First, the criteria is different for music listeners and labels. While I've purchased quite a few recordings based on just hearing someone's music, I've personally signed only one band from a demo. The basic difference is this... buying a record costs about ten bucks. Indulging an impulse doesn't really hurt.
Signing bands requires a pretty significant investment. That investment needs to come back so the label can record more records. In the days where "bigness" is king and the chain stores rule the retail roost, getting something heard costs alot more money than it used to.
Here's a short list of criteria I ask myself when it comes to rock bands:
- Do they have good music? Yes. It's the first question but not the last. This is often followed by "will enough other people think so too?"
- Can they cut it live? Nothing worse than pieces of wood who can't play on the stage.
- Is the frontperson charismatic? I'm not talking incredibly handsome or sexy. It's that eye-magnet quality that makes people want to watch.
- What's the work ethic? If the band hasn't played any out of state shows before putting out a record, there's a huge signal that they're going to do more of the same. Waiting for a label to come in on their white horse and save the day with tour support before you hit the road is bad news. Get a van. Book and play some shows. It's an investment in making your band and if you can't do it, why should someone else?
- Are they in it for the right reasons? Third rate rockstars looking to "make it" before they hit their mid-20's are trouble. Those who don't couple their hunger to play Madison Square Garden with a genuine love for the lifestyle are going to wind up angry and embittered. If you don't find joy in sleeping in shitty kids houses, waking up with another unwashed band member spooning you, living on $5 a day, or driving all night to a gig with 10 attendees, then stay the fuck home and get a job.
- Do they have a business infrastructure? Can the band get to shows on time? Many small indies play manager and even booking agent for alot of their bands. In reality, having to do that detracts from the labels core mission of trying to convince Transworld to bring in more records to support a few Warped Tour dates.
- Do they make friends easily? Wallflowers don't really cut it. You gotta be in the mix to create relationships with other bands. Many big tours that "break" smaller acts happen becuase of friendships between bands not some back room powerplay.