collaborating.
Also, take constructive criticism along the way — the only way to get better is to take notes, and improve what you need to improve. Opinions are subjective, but take it on board and see if it resonates with you. Always strive to improve.
Note the difference between recording in the studio and performing live.
Both are important, but they are two different animals. In the recording studio, the microphone is like a camera — it captures everything. So never feel bad if you need a little auto-tune. Auto-tune is like Photoshop. A skilfull producer will auto-tune your tracks so that they sound tuned to the natural ear. You may sing very close to perfect tuning live, but in the studio, a fraction off is picked up and we hear it.
Do find producers or a studio you can record some demos with. In the long run, you really want to produce commercial-quality tracks to be taken seriously by labels. And note that long before you have a label, you can get licensing deals on your own and get your songs into a film, commercial, or video games if the recordings are professional enough. Sometimes this is what brings more attention from labels and managers.
On the other hand, working with producers can be expensive. If you are just starting out, see if you can find a less-experienced producer, and try to negotiate an affordable fee to start learning the ropes of singing in the studio. It can be nerve-wracking. Here are some additional tips for singing in a studio:
- Always warm up thoroughly before you begin.
- Do a full take through of the song, then go back to repeat sections or lines until you are in love with the delivery. When a take is the one, you always know! Unlike singing live, most recordings are takes spliced together.
- Remember that everyone is unique. What you do may not be what Rihanna does. Be kind to yourself and just focus on getting a great result.
- Finally, just as you would for singing live, stay hydrated with water, and use lozenges like Ricola. Split up a session over a few days if you need to.
Determine what makes you unique.
As a recording artist, you are a brand. This is different from someone working in musical theatre, for example — that performer is pursuing auditions, getting hired, playing a role already written, and has probably performed dozens of times. You are more or less fitting a mold and doing a job for hire.
But when you are a recording artist, you have the opportunity to be your own boss, write your own material, and create your own opportunities. To get ahead, you will need to define what is unique about your music, your voice, and your “brand.” So take some time to develop this, and think about all aspects of your brand. What do people see when you walk in the room? Is your look working for or against you? Think about clothes, artwork for albums, production styles, instruments, and vocal delivery and tone. Are you a power rock belter? Are you a subdued singer-songwriter? What about your voice is helping or hurting you when you try to convey your style?
If you’re wondering how to get a record deal, these tips will help your brand stand out to reps. And that will lead you down the path to a successful music career.
Lauren C. is a singing teacher in Santa Monica, CA. She’s a classically trained soprano with a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance. She teaches students of all ages and in all styles ranging from opera to pop to rock. Learn more about Lauren here!
Photo by Jared Polin