Pitching Your Songs

Whether it's to a recording artist, a publisher, or a bus driver, at some point you'll have to pitch your songs to someone. Most songwriters focus on pitching to publishers in hopes of getting a staff deal that they think will be the end of their pitching days. A staff deal can be a wonderful thing, but many hit songwriters still participate in pitching their own songs. Who wouldn't buy a car from Henry Ford?

How to Get a Publisher to Listen

Have you ever called, e-mailed, or written to a publisher and asked for an appointment or permission to send a CD? Most publishers, caught on the right day and not pressured too much, will make an appointment to listen to a couple of your songs. Get a copy of Songwriter's Market (it's a big book that lists a lot of publishers and their submission policies) and start making connections. Most of the listings show some credits for publishers who actually have cuts.

When you start pitching, you'll need a separate toolbox. Set aside a place for cataloging and storing demos and make folders for contacts, appointments, and lyrics, and for tracking activity with each publisher (when you met, what you played, and the response). Keep a few demo packs in your briefcase and car for chance meetings.

Have you ever gone to Nashville, New York, or LA and looked in the phone book under music publishers? Try it sometime. Start making calls. Tell the person who answers the phone that you're a songwriter and you'd like to either send some material or come in and play a few songs for someone. You might only get one positive response for every ten calls, but it only takes one “Yes.” If you want a publisher to listen to your CD, you have to be patient. Don't come across as desperate; be self-assured without being cocky.

Persistence is the key. If someone says, “No,” call back in six months. If someone says, “Yes,” follow up ASAP. After someone listens, ask if you can submit more material in the future. If you are fortunate enough to get a “Yes,” then send more songs and/or schedule another meeting every one to three months, depending on the publisher's schedule. At this point, you are finally in the game. You may allow yourself a little victory dance, replete with hoots and hollers, as soon as you are in a private place.

What to Present

When someone says he or she will listen, don't inundate your new contact with every song in your catalog. Present your best three or four songs, on CD, with lyric sheets. Most publishers prefer lyric sheets in all capital letters, in Times New Roman font and twelve-point type or larger, with black lettering on white paper. Try to keep each song to one sheet and don't put two songs on the same sheet.

Never explain your songs unless asked; if you have to explain a song, it's not written clearly enough. Be polite, be on time, and don't be alarmed if the person you meet isn't — publishers are busy people. This person is doing you a huge favor by listening. Last-minute things pop up all the time in the music business. Don't be surprised if your meeting gets pre-empted in favor of a last-minute pitch to an artist or producer. Reschedule and move on to the next goal.

Even if you play live, have a CD ready. Remember, your hope is that this publisher will want to keep some of your songs to play for someone else. This may require repeated listening, and he or she may also wish to play your songs for other people in the company before making any decisions. Don't ask for a deal or a contract. If a publisher wants to offer you one, he or she will not hesitate to say so. Ask for feedback.

Make sure to double-check the spelling on all your lyric sheets. While poetic license may allow a songwriter to use incorrect grammar to make a point or illustrate a scene, poor spelling tells a publisher that you're either lazy, not terribly bright, or both. If you have any doubts on a word, look it up.

Pitching by Mail

If there's just no way that you can get to a music hub to pitch in person, you can try mailing your songs to publishers. This works better if you've already had at least one previous meeting in person. Call or write first and get permission to send your work, or your songs will be thrown away unheard. Ask for the name and/or title of the person to whose attention you should send your package.

Don't put clever slogans like “Open Carefully, contents HOT!” The publishing staff has seen them all a million times. It won't score you any points. Likewise, fancy labeling and embossed lyric pages just tell a publisher that you like to waste money and remind him or her that you're “not from around here.” Don't expect to hear anything back on mail-ins. Even if a publisher likes your songs, you won't usually get a response unless there's something that he or she wishes to place under contract. Wait at least a month before a follow-up call after a mailing. When you call, ask for feedback and see if you can send three or four more songs. Repeat as necessary.

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