How to get your first record deal?

I’ve received hundreds, if not thousands, of promotional packages from all sorts of people trying to get a deal. These people were savvy enough to know that an entertainment lawyer or a reputable manager was the only way they were going to get their foot in the door. So, you might like to know what I was looking for when people asked me to help them get a deal.


I’ve had enough experience as a musician to know what it takes to make a living, get a gig, or attract someone’s attention in the music industry. I also have plenty of experience in seeing how many opinions there are about “good” music. Early on, I realized that the music I liked and the music that ended up on the radio were not always the same thing. Therefore, when I began practicing entertainment law, I had to take an objective look at music. Getting someone a deal wasn’t always about what I thought was good music. It was more about what was commercially exploitable.

So, the first thing I looked for was quality product. To the record labels, publishing companies, etc., musical talent is really just a product, a commodity—a widget, if you like. Therefore, I was always looking for an act or writer who was a total package, someone who labels or publishers could mold into something commercially exploitable. This meant my clients had to have not only talent, but depth of material and versatility. They also had to have a good attitude and be a team player.


One of the most important things I looked for when clients wanted me to pitch them for a major recording or publishing deal was depth of material. No matter how good their songs were, if there was any interest at all, I usually heard, “This is really good, but what else do you have?” If a writer has only a few good songs, he is less likely to get a publishing deal. In many cases, the publisher wants the writer’s prior compositions as part of the publishing deal. The more depth of material the writer has before entering into a publishing deal, the more confidence the publisher will have of the writer’s ability to turn in commercially exploitable material during the term of the publishing contract.

If you are looking for an artist deal or your band wants a record deal, you should have two to three albums’ worth of material either recorded (demos, at least) or ready to record. This doesn’t mean a couple of really good songs and 20 mediocre ones. You need at least enough for the record company to choose up to two full CDs of material. Record companies can go through thousands of songs just to find one that is right for a particular artist.


If you are lucky enough to get your first record deal, you will most likely be offered a “one and six” deal. This means you’re guaranteed that the record company will put out one record with you, and then if they want to continue, they have the option to put out six more. If your first record is successful, you will have to top it with new material, which you’ll need to come up with while you’re touring in support of your first record. Depending on the timing and the record company’s needs, your deadline could come pretty quickly. That’s a lot of pressure. If you don’t come through with a really good record, you could fall prey to the sophomore jinx. Your second record will be less than memorable, and you will end up getting dropped like a hot potato. Then you will have to go back to the rank and file of all other artists out there without a record deal. If you’re really lucky, you may get signed by another label, but that almost never happens.

On the other hand, if you have enough material for two really strong albums right out of the gate, you won’t have to worry about the sophomore jinx, and you will have even more time to come up with your third record. Furthermore, if you have enough really strong material for at least two to three CDs, you may be able to negotiate a “two and six” deal, which guarantees that the label will put out two records for you.