In this industry, when we get turned down, we don't always get a reason. Simply a “pass” or “no thanks” is often the only comment, and we're left to wonder why. Sometimes, if you're polite and ask in the right way, you can find out the thought process behind your rejection.
I recommend doing so whenever possible. It'll only make you better in the future. For now, though, I've compiled three common reasons you might not get signed.
1. You don't have a following
With very, very few exceptions, to garner any label interest whatsoever, you need a large and dedicated fanbase. While this may seem backwards from the artist’s point of view (after all, isn't that what labels are supposed to do for you?), it makes perfect sense for a label, especially in this economy.
Labels are more likely to hire a “sure thing” than someone they have to break in more extensively. That means that someone with 10,000 dedicated fans who buy their albums and come to their shows is more likely to get label interest. The other side of the coin is if you've already got that going for you, why do you need a label at all? Thus why many take the independent artist route.
If you're serious about assembling a fanbase, however, you need to start connecting with fans. Figure out who your “ideal fan” is. Is it college-aged women? Teens? Metalheads? Once you've got that figured out, you can track down fans from there.
For instance, if it's a teen, he or she may shop at Hot Topic. So perhaps you want to try to do a show sponsored by them or perform an acoustic set live in the store. Think creatively. And don't forget to connect with any fans you make – give them free stuff, shoot them a personal email, and let them know when you're going to be playing next. If you can build a loyal base, labels are sure to take interest.
2. You aren't "the complete package"
Gone are the days of labels developing artists: giving them a persona, telling them how to dress, giving them stage coaching, etc. The resources simply aren't there for building an act from the ground up, and they expect you to more or less have it together. This means you need to take a serious, honest look at yourself.
Are you a hundred percent ready? Do you have a stage persona or image? What is it? Is it working? How do fans react? Are you confident onstage, or do you need work? Something that's often helpful is to record performances and review them later.
Take notes, paying attention to crowd reaction as well. What songs worked? What songs didn't? If you were seeing your act for the first time, would you be a fan? These are just a few questions you can ask yourself. Get as down into the nitty gritty as you can. It's a lot of work, but it will pay dividends by making you more polished and professional.
3. You're a trainwreck
I'm using “trainwreck” as a general word to describe artists who are:
- not focused
- not serious
- have severe alcohol and/or drug dependency issues
- are emotionally or mentally unstable
- are a complete jerk
- all of the above
Going back to my first point, labels want to invest in a something solid – they're not going to pour millions into someone that could implode overnight. And this isn't counting the fact that touring full time, recording, and generally being an artist makes for a very stressful job.
If you have issues, they're going to show up and you need to be able to hold them in check. Giving the appearance that you can't is often a huge turnoff for industry people. This isn't to say you can't make it or that you won't somehow find interest, but you're stacking the odds against yourself with self-destructive behavior.
If this is you, take some time to center yourself – see a therapist, take some meditation classes, get mentally and physically cleaned up. Your friends and your art will thank you.
The above list is by no means exhaustive – the reasons could be as varied as the stars in the sky. The Beatles were famously turned down because “guitar bands” were “over.” Lady Gaga got dropped from her label shortly after being signed. Elvis was told he was “better off as a truck driver.”
The reasons could have nothing to do with you – perhaps the label is going through changes or their roster is full, or they're not looking for your particular style at the moment. The important thing is to keep being honest with yourself and trying to improve. Things will eventually start to break your way.
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.