Be Your Own Champion

The Beatles at John F. Kennedy International Airport, in February 1964. Public domain

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of being an independent songwriter-artist in modern times is the need to be your own champion. To be the one to write the emails, create a social media presence, and  make all phone calls necessary to generating a functional and profitable musical career.

Time was, of course, when songwriters would work with publishers who would actively sell their songs. Labels signed performing songwriters who showed promise, even if they had yet to prove themselves, with the benefit of “artist development,” a concept mostly extinct now. Instead labels sign artists already established on social media platforms. All artist development, as well as songwriting and recording expertise and artistry, must be developed by the artist on their own. A performing songwriter must be not only a serious songwriter and seasoned performer, but also one with a significant social media following.  A “buzz.” These days artists need to get that buzz going all on their own.

This requires songwriter/artists to be their own champions. Yet as we all know, the kind of person that reaches down deep into themselves to write and record their own songs is not usually the kind of person who is a great salesman. Sure, some are. But generally these are two different personalities entirely. Most songwriters, cognizant of the spiritual aspects of their work, feel a gratitude for their gifts. To shift from that humble mindset to blowing one’s own horn is not easy. It’s  much easier for songwriters to champion others than themselves. Yet it’s necessary. So here are a few tips to remember.

Never be apologetic. As someone who receives countless emails and letters from songwriter/artists wanting a review, I know how many seem ashamed to even ask, and so present themselves in a poor light. They project the sense that without a real publicist, they are lesser and must acknowledge this. Wrong! Music writers are accustomed to artists serving as their own publicists, and there is nothing wrong with it.

Yet often I receive new albums with letters that frame all in negative terms, as in “Please forgive me for asking…” You must champion yourself positively. Never apologize. If you are proud of your new music, express that pride.

When contacting any industry person via email or phone call, always keep a clear list of who you contacted and when. If you are told, for example, to send something, or to wait some time and check back, document all that and contact again exactly when instructed. Your diligence and clarity will make a good impression.

Also, and this is really important, whether you are contacting press, or a music supervisor, or anyone else, is to follow-up on your request. As all of us know well, one of the most common responses to emails these days is the non-answer. Not a yes or a no, but simply nothing. Never assume this means that there is no interest in your project. More likely, the person not replying is simply swamped — too busy or overwhelmed to answer every email.

So it’s paramount that you follow-up. If one does not answer an email immediately, it is so easy for it to get lost in the mass that keeps coming in, and forgotten. So what is required is a method best expressed as Polite Pestering. To be a pest — to never let up before you get a response — but always in a polite and respectful way. It’s a method I’ve mastered over the decades in attempts to land major interviews with great artists. Always respectful and polite, I never stop. If I’m told to check back in a month, I check back in exactly one month. (Admittedly, this is easier than having to do the same on behalf of myself as a songwriter-artist).

Being clear, succinct and respectful goes a long way. Don’t be hindered by worry that you are being too aggressive. As a music reviewer, I am never upset or annoyed by artists who never stop pushing. Because that is what it takes. It is those artists — the relentless ones — who get press! And there is nothing that the music press responds to more than other press. It’s there that the perceived “buzz” can begin to expand. Soon as they see others are writing about you, suddenly they recognize you are worth writing about.

Apply the same wisdom to contacting anyone about your music — whether radio host/producer, music supervisor, producer, record exec, etc. — be kind yet relentless. Never project desperation or lack of confidence. Understand that if you don’t believe entirely in your own music, nobody else will.

Instead, express always that your music is already successful. That confidence can be infectious and persuasive. One must accept Van Dyke Parks’ wisdom that “songwriting is a triumph of the human spirit.” Recognize that writing a song, and realizing it completely is already an artistic success, a true triumph, separate from any commercial measure.

More than anything, never be discouraged or dissuaded by indifference or rejections by anyone in the industry. Remember even The Beatles were rejected by every major record label, none of which recognized their greatness. Yet they did not stop. And that is the most important lesson. Don’t be derailed. Never stop. Don’t let criticism or negativity get in your way. Remember: As long as you never stop, you are unstoppable.