It’s funny really. Every musician I’ve ever known has had that dream at one point or another. But the truth is, there really are no clear cut ways, or information available that tell you how to get a songwriting record deal. You are kind of on your own here. But I’d like to try and point you in the right direction at least, so that when you do get to the point that you want some free band promotion, or songwriting tips and resources, at least you’ll know where to turn, instead of trying to pin the tail on the music donkey with your blindfold on.
Songwriters are actually a dime-a-dozen. Seems like everyone I know is a songwriter, or would like to be. My mother has even written a few lines on a napkin here and there, but at least she never claimed to be a songwriter. She thinks she’s a poet. Songwriting is a very demanding field. There are many thing you must learn before you can even begin to write a good song. Structure, rhythmic elements, not to mention being able to find a word that rhymes with sweetheart. But all these things CAN be learned from various places. Online courses are all over the place, and I can’t count the number of books available on the subject.
And then there are the naturals. Those people who are just born with a talent to write good songs. Do you know one? It will be that guy (or Gal), who plays guitar and sings at parties, and when he’s done everyone says “who sings that?” and of course he’ll say “I wrote that”, and everyone is absolutely blown away by it. Assuming that it’s early and the keg is still full, that person is probably one of the naturals.
But enough about that. You want to know how to get a songwriting record deal, right? Well, the fact is, you can do it, but it will not be easy. First, you should be one of the naturals, or have educated yourself to the point where you can fake being one. Sorry, but NOT EVERY SONG has the potential to be a top ten hit. I know you may think your’s does, and hey, it very well may. But be realistic about your odds at the beginning so that you are not let down in the end.
Songwriting is an extremely competitive market. Not only do you have to worry about other songwriters beating you to the punch, you are up against all of the existing successful songwriters who already have a track record behind them. In the music industry, it is more tru than ever that “it’s not what you know, but WHO you know”.
Because of this fact, I’m going to reinforce what you have probably heard 1000 times before, and that is, if you are serious about your music, and it deserves for you to be serious about it, then you absolutely need representation. There are music row attorneys who do nothing else but shop songs to the major record companies and publishers all day long. Agents are in a similar situation, they are already connected within the industry, so it is ten thousand times easier for them to get a song heard by the A&R department than it would be to try and do it on your own.
Publishing houses are an avenue that the independent artist CAN use to get their music into the right hands, but all these methods rely on one key element, and that is the way that you approach these people. You simply must have a professional attitude and demeanor when dealing with Nashville, or LA, or New York. Wherever you may be, these people are professionals, approach them with less than a professional appearance and you are toast. If you remember nothing else, remember that.
Prepare your professional image materials well in advance of needing them. Your Bio, and Promo package should be done and ready to send before you ever get on the phone and start connecting. Use a professional designer for your materials if you can afford it. This is a business, like it or not, and it’s going to require a little investment, just like any other venture where you plan on making money. If you do not know what goes into a Bio or Promo package, that just means that you are not ready to start marketing yourself to the music industry. Go find out these things.
You will need a music industry directory, for obtaining contact information, because you are going to be calling A LOT of people. Everyone’s submission policy changes just about on a weekly basis. When they receive a certain number of submissions, they will shut down for a while sometimes just review what they already have, then at some point they will start requesting submissions again.
NO ONE in the main music industry hubs accepts unsolicited material, so don’t even try it. It will mark you as an amateur, and you will have an even harder time overcoming that, than if you had just called and asked for permission in the first place. Well, maybe there’s one guy who does, but trust me you don’t want to get involved with him.
That brings up another point. Never pay someone to listen to your music. They are not in the music industry. They are in the listening to your music for money industry. No one who is legitimate will ever ask you to pay them, that’s why it’s so hard to get them to listen to it! These people are only looking for top ten hits, album cuts are just filler for your CD when you record it.
As I said before, if you have an attorney representing you, or a reputable agent, it will mean that these people believe in you, because you are not paying them up front. That gives them much more motivation to shop your songs for you. They don’t get paid until the song sells either. Plus, if you are involved with an attorney, you are much less likely to be taken advantage of regarding your contract. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but you never know.
Independent record labels are another source for how to get a songwriting record deal. These companies are a lot less strict on their submission policies, (you should still call first) so getting to the decision maker is a little easier than with the majors.
I recommend calling first for two reasons. One, it gives you an idea if they are actually accepting submissions at the time, who you need to send it to so it doesn’t wind up in the pile with 100 others, and what formats and actual materials they require. And two, if you can actually talk to the person who will be reviewing your songs, you can make an impression on them before they ever get your CD. It won’t always happen, but sometimes it will.
One last thought for this article. You’ll have much better success calling record companies and publishers if you know the name of the contact person, and can ask for them, rather than saying lamely to the secretary, “can I talk to someone in A&R?”.
Also, keep very good notes as you are making your calls, they may not need anything right now, but they may tell you when to call back and check again.
There are some excellent music industry contacts here: Free Musician’s Resource Directory [http://www.iimusica.com/directory.html]
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