How to Get a Record Deal with Def Jam Records

By Gail Cohen
President Joie Manda and Rapper Nas of Def Jam records

Farsighted folks believe your talent rivals that of Ludacris, Kanye West or Mariah Carey but you have no idea how to follow their lead and get a contract with the Island Def Jam Music Group. Start by staying focused and committed -- like founder Antonio "L.A." Reid. Despite Grammy Awards and millions of dollars earned representing legends like Ciara, OutKast and Usher, Reid was smart enough to understand that music without education makes no sense. That's why he chose to enroll in Harvard's School of Business in 2000. Follow his work ethic and your star can't help but rise.

Rihanna performing on stage

Make certain you've done your homework by training your "instrument" properly. Take voice and music classes, learn to read music and play an instrument -- any instrument. Study dance and other types of movement that will help you maintain a comfortable, agile stage presence during auditions and live performances.

Woman singing on stage

Get plenty of live performance experience under your belt. Collaborate with other musicians to get comfortable in the spotlight alone and with others. Pay your dues as you refine your sound and get your dance moves down to perfection. Once you feel comfortable with your musical range, confidence and stage presence, it's time to cut a demo record so you have a musical pitch tool.

Singer in recording studio

Rent studio time. This is not cheap but there's a lot riding on the demo you'll produce, so don't cut corners. Book far in advance and come prepared with your score, backup singers, musicians or both after extensive rehearsal. The studio time you rent may come with or without sound engineers; if they're not in place, you'll need to bring your own. Get recommendations from studio managers if you have no contacts in this area. Additionally, a music producer can be your best technical friend, so if you have access to one, bring him or her along as well.

Woman singing in to microphone in recoding studio

Perform as many takes as are required during your recording session to perfect each piece of music on your playlist. You're paying for your studio time by the hour so if you have to run over, be certain that studio management hasn't tightly booked other artists in close proximity to your booking time. Remember, if you're forced to speed through your songs and arrangements and have no opportunity to tweak the music as you go, your demo may fall short of your expectations.

Young man putting CD's together

Obtain multiple copies of your demo CD once you have completed your session. If you've chosen to pursue the route other singers and musicians have taken, consult a directory of talent agents (see link below) and methodically contact those specializing in your music genre (rap, R&B, etc.). Send a cover letter with your demo CD and, if you have one, a head shot so agents can see how you look as well as how you sound. Your biography and/or resume will give potential agents some idea of your past pursuits, so if you have either, include them.

New York City

Go directly to Def Jam by sending your demo and background materials to its headquarters at 825 Eighth Avenue, 28th floor, New York, NY 10019. Understand that you may have to wait some time before you hear from Def Jam due to the large number of fledgling music artists seeking to sign with this high-profile label. The wait can be discouraging, but you can take one action that will increase your chances of getting a faster response: include a stamped, self-addressed envelope with your demo so Def Jam producers can return your materials if they have no interest in you.

Artist working on song in studio

Don't give up -- even if Def Jam turns you down. There are plenty of other record labels searching endlessly for new talent. They can't find you if you don't find them, so keep mailing those demos out and remember that Reid was over 50 when he finally got that MBA training he had wanted for so many decades. That said, it wouldn't hurt to take a few college classes while you're waiting for that big break.

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.