December 17, 2004

How To Get Signed offers industry secrets
By Canyon Cody
Originally published in The Heights

Kurt Cobain sent at least 20 copies of his demo to record labels without a response before he was eventually discovered. If he had read George Howard's new book, How To Get Signed, he would have known that sending unsolicited demos does nothing but waste postage. If you really want to get signed, follow the advice in Howard's book, and call your mom to tell her that your video is going to be on MTV soon.

Unfortunately, Howard is the first to tell you that it won't be that easy. As the former president of Rykodisc Records, Howard witnessed first-hand the mistakes that artists repeatedly made. In fact, Howard's book goes into such detail about the difficulties and pitfalls of building a music career that many readers might realize they would rather just work at Tower Records.

"This isn't meant to discourage you," writes Howard. "I'm telling you this so that you don't get discouraged when some or all of these things happen to you along the way. It's just part of beginning a career in the business."

For those crazy souls who decide to pursue a music career nonetheless, Howard's book offers a simple but thorough guide to catching the attention of a record label. He says that getting to this point is the most important step: "You will find that most successful artists share the sense that their music must be heard."

Written in a conversational tone, Getting Signed is an easy-to-read guide to every step involved in catching an A&R's attention, including what exactly should be included in a demo package.

Howard explains that the definition of a "label" is ever-changing, but it essentially means anyone who is willing and capable to reproduce, advertise, and distribute your music.

Howard recognizes that new technology is fundamentally changing the infrastructure of the music industry, which could threaten turning his sadistic guidance into obsolete advice in the post-mp3 apocalypse.

"The music industry is changing around me," Howard admits. "The record industry as we know it appears to be going away." Nevertheless, in one form or another, Howard says labels will continue to exist because they serve a function that artists are unwilling or incapable to do themselves.

Howard also argues that the record industry's obsession with illegal downloading is more of a red herring than the actual cause of falling CD sales. In fact, Howard writes, "As a technologist, I believe fervently that the Internet and other technology can be actualized as wonderful tools to help a musician's career."

In an interview with The Heights, Howard said, "More and more, there are bands that [are] just saying, 'We're going to make all of our money from touring,' and the record label becomes the engine that drives those things. They don't ever expect to see a dime from the label. It doesn't mean the labels are obsolete but just that they are providing a different service."

As a result, artists are forced to interact with labels in order for their music to be heard by the masses. Howard's book goes into detail about the procedure for dealing with labels. "As with every aspect of this business, the more you understand, the less likely you are to get taken advantage of, and the more likely you are to succeed."

Musicians might feel frustrated by Howard's tendency to speak about music as though it was a business rather than artistic venture, yet he reminds his readers, "By the act of sending your demo to record labels, you are buying into the culture that defines your music as product."