An Open Letter to Amateur Musicians

Don’t make these four rookie mistakes.

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


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