Country Music Biz

Getting Signed to a Record Deal in Nashville


Nashville is a place of dreams for many aspiring artists. With encouragement and enthusiasm from their family and friends, many musicians set off for Nashville in the hopes of being discovered and getting signed by a major record label. The truth is, very few major recording acts are actually discovered anymore. The big acts are “made, manufactured and marketed” these days. If your goal is to land a major record deal, then you need to be prepared to take a different approach.

As a local Country musician I often meet many other musicians who have dreams of going to Nashville to “make it big.” My story is a little different in that I always wanted to be on the business side of the music industry. I was able to get the chance in the mid 2000’s and was lucky enough to work with some of Nashville’s biggest stars and labels. Throughout that time, I gained a solid understanding of how the business really works.

Back in the mid 2000’s my business partner was Grammy nominated recording artist and songwriter Jim Brickman. We had a company called Brickhouse Direct that provided a number of marketing and consulting services to major recording artists. Our specialty was helping to “break” and market new acts and re-introduce legacy acts.

Over the years I was able to work with a number of amazing clients and developed long-term relationships with a number of artists in the Country and Christian music genres. Suddenly, the artists that I had admired as a fan were now my clients and asking me to develop marketing strategies to held advance their career. Artist such as Amy Grant, Phil Vassar, Richie McDonald, Marty Stuart, Joe Nichols, Lee Roy Parnell, Shooter Jennings, Suzy Bogguss, Montgomery Gentry and others were suddenly my clients.

Over the years, we worked with a number of labels and management firms and helped a number of then evaluate and sign artists. I quickly learned that the days of playing in a bar in downtown Nashville were long gone. While there is no secret formula, here are some things I learned that still hold true today.

LEARN ABOUT THE BUSINESS: It’s great that you enjoy performing but you need to remember that the music business is a business. Before you decide to pack up and move, visit Nashville several times and network with other local musicians and industry insiders. Get their advice and feedback on building a career and establish some solid local connections in the community. Learn as much as you can about the music business from as many people as you can. A humble attitude and open mind will take just as far as good talent.

BUILD MOMENTUM LOCALLY: Before you go to Nashville spend some time building a following locally. The record labels will want to see that you are a good investment. They want to see that your career and success are growing constantly. They call this “momentum.” You need to be constantly moving forward and achieving bigger successes locally.

DEVELOP PRO MARKETING MATERIALS: Marketing and PR is much more than selfies and a few posts on Twitter or Facebook. Make sure you have a great website and social media presence. Be sure to post accomplishments on a regular basis. Show photos of your fans and the crowds you bring to the venues. Get testimonials from the venues about your performance. Selfies and cute videos of you talking about how excited you are about a show should be replaced with videos and photos that actually show you are making an impact locally and growing your fan base. Your materials need to be professional. Invest in a good photographer and hire a great graphic designer to give you a professional edge. If you want to be a MAJOR artist you need to LOOK like a major artist.

ASSEMBLE A PROFESSIONAL TEAM: Once you have solid, long-term, success locally, you will need to assemble a dedicated team to help you move up to the next level. This includes solid management, strong PR/Marketing people and financial backers. You will need to find people who are willing to invest both time and money in your career. You will also need to find music coaches and mentors to help you improve your craft. You team should consist of pro-level people with proven experience in Nashville. Your team will help get you ready and be the ones who approach representatives from major labels about you.

PERFORM, PERFORM & PERFORM: You need to perform locally and regionally…A LOT. Part of honing your craft is performing live. Performing live makes your better and also builds a solid and dedicated fan base. You must have talent. There is simply no excuse for talent. Hype may get you noticed but talent is what will keep you going. The sheer number of very talented people in Nashville trying to get signed is enormous.

TAKE CRITICISM: Part of the secret in Nashville is that most people in the industry would rather work with someone who works their ass off, takes criticism well and is easy to hang with versus a talented but self-centered individual. When you work with a record label, THEY are going to direct your career for a while. Be willing to let others guide you and shape your career. You may not like someone telling you that need vocal lessons, but keep an open mind, follow their lead and work your butt off.

LIVE THE LIFE: Your lifestyle needs to be music and performing. Everything about you needs to be focused on your music and career. You need to do something everyday to enhance your career. You need to get on the road and perform in small run-down bars and clubs. The music industry is not part-time. It requires a full-time commitment. Sure you will need to have a job to pay the bills, but if your primary focus is a full-time job, family commitments or other things, it will be harder for you to make it. You will eventually need to move to Nashville. This is where the business is located and this is where you make the contact and get deals done.

Rod Flauhaus has more than 15 years of entertainment marketing experience working with artist such as Jim Brickman, Amy Grant, Marty Stuart, Lee Roy Parnell, Suzy Bogguss, Lady Antebellum, Richie McDonald and a number of major record labels. He has been recognized nationally for his work and continues to provide marketing services to both national and select local artists.

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