The Top Ten FAQs On The Business Of Songwriting #6by Mary Dawson
The Internet Writing Journal, March 2002
QUESTION 6: How can I get my song to a specific artist?
So there you are! You're sitting at your piano in the front room of your house in Podunk, Kansas. You have just written the greatest song ever! You know it; your mom knows it; even your friends know it! They say your song would be perfect for Mariah Carey...or Garth Brooks (depending on your genre). Now here's the $64,000 Question:
How in the heck do you get Mariah Carey or Garth Brooks to even know about -- let alone hear -- your great new song?Every major artist is surrounded by several layers of music business insulation. First, there is the manager. Every artist has one. The manager is usually one of the artist's closest friends and advisors and helps the artist make career decisions, plan promotional campaigns, and find ways to further the artist's success. One of the manager's most important duties is to "run interference" between the artist and unsolicited distractions -- like you, the aspiring songwriter!
The next layer is the entertainment attorney that represents the artist. If you thought the manager was a bit intimidating, wait til you meet the lawyer! Attorneys are paid to be as protective as a mother grizzly with her cubs...always looking out for the artist's rights and any possible legal landmines that might endanger his/her career.
And then there is that layer of insulation known as the record company -- that massive, self-contained corporation located in Los Angeles, New York or Nashville -- that has a whole fleet of proven staff songwriters. And if somehow the staff songwriters can't deliver that necessary hit, there are the many freelance, award-winning songwriters who have established relationships with the record company. With all these resources available to them, major record companies are usually NOT looking for outside, unsolicited material from you -- no matter how good your song may be! The norm is that your carefully prepared demo and promo package will either be returned unopened or simply thrown away without any sort of response at all!
In the light of all this, your mission -- should you choose to accept it -- is to find a way to penetrate all these layers and not only get your song to the artist, but get it there with the recommendation and good will of the manager, the lawyer AND the record company!
Are you discouraged yet? Please don't be! These are simply the realities of the business you are in! For you, the aspiring songwriter from Podunk, Kansas, it means a couple of very important things:
- First, your songs don't have to be as good as the songs you
hear on the radio...they have to be much, much better! Think
about it: Why would a music executive choose a song by you -- an
unknown writer -- when they already have songwriters they know
and believe in? The only possible reason is that your song is
so extraordinary they simply CAN'T refuse it. Be absolutely sure
that your song and your demo are excellent by anyone's standards
before you even attempt to penetrate the insulation. (See FAQ #8
on the importance of the demo). Remember: You only have one
chance to make a first impression...don't blow it!
- Secondly, you as an outsider must at least appear to be as
professional and "in the know" as music industry insiders. This
will require a working knowledge of music business terminology
so that when and if you make contact with the artist or the artist's
representatives, you will not appear to be a complete goofus! You
will, for example, need to know that the term, "A&R" stands of
"Artist & Repertoire" and that an A&R representative is responsible
for finding material for various artists on the label. You will
also need to know the difference between mechanical and performance
royalties (See FAQ #10/How Do Songs Make Money?), the function of
managers and agents etc. I would suggest reading a couple of good
books on these subjects. Two of my favorites are: The Craft and
Business of Songwriting by John Braheny and Music Publishing: a
Songwriter's Guide by Randy Poe. (Both books are from Writers
- Thirdly, in the light of all the layers of insulation and the policies of most music companies, make it your policy never to attempt sending in any unsolicited submissions without having first made personal contact with a real-live human being -- with a name and a title -- who has given you permission to submit your song.
OK...you've polished your song to perfection and you have done your homework. You're ready to plow through the layers of stuffing between you and that household-name artist that needs to sing your song!
First of all, you must identify the specific people in the equation: Who is the artist's manager? Attorney? And which record company A&R department is searching for material for that artist? Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and get ready to do a little sleuthing!
The easiest fact to discover is the name of the record company the artist is with. Go down to the local record store...find the artist's most recent CD and look for the name of the record label on the back. Now go home and get ready to call the record company. You may want to purchase a music directory which will give names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for specific individuals in various departments at the major record labels. My favorite directories come from Music Business Registries (http://www.musicregistry.com). Or you can simply call directory assistance and ask for the main number of the record label.
When the receptionist answers the phone, do NOT ask for the A&R Department! A&R is usually pretty suspicious of any calls from unknown writers and will usually give you the brush-off immediately. Instead, ask for the Promotions Department. Promotions is the branch of the record company that links the artists with possible concert bookings. Identify yourself confidently (remember...you are a trained professional...you can do this!) Ask the Promotions Department for contact information on your artist's management company. They will gladly give it to you because you may be a big promoter or booking agent who wants to book the artist for an event.
Now call the management company and ask to speak to the manager who handles your artist. Again, identify yourself as a songwriter from Kansas, give your name and ask where the artist is in his/her recording schedule. Are they looking for material now? If so, what kind or style? If not, when will they again be recording? Tell the manager that you have great hit material you think would be perfect for the artist and ask if it would be possible to send it for consideration.
The manager may tell you to send it directly to him/her, in which case be sure to confirm the correct address, the correct spelling of the manager's name and ask for any special instructions that may be necessary in order to submit the material. Some companies have special codes that must be put on the outside of the package before it will ever be opened. Or the manager may tell you that all submissions must go through the A&R Department of the record label. This is often the case, especially for major artists. If so, ask the manager to give you the name of the A&R person whom you should contact at the record label. Thank the manager for the information and volunteer to send him/her a couple of copies of the song anyway -- one for the manager and one for that other shadowy figure...the attorney! The more people connected with your artist that hear the song, the better the chances of the artist also hearing and considering it.
Now, you have a tremendous advantage! You actually have the NAME of the A&R Representative that works with your artist. When you call the record company again, you can ask for the A&R person directly. Tell him/her that you have just been speaking to ____________ at ____________Management Company who directed you to them. (The more names you can drop, the better.) Repeat your inquiry about submissions and ask for permission to send your song. If they tell you to go ahead and send it, be sure to again confirm the correct procedure, the correct address, the correct spelling of the name etc.
If, however, you are thoroughly rejected -- if you are told that NO unsolicited submissions will be accepted -- don't lose heart. Start keeping a log of where you have made phone calls, whom you have spoken with etc. Wait 3-6 months and then call again. Chances are -- because of the high turnover of personnel in music companies -- the person you spoke with today will not be there next time you call. In that case, tell the new person that you have had previous contact with __________ (drop the name of the first person here) and would like to also develop a relationship with them.
No matter how impolite the voices on the phone may be, determine that you will never burn bridges by getting irritated and ugly yourself! Be sure to jot down and remember the names of secretaries nd administrative assistants. Nothing is so flattering as having a caller remember you by name and I can't tell you how many songs have actually been cut because a secretary or intern has moved a writer's submission to the top of the pile or given the song a little "plug!" Also, in the Music Business it is literally true that the secretary of today may be the A&R head tomorrow.
If and when you do receive a "green light" and permission to send in your song, be sure that your package looks professional. Always include a typewritten lyric sheet and be sure that your contact information is on both the lyric sheet and the CD demo itself. After a couple of weeks, it is appropriate to contact the individual you spoke with before to confirm that they did receive the package and to ask them what they thought. Be just a little shy of obnoxious in your persistent follow-up. Always remain pleasant but remember the old adage that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."
One other tip! As you make contact with record labels, be aware that all record companies have both well-known artists and newer, not-so-well-known artists. The latter may be much more approachable and willing to receive outside material than the more established artists who already have favorite writers. By getting to know an artist BEFORE he/she becomes a household name, you may be able to "grow with them," providing that great song that will push them into national prominence.
Write consistently great songs and keep pitching them wherever and however you can. As your circle of influence widens, so will your chances of getting your song into the hands of the artist that can make it a hit!
**From her earliest childhood years writing simple songs and poems with her father, through her twelve years as an overseas missionary, to her present, multi-faceted career as an author, lyricist/songwriter and conference speaker, Mary has always been adept at using words to communicate her heart to others. She is the President of CQK Records & Music of Dallas, Texas, a company which creates and produces songs in a panorama of musical styles for a variety of audiences, She is the host of "I Write the Songs," a nationally syndicated radio talk show, especially created to inspire and instruct the more than 40 million aspiring songwriters in the U.S. Mary is a frequent public speaker and seminar lecturer and teacher of songwriting in her popular Living Room Seminars. She is a Contributing Editor for The Internet Writing Journal ®.