Every year thousands of hopeful songwriters flock to major music centers sharing a common goal; getting their songs heard and cut. Since publishers and artists need songs and writers produce them, it would seem easy enough to get the two together, but as any veteran can tell you, it’s rarely that simple. Popular myth has it that songwriters wander along Music Row in Nashville, guitars in hand, stroll into waiting publisher’s offices on a moment’s notice, play a song and get a cut.Every year thousands of hopeful songwriters flock to major music centers sharing a common goal; getting their songs heard and cut. Since publishers and artists need songs and writers produce them, it would seem easy enough to get the two together, but as any veteran can tell you, it’s rarely that simple. Popular myth has it that songwriters wander along Music Row in Nashville, guitars in hand, stroll into waiting publisher’s offices on a moment’s notice, play a song and get a cut. The reality is that if this fantasy was ever true, it’s at least 25 years outdated. Today’s music industry is a competitive, big-bucks business. While many knock on it’s door, only a few gain entrance.
AS recently talked to several individuals involved in writing and publishing in Nashville, asking this basic question: How can a new writer get heard? Their answers reflected consistent agreement on the key elements, and while based on the current Nashville status quo, are probably relevant to similar conditions in L.A. or New York.
Everyone questioned agreed that getting heard by the right people is the result of a process any new writer must learn to access and participate in. It isn’t fast or easy, but understanding how to utilize your resources and play the game is vital to success.
Fact: Today most publishers depend on referrals from trusted sources or word-of-mouth to bring a new writer to their attention. A music publisher is a business person who keeps regular office hours, and has a busy schedule that involves both business and family. Many don’t have time to hang out after hours, and none of them have time to see walk-ins without appointments or listen to unsolicited tapes for hours on end. And let’s face it, who would want to? Would you? They have to be selective about who or what they give their attention to.
“It’s astounding how many new writers come to town each day,” comments Craig Morris of On The Wall Music. “If we listened to every tape, we’d have to hire a full-time person to do nothing else. More time than not, it’s just more comfortable to meet someone through a referral. If they can align themselves with a more established writer, the may have a better chance.”
Translation: You have to become someone a publisher wants to meet because someone they trust is willing to give you the credibility that comes with their recommendation.
Fact: Networking is the key to meeting such people. In other words, it’s both what and who you know that opens those doors. New writers must get out there and work the scene. That’s where you find out who’s who, who knows who, and who you need to know. Attend writers’ nights and showcases, listen to what others are doing, meet and talk to people. Find out who you’d like to co-write with. Contacts are everything.
“Networking is very important. Get to know other writers, be seen, and be heard. That’s where it all begins,” stresses Woody Bomar, head of Little Big Town Publishing. ASCAP’s Merlin Littlefield concurs. “Connecting with other writers leads to connecting with labels, producers, and publishers. Everyone’s gone through the process.”
Your resources to get started networking are the club listings in the local papers and entertainment guides, the phone book, and organizations like BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, the Songwriters Guild of America, and the Nashville Songwriters Association International. They’re all listed in the phone book and have representatives who can provide you with information and feedback. The newspapers and entertainment guides provide a complete list of writers’ nights.
Fact: Once you’ve done your homework and paid a few dues, developed your craft and shown you can at least potentially deliver the goods, people will want to help you or work with you because it’s worthwhile.
When I meet with a writer and listen to their material, I’m looking for continuing improvement in response to my suggestions.” states ASCAP rep Chris DuBois. “The market is saturated, so I have to get really excited to make a call and endorse a writer. It’s my credibility on the line too.”
“People are extremely busy, there’s too much material. It takes quite a while to be accepted,” adds Randy Huston of Dr. Vet Music, Inc. “If someone calls me from BMI, for example, and refers a writer, I will certainly listen.”
Translation: If you want people to believe in and support you, give them a good reason to do so.
Fact: Once you earn enough credibility to deserve such recommendations, don’t blow your opportunities by being unprepared and unprofessional. Presentation means a lot. That includes the quality of your demo tapes, how many songs you present, your tape package, how you look, and how you behave. As in any other business, first impressions can make a lot of difference.
“Song selection is important,” comments Island Bound Music’s Julie Daniels. “One or two songs is plenty. Be professional. Don’t present material that isn’t suitable or absolutely ready.”
Translation: Don’t work your butt off networking and perfecting your craft and then screw up as a person. When the call comes, have all your ducks in a row.
If this all sounds like a long, discouraging process, the truth of the matter is, it can be. As Doyle Brown at PolyGram says “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” And getting through those doors to be heard doesn’t guarantee success; publishers sign any number of songs that don’t get cut. On the other, if you’re really committed to being a songwriter, you have to be out there trying. Being realistic about a situation doesn’t always mean accepting that a goal is impossibly out of reach- sometimes it’s just harder to achieve.
“If it’s good enough, people will notice. The cream always rises to the top,” observes Brown.
Daniel agrees, “See as many people as you can, keep trying. It will begin to snowball. I get references through writers all the time.”
“Patience is the real key to success in this town,” Morris surmises. “You have to make a commitment.”
Maybe Littlefield sums it up best. “This is no dress rehearsal, it’s the real thing. But you can’t win if you aren’t present.”
So come to town with your dream. Be willing to listen, learn, and grow. Don’t be afraid of rejection or to meet people or make calls. Be patient, work hard, and keep hustling. In the end this process is a lot like life-win or lose, you get as much out of it as you’re willing to put in.