Submission Fee series Part I - Should Record Labels charge Artists a "fee" to listen?

MusicSUBMIT   July 28, 2015
Submission Fee series Part I - Should Record Labels charge Artists a

Part I of 5 part series from MusicSUBMIT

MusicSUBMIT is a music publicity service for musicians. We submit the music of bands and musicians to a variety of music “resources”. We define a music “resource” as any company or entity that can promote and benefit the career of a musician, primarily radio stations, blogs and ‘zines. In some instances we submit to other resources, including record labels, promoters, managers, music supervisors, publishers and producers. MusicSUBMIT charges a nominal distribution fee to the artist for the submission of their music to the resources, and does not, for the moment, share a part of this fee with the resources. This series will examine the fundamental differences in submitting music to these resources, and explore the practice of these entities charging a extra “fee” to listen to an artist’s music. 

In Part I of this series, we’ll examine the question for Record Labels scouting artists to sign: Should Record Labels charge Bands a “fee” to listen to their music?


Whether you’re an A&R executive at Universal Music Group or just a dude running a small label out of your bedroom, the process of scouting artists to sign is (and always has been) basically the same: You use all tools and methods in existence to find the best talent that fits with your label. In the pre-Internet days, these methods mostly consisted of good ol’ fashioned word-of-mouth and personal contacts. A&R’s would also scour the local clubs (mostly in New York and L.A.), read fanzines, and host band showcases and auditions. Bands would mail in press kits containing demos and one-sheets in hopes on getting discovered.

With the proliferation of the mp3 and the Internet, the number of ways to discover new bands increased exponentially, as did the number of bands creating and distributing new music. Word-of-mouth and contacts couldn’t hope to cover the whole music scene anymore, and nobody has time to hit every club or read every blog. The stack of CDs mailed in from bands is taller than a beanstalk. It’s simply not possible for a record label to cover everything out there.

So how does the modern Record Label attempt to look for new artists to sign?




Yes, Record Labels SHOULD CHARGE bands a Submission Fee


For record labels big and small, searching for bands to sign is no small task. With more artists than ever, and more ways to discover new music, the job of a record label A&R executive is many times more challenging. Labels should use the power of the Internet to take A&R scouting from hitting one club at a time to streaming & screening online. Indeed, discovering new blood is probably the most difficult task for any label, not to mention time-consuming. Time is money. And record labels aren’t exactly awash in cash these days - clearly, they could use a new revenue stream. And artists can agree that fair work should be rewarded with fair pay. Bands are still seeking labels, and labels are always seeking bands. For a $20-$30 submission fee, the reward (getting signed) surely outweighs the cost, so what’s the problem?



NO, Record Labels SHOULD NOT charge bands a Submission Fee

It’s true, reviewing music takes time and time is money. Labels are low on cash and could use another revenue stream, and bands still want to get signed to record labels. However, this does not add up to labels charging submissions fees from artists.  


Well, for starters, the signing of a band to a label is much like dating. From first listen, multiple listens, to meeting in person, becoming acquaintances, to watching live performances, becoming friends, to more live shows -  it’s a long courtship. More often than not, labels and bands part as friends long before any marriage takes place. In the rare cases the courtship culminates in a marriage, the relationship is one of mutual benefit to both parties. Much trust and respect needs to build gradually, and charging upfront fees can damage that trust. Paying a record label a fee to listen to your music is sort of like paying someone to go out with you on a first date - how much are you going to accept the other person if they say they like you? 


So, Should Record Labels charge bands a fee to listen..? What’s the Verdict?



Probably Not. Although many bands are willing to pay submission fees to get heard by a record label, for many other bands, the whole idea leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And any system that charges bands a $20-30 submission fee to get heard by a label is ripe for abuse. For major labels, they would need to go through a ton of artists to find a prospective artist, all while taking flak in the process. Small bedroom labels could be tempted to over-promise or exploit unwitting bands. Sure, record labels most certainly use the Internet as another tool to research new artists, but the actual process for signing a band is a long road, and listening to a band’s music for the first time is but a tiny step towards adding the band to the roster. Labels charging an upfront submission fee still doesn’t seem to pass the “smell” test.


what do you think? If you’re an artist or a label, please feel free to comment here, on tumblr, twitter or facebook, or write to with any comments, ideas, criticism, or insults. thank you very much for reading!

Don’t miss Part II of V of this series >>Should Radio Stations accept a submission fee to screen bands?