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Confessions of a Songwriter

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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.

***CleverJoe's note: 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 publishing deal.

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 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 build.

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.

Next Article:
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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