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Pitching Your Own Songs

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In a perfect world, we tunesmiths would all have publishing deals with hefty draws and a dozen or more songs on hold at all times, but back to reality. A great many excellent songwriters with some hit-worthy songs in their catalogs do not have staff writing gigs. They may be avidly trying to land one, but in the meantime a cutting edge song could be languishing away in a dusty briefcase and fast becoming not-so-cutting-edge.

Assuming your songs are at the appropriate level, it's a good idea to take the bull by the horns and start the arduous task of being your own songplugger. You'll never find another as enthusiastic about your creations!


Creating Contacts

Image from PhotoDune
Image from PhotoDune

A songplugger works at a publishing company and his job is to get his company's catalog heard by the decision makers.

Playing out, visiting publishers, co-writing, and meeting with performing rights organizations are all good ways to find contacts. Make an appointment with a rep at BMI, ASCAP, and/or SESAC and try to get a referral by impressing the socks off of them. Plan to play three to five songs. Bring a labeled CD and lyric sheets with your name and contact information on each. Be punctual and professional and you just might garner a contact and possibly a referral.

If your rep is impressed enough to arrange a meeting for you, it will almost definitely be with a publisher or songplugger. A songplugger works at a publishing company and his job is to get his company's catalog heard by the decision makers.

If a publishing deal does not arise from your arranged meeting, and it probably won't just yet, that person becomes another contact and hopefully a fan of your music.

Writers' nights are great places meet future co-writers and reinforce already established connections. Co-writers you acquire may introduce you to their contacts, and vice versa ad infinitum.

A and R people from the labels may hear something they like when you take the stage. If you get a compliment from such a person, ask if they could grant you a few minutes in the form of a pitch meeting. Don't be pushy, but don't be a shrinking violet either.

I have had lots of luck by using the phrase, "five minutes." The meeting usually stretches much longer but my suggestion of brevity got me in the door!

Above all, don't be what the industry calls a "germ." (pronounced with a hard G). Earn your contacts by delivering quality material presented professionally, not by glomming onto people and driving them into avoidance mode.


The Unglamorous Task of Getting Organized

Image from PhotoDune
Image from PhotoDune

Tune your instrument and if you can't carry a tune in a Gucci bag, find someone who can.

In order to pitch a song, it should be in very listenable form. The standard of the industry is a decent, though possibly simple recording of your song with a nice, clear production and understandable lyrics.

Tune your instrument and if you can't carry a tune in a Gucci bag, find someone who can. Ballads work fine as guitar or piano vocals, while uptempos come across better with at least a basic rhythm section.

Remember that the competition may be shopping his or her tunes with a full-blown, high dollar demo so do the best you can. That being said, studio demos are expensive and should be acquired cautiously!

Next, do your homework and find out who is looking for what and for whom. Just because you have a brand spanking new hit in your hand doesn't mean it is right for every artist. Be selective!

Subscribe to a good tip sheet, such as RowFax or SongQuarters.

If and when you feel you have a good pitch for a certain artist, start going about landing an opportunity to present that song to an A and R rep at the artist's label, a manager, producer, agent, or even the artist himself or herself. It is unlikely that any of the above folks will meet with you without a referral, but once in a while a lower level member of the label's A and R staff will take a meeting.

Don't rave about the songwriting contest you won back in Iowa. Trust me it only tells them that you are new at this.

When you do start making pitching contacts, don't inundate them with every new song that floats off of your silver tongue.

If you cannot get your song to anybody in the artist's camp, be patient and keep making new contacts. It is also perfectly acceptable to drop off your pitch package at the appropriate designated places. This information should be on your tipsheet.

Be sure to include lyric sheets with your name and phone number folded and neatly rubber banded to your CD box, which should also be labeled. Song titles should be on the CD label and the box label as well.

Again, be patient about landing such meetings and know that you are more likely to get a decent listen if the would-be listener is aware of your name.

When you do start making pitching contacts, don't inundate them with every new song that floats off of your silver tongue. Be courteous and respect the fact that they are very busy people. Follow up when it is indicated.

Keep a file that shows where, when, for whom, and to whom, each of your songs was pitched and any reference notes. If an individual likes a certain song, but not for the artist currently looking, your notes will remind you to pitch to that contact again, but for a different artist.


The A and R Meeting

Image from PhotoDune
Image from PhotoDune

The most typical meeting songwriters attain are with the Artist and Repertoire staffs of the record labels. Deal only with the large labels and reputable smaller ones. You will be assigned a slot of time between fifteen and thirty minutes, and will usually be left fermenting in the waiting room for awhile beyond your agreed upon start time. When your key person calls you back to their office, keep your greeting short and to the point.

Your package should say which artist on the label's roster you are pitching to.

Why you wrote the song and your concept for the video is very unwelcomed information.

A hold is a good sign but countless songs are put on hold for every album that comes out.

Let the song speak for itself. Don't be overly offended if your song is turned off after only fifteen seconds or so. This is a very common occurrence. Perhaps they already have a song in that groove.

If you have several songs on your CD, you may get one longer listen, and another short perusal or two. I have encountered people who listen all the way through every song and others who barely make it through the musical intro. I have seethed through phone calls that were taken as my song was playing at exceedingly low volume only to be told, "I don't get it!" when the song and phone call were finished. Once my CD was popped into a player that ran much too slowly and made the song sound like a dirge! Be prepared for anything, but remain cool ad polite.

At any rate, be keenly aware when the meeting is over, and do not overstay your welcome. It is better to leave a bit too early than to put your contact in the position of having to show you to the door.

In time, you will find your preferred audiences, and not waste your efforts on those that only seem to be filling a daily listening quota! Hopefully, one day you will be told that he or she would like to play one or more of the your songs for the artist or producer. Don't hold your breath, but be hopeful. Something positive could come from such a comment, even if it's only another meeting a month later.

Another possibility is that the listener may want to put your song on hold. Technically this means that you agree not to pitch the song to anyone else until the hold is dropped and made into a firm commitment. A hold is a good sign, but countless songs are put on hold for every album that comes out. Be happy, but not ecstatic.


This Songwriter's Perspective

Image from PhotoDune
Image from PhotoDune

I still pitch my own catalog to this day, and did so even when I was in the middle of a publishing deal. Even though I had the luxury of a songplugging staff for most of my years in Nashville, I figured the more pitches, the merrier! It amounts to more tickets in the lottery assuming the pitches are valid.

On a few occasions, I may have jumped the gun and beat my plugger to a certain contact, but that was rare and brows were furrowed in my direction only occasionally.

On separate occasions during my twenty plus years in the biz, I have been stood up, mistaken for someone else, and left waiting for nearly two hours making small talk with the receptionist.

Once I even managed to flood the bathroom only several feet from the reception desk!

On a less horrifying note, an A and R gent once liked my material so much that he invited me to write with the Dixie Chicks! A friend of mine was called, and told that a song he had pitched was going to be recorded by the artist. After much jubilation, he later learned that it was actually another song by the same title that was being recorded. Talk about an anti-climax!

The industry is made up of humans, and humans can be kind, funny, cruel, clueless, thoughtless, and wonderful. Pitching your own catalog will teach you a lot about psychology, give you some colorful tales to tell, rob you of sleep, and with a little luck, land you a boatload of cuts.

Happy pitching!!

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