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Getting Heard In A "No Unsolicited Material" World


by John Braheny


(Continued from PART ONE)

If you know up front that industry people are deluged by calls from writers and artists who haven't done their homework, you have a distinct advantage if you put in the research time before you call. It lets you call with a certain amount of confidence in your voice.

Don't come off as arrogant, but do project confidence. If you can let them know you're serious and have done your research, the "gatekeepers" will be afraid to shut you down too quickly because, for all they know, you may be someone important to their boss. The boss is also more likely to take you seriously. Don't beg for a chance to be heard! This is very unprofessional. Though you may not actually say it, the subtext of your conversation should be, "I have great songs that I know are appropriate for this artist. They deserve to be heard."


No matter who you're trying to get to, be nice to assistants and secretaries. Treat them with respect. There's a better than average chance that they are the ones who will initially be listening to your tape. In fact, you may acknowledge that possibility ahead of time by asking for their opinion on your songs.

Also, by the next time you call, they may be the boss and the relationship you developed on the phone gets you into their office. If you're serious enough to want a career in songwriting, you need to think years ahead and build bridges now.

Always request permission to submit tapes or CDs. For the reasons outlined at the beginning of this article, you must get permission to submit your demo. You can do this by phone but you may not have much time to "sell" yourself. A short fax can be more efficient. Include any information that may set you off from everyone else; reviews or favorable critiques of your songs or performances, sales figures on your CDs or tapes, a short history of your career, other songs held or recorded, and evidence that you've done your research on the artist or company.


If you do get through the door, consider it a great accomplishment, but only the first of a series. Don't figure that all you have to do now is just wait around for them to call you back and tell you how great your song is. Know that they're very busy and you may have to remind them that they have your tape.

After calling to make sure they've received it, always ask them to give you a date or time-frame to check back. You might say, "Look, I know you guys are busy and I don't want to make a pest of myself so I'd appreciate it if you could give me some guideline about when to check back." That way, when you do call back you don't feel like a pest because you can say "You suggested I call back in a couple of weeks."

Don't be shy about calling back several times. Nobody in the music business will ever fault you for persistence. Though it will be frustrating, don't let it affect your professional attitude on the phone.


If you plan to pitch your songs directly to record companies, managers, producers and artists, you're being a publisher. You'll get through their doors easier if you have your own company, logo and letterhead.

Don't choose a name for your company that reflects your own (JoJac for Joe Jackson) or it will be obvious to them that you're a "hip-pocket" publisher (a writer only representing your own material) rather than a company who has invested in a writer it believes in.

Yes, I know you believe in yourself but it doesn't give you that business edge here. If you decide to pitch your songs to publishers, don't send it on your publishing letterhead. They'll wonder why another publisher is sending them a song.

You can send your letterhead packages to record companies, producers and managers. Managers should not be overlooked since, as "captain" of the artist's team, they are usually very close to the decision process on selection of songs, direction of the artist, choice of producers etc. and may not be deluged as are record company A&R and producers.

Make sure you keep a tape and lyric sheets with you at all times. You never know when you'll get an unexpected opportunity to give it to someone. That someone could be the artist's hairdresser, limo driver, recording engineer, road manager, touring musician, friend or anyone else who has access to the artist or the artists official "team."

You can even offer them a sales incentive of a percentage of the income on whatever song any of those people are responsible for helping you place.

Note that I said "income" not a percentage of "the publishing" which implies a percentage of ownership of the copyright. I'm specifically talking about a "cut in" or "participation" in a percentage of the publishers share of the income for that particular recording . The income can be mechanical (on sales of CDs, tapes etc.), performance (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC for airplay) or a combination.

Most independent songpluggers operate this way, often with a clause that does give them some ownership if the song becomes a top 20 or top 10 record. Please note that A&R reps, recording engineers etc. may be prohibited by their companies from making the above mentioned "cut in" agreements.

Other good sources of information and contacts are local or national songwriters organizations and events. Most organizations have regularly scheduled events in which they invite music industry professionals to speak and listen to tapes. Familiarize yourselves with those guests, their histories and current needs. The personal contact has much more impact than a cold call.

Support those organizations with your membership and volunteer time and you'll often find yourselves surrounded by opportunities. Organization newsletters also frequently provide valuable information about industry events of interest to songwriters, such as the annual Songwriters Expo and Urban Focus in Los Angeles, Nashville Songwriters Assn. seminars and many others.

Always remember that this is a people business. As in most other business, maintaining your personal relationships, networking for new contacts, taking advantage of your memberships in organizations that can put you in touch with the industry, doing favors for your colleagues, researching the trade magazines and being ready to immediately take advantage of opportunities are all things that could contribute to your success.


JOHN BRAHENY is a noted songwriting consultant and author of "The Craft and Business of Songwriting," one of the best publications available about songwriting and the music business.


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