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How To Find A Music Publisher
I received an e-mail from a songwriter who wanted to know how to go about
getting a publisher. Hmm...that's a good one. This writer said that they
wrote everything from classical, jazz, country, to religious. (I assume the
latter means gospel.)
First off, in my experience I've found that it's best
to concentrate on one genre of music, rise to the top of your profession in
that style, and then maybe branch out and try other styles. Don't get me
wrong! Being versatile is a wonderful thing, but those who can write many
different styles and truly do each one excellently are few and far between.
Plus, when most publishers are looking to sign a writer they look for people
to fill predesignated slots within their company -- that is to say, if they
have a need within their catalog for really traditional country songs, and
you've worked really hard and focused on being a great, really traditional
country writer, well then that focus will pay off. Anyway, food for thought...
Once you've realistically compared your songs with the top songs in
whatever genre of music you're interested in focusing on, and you truly
believe that your songs are as good or better than those songs, (after all,
you're not competing with the guy next door who writes songs anymore, you're
competing with Billy Joel), then it's time to consider the following factors.
Location. If you don't live in or near a city where people can make a living
writing songs (a 'music centre') then you'll probably have to move. While
there are some exceptions, most successful songwriters who are currently on
the charts live in a music centre.
Repeat after me -- "It's a WHO-YOU-KNOW business."
Say this over and over
to yourself, because it's a fundamental truth. Once you've moved to your
music centre of choice, you must get out there and meet people in the
business. Attend every industry function that they don't kick you out of.
Find out where the 'movers and shakers' hang out and go hang out there too.
Go to songwriter nights if you can find them.
In Canada, join SOCAN (The Society of composers,
authors and music publishers in Canada). In the
USA join BMI or ASCAP. Join songwriter associations -- these associations
will help keep you in the loop of industry developments.
Check out the Canadian Community section
for links to lots of Canadian music industry associations and contacts.***
Meet people, meet
people, meet people.
Always be polite, courteous, charming and friendly. Be
assertive but never abrasive. Good people skills and conversational skills
are extremely beneficial. When you meet a 'professional' (someone whose
already 'made it' in the music business), be cautious not to be a pest--
nothing can damage your career more. Be to-the-point in conversation and
respect their time, and they'll respect you for it. Understand upfront that
these people are often bombarded with a thousand questions and have had their
share of encounters with tape-wielding, overbearing lunatics, so forgive them
if they seem distant, or cold to you at first.
Every time you meet someone in the business, no matter who they are or what
their specific job is, you are building your network of people (and
hopefully, friends), that you know in the business. Remember, people like to
work and spend time with nice people -- people who make them feel good about
themselves. That's really simple, but it's true! You never, ever, know
where any of those connections are going to lead you. Repeat after me-- it
a WHO-YOU-KNOW business.
Once you're out there meeting all the people you can, and you have a 3 to 5
song demo of your best, knock-'em-dead tunes (full-band or simple
guitar/vocal or piano/vocal), that you feel best represents what you do, then
all that's left to do is relax! Well, keep writing every day, as much as you
can, but relax in the knowledge that you're doing everything that you can to
meet your goal. To illustrate my point, I'll tell you how I got my first
A country songwriter and singer, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee 5 years ago
from my native Canada. I had a bit of a nest egg saved up -- about $3000 --
not much! I got a place to live, and immediately began writing everyday and
going out to songwriter nights at night. I was playing out 3 to 5 nights a
week, and meeting a lot of people, mostly other writers.
I met and clicked
with certain people, people whose writing I admired, and they liked mine, so
we started co-writing. (Prior to moving to Nashville I'd co-written about 5
songs...my first year here I wrote about 5 by myself and co-wrote 40.) Some
of these writers were unpublished like me -- others had publishing deals. I
was introduced to their publishers and their friends and my network started
To this day a lot of my friends and co-writers are people whom I
met at writer's nights during the first 3 months I was in town. On nights
that I wasn't playing out I would go to places like The Bluebird Cafe, and
Douglas Corner to hear established "big time" writers perform. It was at The
Bluebird that I met a "big time" writer who owned his own publishing company.
He took a liking to me and asked me to drop a tape off at his company. From
me dropping off that tape I began a business relationship with his
songplugger. Upon the 'plugger's request, I sent him songs whenever I had
new ones, and he gave me feedback on them. He also hooked me up to write
with one of his writers, and we wrote a song. (Actually, come to think of
it, I don't think we ever did finish that song...) Anyway, one night his
writer was out playing a gig in a club, and I went to hear him. His 'plugger
showed up with a girl he was dating at the time. He introduced me to this
young lady and when he did, he was quite complimentary of my writing. It
just so happened that she was in the process of setting up a publishing
company that was going to be a co-venture with a really big publishing
company, and she asked me to send her some of my songs.
YEAH! And the door opens a crack!
Well, I did send her those songs (duh), and she called 2 days
later to say they wanted to talk to me about signing me to a publishing deal.
We met, I got a lawyer (very important), and 3 months later the deal was
signed and I had my first publishing contract.
Now, you can see by the chain of events that led to me getting signed that
had I not been out there meeting people, none of it would've happened. You
just have to put yourself in the right places, make your own opportunities,
and be standing ready at the door for when someone opens it a crack for you.
I hope that helps.
Making a living as a lyricist
Austin answers the question 'Can I really write lyrics for a living?'
Austin Smith is trekking down the songwriter's path
in Nashville, Tennessee. Austin will be contributing regular articles to Cleverjoe's until
he finally gets that elusive recording contract, at which point we hope he won't forget
the little people.
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