What Major Christian Music Labels Are Looking For In Every Artist They Sign

If I was running a major Christian record label today, this is what I’d be looking for when looking to sign any new artists.

YOU’RE CAPABLE OF CAPTURING AND BUILDING A SIZEABLE AUDIENCE

What is a sizable audience?  This is relative to where you live and where you are performing your music.  Sizable to me means an email list of at least 10,000 active fans.  If you have a sizable audience, you may have built up a combined 50,000 Likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter.  You may already have 50-70 reviews of your album on iTunes.

How do you capture a sizable audience?  You consistently deliver something of value to your audience that they are willing to pay for.  You are not only grabbing their attention, you have built a relationship with your audience so that what you make for them is highly valued by them.

How do you do this?
STEP 1 – Get their ATTENTION.  Simple.  Play out a lot – live.  You are bound to get people’s attention.  When you’re just starting out, you need to be all about getting the attention of your fans.  Play lots of free shows.  Gain experience, get in front of people.
STEP 2 – Obtain their PERMISSION.  Think of it like a dating relationship.  When you first meet someone, you don’t ask them to marry you first, you ask them for their number.  Ask for the potential fans’ email, ask for a follow-back on Twitter, show genuine interest in them.  Ask for their permission to contact them.   You can even offer some sort of small incentive.  Sign up for my email list and I’ll send you a free song in return.  Use an AWeber email form to do exactly that.
STEP 3 – ENGAGE with your new fans.  Share experiences you’re having.  Make it fun.  Update them via email, Twitter, Facebook.  Upload videos on YouTube.  Ask them questions online.  Give them something of value.
STEP 4 – Solidify the RELATIONSHIP.  You’ve now been engaging your fans for several weeks. They really like what you’re giving them in terms of music.  They begin to trust you.
STEP 5 – Over time you become a person of INFLUENCE in their lives.  You have given them lots of information about you that they can find useful in their own lives.  You have taken the time to serve them with your time, info, music.
STEP 6 – CALL TO ACTION.  It’s time to offer them something to purchase.  It could be merch, music, video – anything.

If you have followed these steps consistently, you will be building fans, you will be making sales, you will be earning a living with your music and building a sizable audience.

YOU HAVE PROVEN SUCCESS

Your initial contacts at a record label, usually an A&R executive, have to ‘sell’ you to the head of the label.  Proven sales success at a regional level is a definite prerequisite to signing a national recording agreement.

So, what kinds of success are labels looking for?

If you are already selling 10,000 units (digital and physical CDs) of each album you release, that’s impressive.  If you are selling out of your most popular items at each show, you’re going to get a look from a label.  If you have 50 or more reviews on iTunes, half a million YouTube views of your videos, you’re most likely going to hear from a major record label.

A record label, in many ways, could be described as a type of bank.  They are staffed with creative and marketing-oriented people that are supposed to be there to help each product (the artists) bring more return in value back to the label.   The label is making an investment in you and banking that this investment will return them greater value in the long run.

They are not as likely to start something from scratch and more likely to come along side something that has a proven track record of success in a local area or within a specific niche (major Christian festivals, etc).

YOU’VE LAID A SOLID FOUNDATION FOR YOUR CAREER

This is one area where I’ve seen labels in the past sign artists too early – before a proper foundation was built.  I’ve seen artists that weren’t ready to be marketed on a national scale.  They were either too young or not mature spiritually.  They also may not have been prepared for how difficult life on the road singing Christian music can be.

If I were running a major record label, I’d be looking for the following foundational things in artists:

1. You’ve played many shows – at least 100 over 2 years.  The Beatles played nearly 10,000 hours of shows traveling throughout Europe before landing in the United States for the ‘British Invasion’.  I’ve heard that this was incredible critical to the improvement of their skills in live performance.  It takes many hours or practice and live performances before you have the confidence you need to travel the country and consistently serving and ministering to your audience.  You also know who you are in ministry by this point.  You’ve been able to work out the kinks in your systems, making lots of mistakes and learning from them.  You’re now ready for a national tour.

2.  You know how to build a relationship with your fans.

3. You’ve developed your own team. You’re ready for a partner that will help market your ministry nationally and internationally.  A record label and distribution company is the last part of your team to be developed.

4. You have “buzz”. Others are talking about you.  The label is hearing your name from several different sources.  There’s nothing more biblical and nothing more genuine than having others promote you.

CASE STUDY: SARA GROVES

I’ve heard numerous stories from labels about how they signed their artists.  One in particular I recall, is the story of Sara Groves.  INO Records label execs had heard story after story from Minnesota-area radio stations, Christian retailers and church promoters singing the praises about how much this local singer had impacted them and their audiences with her authentic presentation of her music and message.

Sara Groves is an example of proven success as well.  She was the first artist to score a national Top 20 Adult Contemporary Christian radio single as an independent artist.

She is also an example of someone that laid a solid foundation for her career.  She took time to build her fan base, she was mature in Christ and she had a good idea of who she was as an artist and songwriter.

She is someone that also showed she could capture a sizable audience in the greater Minneapolis market.

A record label needs to determine that what you are doing is scalable at a national level. If the buzz you are getting at a local and regional level can be scaled to a national level.  Will the major radio stations play you like they do locally?

And, just like a banker or an investor on the stock market, a record label executive has to measure and accurately assess the risk in signing an artist.  Too many poor decisions will cost them their jobs and their company’s future in this ever tightening music industry.

11 thoughts on “What Major Christian Music Labels Are Looking For In Every Artist They Sign

  1. Good article.. but why would an independent artist want to give up control of their songs, and most of their income, and be obligated beyond belief in order to be on a label, especially these days? Thoughts?

    • Great comment and question, Keith! I completely agree with you. For most independent Christian artists, like 95% of them, I would recommend staying independent. And, if they follow the path I’ve outlined in this article, they may end up seeing that they are better off staying independent. You can make a nice living as an independent musician and artist if you realize that you’re running a business. We own just about all of our songwriting and master recordings ourselves and I love having control of them. The industry that the Christian/Gospel music labels operate in is best suited for basically 3 types of artists: a Christian rock band, Gospel artist or a Contemporary Pop artist. If you fall into any of these three categories, you MIGHT be well suited to be signed with a label. The staff and systems at the labels are designed for you. However, you will have to give up your assets – your songs and your masters – as a trade off for national or international success. You may also decide after a few records to become independent and take advantage of the fanbase you’ve developed with a label. Maybe I’ll write another article on the pros and cons of signing with a label vs. being independent to elaborate on this even more. Great question Keith! You are a great advocate for Indie’s yourself with IndieHeaven.com

  2. Question for you. I stumbled across your site and read a couple of articles and my questions is…I feel like I’ve got a good product (what artist doesn’t) and I feel like I am a decent worship leader….How do you get the shows, events, etc to get started. I’m a full time youth pastor but I know that God wants me to pursue music. A few years ago I felt that I was supposed to write and record an album. I didn’t have the money to put into something like that. Well, to make a long story short I felt that I needed to raise $10,000 because this wasn’t about me making money but rather me being obedient. The $10k was raised (thank God) the album was made and now I’m just not sure what to do with it. I had an offer by a label but we couldn’t make an agreement on the contract so now I’m here. I get some local things here and there. I’m on twitter (I don’t use that like I should), Facebook and recently joined SoundCloud. But again, how do I get the gigs? Thoughts? I can send a copy of the album to you either mail or email and maybe you can help give me some guidance. Thanks

    -Kyle

    • Well Kyle, you ask a great question and one that we get very often. First off, I would never recommend doing what you did because you need to be thinking of your audience and where you’re going to tour the album before you start writing songs for it. Nevertheless, you have this product and here you are. What I always do is answer what I would do if I was in your shoes. So, here goes:

      Take a look at this link. These are all of the articles we’ve written that pertain to the topic of bookings: http://www.themusiccoaches.com/category/bookings/

      My favorite articles for you specifically would be: http://www.themusiccoaches.com/how-to-book-yourself-solid-in-music-ministry/#more-471 and http://www.themusiccoaches.com/no-nonsense-booking-advice-for-independent-artists/

      The key is to start local and make sure that you are covering your major market where you are. Bloom where you are planted. You need to have a solid foundation of relationships with churches and worship leaders in your city. From there, after a year of focusing only on that, I would begin to go out regionally.

      If you have more questions after reading these articles, please write us a comment and we’ll answer those pretty quickly!

      Blessings in all you do!
      Eric and Krissy

  3. hey i was reading this article and it kinda helped me on where im going. but im a christian rapper. and im looking for a foundation. and i want to stay in control of my music. any thoughts?

  4. Im an indie artist working on an EP. My plan is to release the first single online—Itunes, Amazon, etc and create a buzz as well as income to help finish the project. What are your thoughts?any suggestions?

  5. I have been managing a youth Christian Praise and Worship band. I enjoyed your comments. I have a question: These kids are in highschool, and they lead our youth ministry at our church, all 4 are marching band players, and 3 of the 4 are in the drumline. I am looking to get them on a label, because there are some life decisions after school that may influence their direction. Is there a way to do this?

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