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Scouting: Noticing, Being Noticed, and Following Through.

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This post is about techniques for scouting and following through with potential clients.

Unless you’re an institution in the industry, whether locally or internationally, chances are clients won’t be calling you or knocking on your door for the chance to work with you. It used to be that labels would almost always choose the producers for a project. That’s not the case anymore. These days it’s more likely that the artist will have more of a say as to who they will choose to produce their material, especially if the artist is not signed. That said, record labels who have found success with a producer will often recommend that producer again for future projects. It’s just about impossible to walk in off the street and secure a production deal with a random artist. So how do you find artists and labels that are willing to talk to you?

Word-of-Mouth

The #1 way people get hooked up in any business situation is through word of mouth. It kinda stinks, but introverts have an uphill battle here. The best thing you can do for your career is start doing things with other people: go to concerts, join a choir or ensemble, start a band of your own. Do whatever you can do to develop genuine relationships with people who are active in the local music industry. If you aren’t active in the community, you won’t have any way to show your credibility. People trust their friends and if their friends know you and can vouch for your talents, skills, and trustworthiness you’ll be in a good position to propose business ventures.

Focusing Your Efforts in a Weekly Schedule

Make a plan when scouting. You don’t want to waste your time and money going to events and concerts that have nothing to do with the music or people you are trying to find. Most major cities have events publications, whether online or in print, that highlight things happening in the arts for the week. A smart thing to do is to plan your week, choosing when, where and why you’ll be attending a particular event. Each time a new edition comes out, open it up and skim through the listing of performances. Break out your computer and try to find the artist’s website, Myspace profile, or any other place you might be able to learn more about them.

The Internet is a big time saver when it comes to finding compatible artists. If you can successfully find the artist’s web presence you’ll probably be met with studio recordings from their last release. If the artist is new and has not yet recorded anything, you will probably find live recordings or even no recordings at all. Take a couple of minutes to listen to a couple of performances. If the band shows promise, make note of the time and date of their performance, their name, and some of the characteristics of the music that you liked. Also consider what it is that you would have to offer them, whether that be studio time, a more professional sound, or representation.

Once you have worked your way through the week’s performances, go back to your list of potential events and pick the most promising for each night. Keep the names of promising bands whose concerts or events didn’t make the cut so that you’ll be able to better recognize them next time you see that they’re playing.

Attending Concerts

When you go to a concert of an artist in which you are interested, take some time to schmooze with the crowd. Listen for conversations that indicate the people might be involved in the industry. Have plenty of business cards on you. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself but be personable. Don’t open up with business right away. Often it works well to open up with asking which artist they showed up to see. Again, establishing a rapport is more important at this point than impressing them or convincing them you’re hot stuff. The key in this case is to develop a familiarity in case you see the same people at another show in the future. You’ll have more to talk about at that point and you won’t seem like such a stranger the second time around.

It’s usually best to avoid making contact with the artist you’re scouting before their performance. Some artists get flustered if they know there’s a producer in the crowd. You also don’t want to commit too much without first hearing them play! Once you do introduce yourself, let them know that you showed up to hear them play. Remember what it was about their music that you liked and mention it. Hand off the business card and let them know that you’d like to hear more. Ask to join their mailing list. Again, you may have better luck the second time around if you see them at another show – ideally a show that isn’t their own. If you can find the artist at a time when you don’t have to share their attention with all the other fans wanting to talk to them after performing it can be much easier to ‘talk shop’.

Additionally, there is usually a rhythm to production. Bands that just released an album will not be as ‘open’ to discussion of production as bands that have substantial material waiting to be recorded. This is an important thing to note when researching and making conversation.

Sending Portfolios

Once you have amassed a body of work, it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to put together a portfolio CD. While it’s an obvious thing to do, mailing demos to record labels is not as effective as it might seem. Most labels, even indies, get a lot of submissions that they have to listen to. Even if you manage to get heard, chances are the label representative won’t listen for very long or for more than one song. It’s not a very effective use of resources, especially if you want to make the CD look attractive and not just another CD-R. A better thing to do might actually be…

Contact a Label Directly

It may actually make a better impression to call or mail a label directly to request a meeting. While more difficult than mailing a portfolio CD, if successful, a face-to-face interaction will prove your professionalism and establish more of a relationship. Bring plenty of material, dress well, and craft your speaking points for the particular characteristics of the label.

Solidify a Business Meeting

Once you have established a relationship with an artist or label, it’s important to have a very explicitly defined meeting about business matters. If all of the interactions up to now have been informal and casual, there comes a time to step up the game. Be prepared to discuss what it is that you have to offer, where you tend to work, how you tend to work, and with whom you have worked in the past. Find out information such as what their goals are short, medium and long term. Discuss ways to achieve those goals and how you can collaborate. Try to get a sense of whether the artist is committed. It’s in your best interest as a producer (royalty and reputation-wise) to find artists who have long-term commitments to their craft. The ideal production relationship is mutually beneficial and fun!

Scouting is tough work. It’s really important not to get discouraged when you don’t have success at first. Remember, relationships are key. The main thing to remember is to be open with everyone you know about your intentions and your profession so that, when they hear of an opportunity, they think of you. Don’t be a stranger. Good luck!