Editorial: An Open Letter to Amateur Musicians


Don’t make these four rookie mistakes.


October 31, 2016
By Dave Cebrowski


Dear amateur musicians,

You want to hand your CD out to everyone who has even the slightest interest in your band. I get it. I really do. I’ve been there as an aspiring musician, and even more recently as a composer of film and TV music. But when you are going to hand your CD to someone “in the industry,” there are some simple do’s and don’ts that get overlooked – a lot.

Since starting my label, I have been handed 38 CDs from aspiring songwriters, bands, and singers. Totally cool. I like collecting CDs. I’m old school. I grew up in a time where you bought records, and while listening you read the liner notes and lyric sheets. Shoot, if I am at your show, and I like your set, I will probably buy it from you – so there’s no need to give the farm away. I want you to succeed.

To that end, here are some tips that will help you in your quest for stardom. My advice comes from experiences I’ve had since starting Sonic Valley Records.

1 – Your CD is your business card. If you hand me a CD, it might be days or weeks before I open it and listen to it. I meet a lot of people and I don’t always remember names, places, and faces. If you are expecting me to be in contact with you regarding your music—make it easy for me to contact you. This means your CD needs to have – at the very least – a website address. Better yet: an email or phone number. Out of the 38 CDs I have been handed this year, not one of them had contact info. As much as I like you, I just don’t have time to hunt down this info.

2 – Like many A&R people I am going to make a decision about your music in about 60 seconds of listening to the CD. If your best song isn’t the first thing I hear, then you need to point out which song I want to pay attention to on that CD (never mind the fact that you should have put your best song first). My recommendation: tell me which song to listen to. Better yet, take off the wrapper, open the CD, and highlight the song on the insert.

3 – Save the Grammy speech for your website. Yes, you should have credits on your album packaging. A simple special thanks to someone that might have performed on your CD is nice. But a full page, multi-paragraph thank you speech takes up space that could be used for key-song lyrics or contact info!  If you’re not going to pay for a booklet as part of your CD, then pare it down to one or two people and keep it brief to save space. An A&R guy doesn’t care about how your grandma made cookies for the band – today’s fans seldom care either, based on the decline in CD sales. Save space, and use that space to include other important album info.

4 – Don’t use images that other people own. Yep. If you want people to pay for your music, then pay for the graphics you use. Believe it or not, I was handed a CD earlier this year, and the album artwork happened to be something created by a friend of mine. No credit, and no payment. That band can no longer sell that run of CDs since the artwork was printed on the insert and on the CD itself. And their website. That was a costly mistake.

In summary, there are some simple things you can do to make your CD come across more professionally to people in the industry. Save the speech, clear the art, highlight the best song, and contact info, contact info, contact info! Busy A&R people just want to listen to some cool music and possibly get back in touch without wasting time trying to find you again.

About The Author

Dave Cebrowski is the founder of Sonic Valley Records. As a musician, he has shared the stage with the likes of Quiet Riot, Testament, and Slayer. Founded on respect for the creative process and the development of new artists, Sonic Valley strives to be a source of quality independent recordings. You can read our past interview with him here. For more information, visit SonicValleyRecords.com.

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  1. I couldn’t disagree more with almost everything this guy said. Music is subjective. Artists do not usually put the best song first because there is nowhere to go after that. You build your album like a book for the listener. close strong. No true artist is going to be thinking about stamping their record with their “Website” in todays social media culture that would be 10 websites stamped on your art. This to me seems written by someone out of touch. You wanna make it? work hard and step out of your comfort zone in every way to become an entertainer. everything from the way you dress to how you conduct yourself on stage or think constantly about being unpredictable and exciting even if you have to work on getting over your fear of being uncomfortable being in the role of a larger than life figure. Im not saying your band or you need a gimmick but its art and its flooded with a lot of people afraid to break the stereotypical rules they think exist about making your music career happening. Dress the part be interesting have confidence you are good enough to stand out and lead people towards you by entertaining them in whatever genre you might throw yourself in. If you go to local shows look at even the great bands ask yourself what arent they doing that they could be that would undeniably make them successful. Start doing that and DO NOT BE ANGRY WHEN YOUR ALBUM IS PIRATED. The industry is different now. If your music gets pirated give yourself a huge pat on the back because you are going somewhere granted you go about it right. Have Intensely awesome Merchandise that is Fashionable. If you sell shirts have an amazing graphic designer imprint your designs on Properly Fitted American Apparel blanks for example. Music is subjective. don’t do anything because you think its gonna get you a record deal and don’t waste any time trying to get the attention of the suits. For the first time in this age. People with business degrees do not have power over the artists or the fans. Focus on creating entertaining art and getting your crowds involved in unique ways. Get a few of them to love you and your music and you have gained so much more than belittling your cds with websites stamped over your art. You are never an amatuer. you are an artist in a time when the old rules are out the window. Be excited, Genuine, and always be brainstorming ways to be break new ground. I am always asking myself after an idea “Why hasn’t anyone done this yet?” Music/Rock and roll is the greatest anti establishment tradition ever. When did people start thinking there are rules to follow? When Lawyers and Corporate hacks had musicians in shackles. I have been very successful numerous times literally almost everyone I grew up with or around from THIS state are famous and successful. I’ve followed this path seen it work for myself. I watched Chelsea Grinn go from being a good utah metal act to being entertainers and one of the biggest acts in music by a strong Do It All By Yourself campaign. sorry for the long comment but im passionate about getting the message out to musicians especially in Utah. Theres a New Atmosphere and the old rules and hype about getting signed…..it’s not reality anymore. Most people still clinging to the belief they hold the power over your art and career by only listening to 60 seconds of your first song and then getting out another stack of stamped up compact discs to throw aside???? Its Euphoric ignorance. My closing…..be forewarned about record labels and A&R guys these days. They are actually dangerous. When someone who supposedly calls the winners and losers is still listening to Compact Discs or even thinking bands are in a frenzy handing out music technology older than most of them. there is a lack of knowledge and you should not be getting any advice from this person. EVERYTHING is DIGITAL. Put your music on Itunes. Current successful artist management companies would prefer you email them a few tracks. I’m not typical to put anyone down but when information is just WRONG I think young artists deserve to know. If anyone has any questions about my credentials I have witnessed the scene start and evolve. 800+ shows under my belt as an artist. featured articles in AP magazine. been managed by Michael Novak Jr. (Every time I die) ………Stage performaces with 30 Seconds to Mars, Anberlin, Civil Twiglight. Todd Nukem got ahold of our songs and put it in constant rotation on x-96 in late 2010. Winner of the x-96 statewide battle of the bands for the Half Ass Show. Journeys Shoes on their corporate facebook had a featured favorite band across the country on their page someone who downloaded our music gave it to them and us being this small band from Utah……we were surprised to see we got picked. Sorry this is long but don’t listen to hacks….. to the young musicians making Utah the best scene in the country. More and more acts from Utah are making it by working hard and doing something different. Remove all corporate type of thinking from your career. Your talent should founded on revolution and not assimulation. Have a blast doing big things!

    Quiet Riot, Testament? Really don’t buy this information. Sharing the stage with Quiet Riot or Testament shouldnt be the accoladesof someone you should listen to. two of the most water down stale bands from the era of Record Labels.

    Quiet Riot and testament were both bad bands that never did anything special and did not survive the worst era of corporate controlled music. Thank Nirvana every day kids. They came so you wouldnt be forced to wear leather pants and wear more makeup than your mother.

  2. Brian,
    I appreciate the passionate response and effort you put into your post. And while your first sentence says you disagree me, we probably have more to agree on than not.

    This “open letter” was penned after having over 3 dozen artist bands hand me “music technology older than most of them” with nothing about how to contact them. Speaking of technology older than me, I have had one recently want to give me a cassette tape! Talk about old crappy technology. The point which was lost on you is if you hand a potential distributor, a manager, another band, a journalist some physical media, it had better come with a way to be contacted.

    As far as receiving submissions – we prefer streaming music or having mp3s. And dislike spending the money for CDs for our artists unless there’s a strong case for it.
    However, for someone that is in touch with music as you are you do seem to miss the fact that vinyl, cassettes, and CDs are making a resurgence, especially among rock music as was pointed out recently by David Ellefson, when interviewed about his label EMP Label Group. The music industry is ever changing and the medium of delivery is constantly in flux with streaming becoming the favorite in passive listening format.

    As far as placing contact info on your CD, I am not sure why you think an artist should put all of their social media etc. A simple website is all that is needed or, on the inside, an email or number of your manager. Simple. As far as listening – like a book, the first chapter needs to create enough interest to keep reading – so too your first song should capture the listener’s attention and lead me to continue listening.

    The remainder of your post I pretty much agree with. Artists need to be entertainers. Bands need to have the right mix of merchandise for their genre and fan base. Bands need to engage and communicate with their fans, not talk at their fans (like the vast majority do). Artists need to think outside of the box. Success leaves fingerprints – techniques will change, media will change, but the underlying principles to be successful i.e., be full time, have not changed.

    I agree that there are record labels and A&R guys that are dangerous especially when they want to own the music, change the feel, image, or even the genre of a band or artists simply to make a buck—this is a reason why I went from recording and composing for film and TV and started a label. There are labels and A&R guys that are just as passionate about music and the industry as you are—and think like you. Many bands claim they don’t really need a label anymore, they just need a small group of passionate, dedicated people to make them a success. And, of course, a small group of passionate, dedicated people pretty much describes every great independent label there has ever been.
    Everything is digital (except all the bands pressing vinyl and making cassettes) you should have your music on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify but if you don’t have a way to rise above the noise and actually make money from putting it out there – then you are a hobbyist and should just have fun and put your music on Soundcloud and play some shows and not worry about handing your music to anyone that might want to partner with you.
    Like you, I too have credentials (beyond what the about section says). And like you, I am passionate about music. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t be working with artists to help them become better and help them succeed.
    I applaud your success thus far I wish you all the success you deserve and appreciate a spirited discussion.
    p.s. you can thank Quiet Riot for helping end the disco era. Never did anything special? They gave us Randy Rhoads and ushered in a new type of American hard rock and metal that pretty much dominated the 80s (for better or for worse). Each decade has a special band. the 90s was Nirvana. Maybe your band will be this decade’s? I would love to you hear music.

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