Ask Tooth & Nail: What Does It Take For A Band To Get Signed?

TGIF y’all! You know what that means: time for this week’s edition of Ask Tooth & Nail!

Today’s question was asked by…everyone:

What does it take for a band to get signed to Tooth & Nail? (Or some variation of this.)

Our answer:

I asked my office neighbor Adam (who I should perhaps mention happens to be one of the A&R guys here) to give me a list of his top three things that he looks for when checking out a band. These were his answers, with some color commentary by yours truly:

1. Music

This seems obvious, I suppose, but the music has to be good. The hard part is that the definition of “good music” varies from genre to genre and person to person. What I like may not be what Adam likes, and what Adam and I like might not be what a different A&R guy likes. There’s no accounting for taste, as they say. But if your band can appeal to a bunch of people – especially ones who aren’t related to you – you’re probably off to a decent start.

2. Drive

We’re not talking the movie starring Ryan Gosling – well, not in so many words. But a band should be ambitious and persistent and dedicated. What are you actively doing to further the status of your band? Playing shows? Finding ways to record your songs? Communicating with your fans? Spreading the word about your music? What are you doing to demonstrate that not only are you a good band, but that you want to be a better band? Hard work pays off. It will keep paying off. The work isn’t done once you’ve signed to a label. Our most successful bands are the most relentless. They know how to hustle.

3. Personality

According to Adam, this means you should be a Raiders fan who hates eggs and thinks the Ninja Turtles are cool. However, I would probably assert the complete opposite. But he and I can both agree that in order to be a rock star, you probably shouldn’t have the attitude of a “rock star.” We consider Tooth & Nail a family. Generally speaking, families spend a lot of time working and playing together; they support and cooperate with each other. In that sense, wouldn’t you more readily welcome people who were nice and funny and tenacious into your family than those who were condescending or lazy or…Raiders fans?

Unfortunately, there is no checklist or blueprint for what exactly we or any label is looking for in a band. Sometimes even when an artist has all these things at length, things still don’t work out. It’s a place to start though, I suppose. If you really want to be in a band, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. You’re going to have to earn your stripes. Not everyone makes it, but you might discover something about yourself in the process. And isn’t that what matters?

You know, aside from an armload of Grammys.

If you have a question you’d like answered, leave us a comment here, tweet us @toothandnail or shoot us an email at and hopefully you’ll see your question here on a future edition of Ask Tooth & Nail.

From Fan to Family: My Life’s Story


The scene begins on November 27th, 1998, the day after Thanksgiving, standing in front of a brick building in downtown Seattle is a small group of pimpled faced teenagers. The turkey and stuffing from the day before was hardly the Thanksgiving they were waiting for. Today was the day that Tooth & Nail records had the Grand Opening of their very first store, located in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. All huddled together in anticipation, when Brandon Ebel appeared from the front door with camera in tow. Each of the teenagers were trying to play it cool, as a prominent figure of their youth interviewed them one by one asking them about being at the Grand Opening (and gives everyone a $5 store credit before they walk in). Once inside, it was like Fort Knox for these excited super fans, it was seeing every Christmas list from the last 5 years come alive in one room at one time, including those sweet coveted Dickies shorts with the T&N logo embroidered into the knee. As the camera pans the room documenting this occasion, one of the zit faced kids squeaks out to a guy behind the counter, “You know what, I am going to work here someday.” Replied to with a short laugh and a “yea right, kid.”

12 years later, that “kid” is me. Jonathan Dunn, Director of A&R for Tooth & Nail/Solid State Records.

In the early 90’s I had the benefit of having an older brother (remove comma) and being surrounded by a thriving music scene in Seattle. I remember seeing bands like MxPx, Roadside Monument, Don’t Know and Blenderhead playing house shows at “The House of Punk” and “The House of Funk,” staples of the Tooth & Nail music scene in Seattle. In those days, you didn’t have the benefit of the internet to find new music. It was a lot of work to discover new music, anxiously awaiting the mail each day to see if the new T&N CD compilation would show up in the mail, listening through it hundreds of times and then scouring to find the releases from the bands on the compilations.

A few years later, the invite to become a Tooth & Nail street team member surfaced. Who better to represent on the streets than myself? I remember boxes of Juliana Theory sampler tapes (yes, tapes), posters, and stickers. You name it, and I worked it. Standing outside of shows handing out samplers and stickers and wearing T&N on my sleeve. Soon I became the “leader” of the Washington street team. Through the street team I became acquainted with some of the staff members at T&N by hanging out at shows. Playing in a unsigned band at the time, I can still remember when Chad Johnson, Tooth & Nail A&R, came out to see our band play while we were on tour. During the end of that tour, the band was falling apart, and I wasn’t sure where it was all going to end up. On the second to last day of the tour I get a call from one of my friends who worked at the label said there was an opening in the mail room and asked if I was interested in the job. What could I say, this was my ticket, I couldn’t pass that up even if it meant I would be licking stamps all day.

I spent a few years slaving away in the mail room, jumping at any opportunity that would come my way. Everything from driving 4 hours up north to pick up the band Beloved from the studio to cleaning out gutters in the pouring rain to sitting in over 100 degree weather working a booth at a festival. This was my dream come true. Sure, maybe I didn’t realize in my dreams this is all that it would entail, but I was surrounded by the music I was passionate about for better than half of my life along with the people who made that all happen. I always had aspirations of doing A&R, but knew I had to pay my dues wrestling with envelopes. While I was still in the mail room, I still had friends that were in unsigned bands that I had toured with in the past, including the band Emery. I can recall the day Emery sent me the song “Walls” they had just recorded with Ed Rose, paying for it out of their own pocket. I had the song on repeat, blaring as loud as the speakers could go in the mail order department. Ebel comes walking in and stops dead in his tracks listening to the song. When the song ends, he said, “Who is that?” I reply, “That’s the band Emery I have been telling you about.” As Ebel turns his back to walk out of the room he peers over his shoulder and says, “Sign ‘Em.”

There is obviously a lot more to the story than what I have laid out here, however, that was my start as a fan boy, to mail room grunt, to signing my first band Emery. Over the years I have had the honor of doing A&R for everyone from Emery, August Burns Red, Norma Jean, Haste The Day, Living Sacrifice, MxPx, Hawk Nelson, Falling Up, and many many more. Just a kid with a dream and a love for music. The dream continues with each band I sign and every record I get to work on. The rest of the story, to be continued/lived…