One of the things I’ve observed over the years I’ve been a songwriter is that songwriting is a solitary endeavor. When you do muster up the courage to leave your creative bubble and try to market yourself and your songs, it can be a bit confusing (not to mention overwhelming) to figure out who the various industry players are and what roles they play in helping you get your songs into the right hands and generating income. To help you on your way, I’ve put together a short list of a few of the most important players and what their roles actually are.
Let’s start this one with a definition. A PRO (or Performance Rights Organization) is an entity designed to track your songs’ commercial performances and pay you royalties based on the number and quality of these performances. The major PRO players are BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. This is the PRO’s only official function. However, in reality, they do much, much more. Some examples of the additional opportunities that PROs provide are music conferences, sponsored writer’s nights and, most importantly, a deep and broad set of industry connections from publishers to record labels to other songwriters. Once you affiliate with one of the PROs, you have a choice. You can either do nothing but register your songs and use them for their official function or you can do yourself and your songs a favor and schedule a meeting with a writer/publisher relations rep at your PRO. Setting up a fifteen to thirty minute meeting, if you’re patient and professionally persistent, is a great opportunity to show a rep what you’re up to musically and begin a relationship that could potentially serve as a goldmine of networking options. There is, of course, no guarantee that your writer/publisher relations rep will be able connect you with other industry professionals but it’s always worth a shot.
As you progress in your songwriting career, you will almost certainly be in a situation where you’ll be presented with a contract of some kind. It should go without saying that no contract should ever be signed without having a music attorney look at it first. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first one, of course, is to be sure the terms of the contract are fair and your best interests are being taken care of. But, speaking of best interests, a second and equally important reason to have a music attorney look at your contracts has to do with the fact that most terms in contracts are negotiable and it takes an experienced music attorney to know what concessions/modifications to ask for so that the final version of the contract is more in your favor than the initially proposed offer. This is an area that fits squarely under the heading of “you don’t know what you don’t know” and bringing in an expert would be well worth your while.
When it comes to relationships in the music business, songwriters would be well advised to seek out and get to know as many music publishers as possible. Publishers are in the business of getting songs into the hands of those entities that can create income from them. I should mention that it’s not necessary to sign a single-song contract or even a publishing deal to have a good relationship with a publisher. Apart from their regular duties of cataloguing, pitching and collecting royalties on songs, publishers are a great source of insight into the current musical landscape and have a wealth of connections from record labels to potential co-writers. All that to say, developing a relationship with a music publisher or publishers is a good policy. You can meet publishers at industry events in the major music cities and many music publishers even travel to speak at workshops sponsored by songwriting organizations in smaller cities. As long as you look at these relationships as something to grow slowly over time, you’ll gain valuable insight and maybe one day have business you can do together. Even if you decide that being your own publisher is a better fit for you, having an established publisher administer (for a much smaller percentage) your catalogue can be a wise decision.
Let’s, again, start with a definition. A&R stands for “artists and repertoire.” These are the music industry decision-makers who are charged with finding not only the artists for their record label to sign but also responsible for finding the best songs for that artist to record. Sometimes when the artist or band writes their own material, there’s nothing for us, as songwriters, to do. However, it is often the case that A&R reps are looking for songs that will help define an artist’s sound/career. Being aware of which A&R reps are connected with which artists is a great place to start and, for extra credit, see if you can find out which artists are looking for what kinds of songs. You can do this through industry pitch sheets like www.SongAlliance.com or www.RowFax.com.
When it comes to pitching your songs for film and TV opportunities, being aware of what music supervisors do – and who they are – is essential. A music supervisor works for the TV show or movie to help find and secure the rights to the songs that will ultimately be used in the episode or feature film. This can mean anything from getting the rights to use a mega hit from the 60s to finding brand new material to sit underneath a particular scene. Given that there are lots of opportunities for songwriters to potentially place their broadcast quality recordings in these settings, it’s well worth your while to research the shows that might be a good fit for your style of music and get to know the names/track record of the music supervisors involved. This takes some good, old-fashioned research but is absolutely doable and hugely important if you’re interested in making film and TV placement a part of your future songwriting income.
Early in your career, the above industry professionals may seem out of reach to you. However, I’m here to tell you that the longer you stick around, the greater the likelihood you’ll get to know most, if not all, of these individuals. It pays to remember that very few relationships of any real importance happen quickly so be patient, do your homework and don’t ever rush to promote yourself when meeting someone in the industry and good things will happen in the fullness of time.