As in any business, your reputation and the impression that you make is a big part of a successful career in songwriting. Being well-respected and taken seriously as a songwriter will, in time, open doors and lead to work that will get your songs to a wider audience and generate income as well. However, as with almost everything in music, building this reputation takes time and conscious effort. Below are a few things you can do to begin building your all-important reputation as a songwriter.
It should go without saying – but I’m saying it anyway – that you should be actively working on the craft of songwriting. Writing consistently good songs takes lots of practice. Don’t let the myth that “all you need is one good song” distract you from working on improving your songwriting every day. I’m of the belief that songwriting is a muscle that needs to be constantly worked in order to stay strong.
Whether it’s is fair or not, you’ve only got one chance to make a first impression with your song when you play it for someone in the music industry. Even though, strictly speaking, songs are simply lyrics and melody, the way you present them (i.e., the quality of the recording, the instrumental performance and the vocalist you use) counts. Music industry professionals hear a lot of songs every day. Don’t give them a reason to discount your songs by pitching a poorly recorded or tentatively performed demo. Put your best foot forward by presenting not only a well-written song but one that is professionally produced. Remember, you’re running a business and you need to make sure your product (in this case, your song) is polished and marks you as a pro.
I think it’s important to remember that your songs don’t exist in a vacuum. Your best bet for finding a receptive industry audience for your work is to remember that interpersonal skills count. Being friendly and taking an active interest in the people you’re meeting makes a big difference. For example, if you’ve got a meeting with a music publisher or label representative, do a little homework and find out about the company and the person that you’ll be meeting with. Take the time to get to know someone before you begin asking them to do something for you. If you’re interested in a publishing deal, go hear some of the writers already signed to that company. Find out what kinds of material they’re writing. It can also be as simple as asking the person you’re meeting with what they’ve been working on instead of immediately telling them about you and your songs. And, although I’m not your mom (I don’t think…), I’m going to remind you say “thank you” when someone has taken the time to meet with you or answer your questions.
Songwriting – like all art – is subjective. Everyone has their own sense of what they like and what they’re looking for. If you’re hoping to get one of your songs recorded or used in a TV show or movie, then listening to the comments of the publisher, A&R exec or music supervisor about your work can give you real insight into what they’re looking for. Responding defensively to these comments won’t get you anywhere. You certainly don’t have to agree with every criticism but it’s in your best interest to give the comments real thought and consider where they’re coming from. Remember, these are the people who make the decisions about whether your songs will be put in the position to make you money. Pay attention and see if there’s a way to give them what they’re looking for without feeling like you’re compromising your art. I believe it’s possible to do both.
I understand how passionate songwriters are about their material. It’s incredibly tempting to want to show any interested person A LOT of your material. Don’t. Only present the song that is most appropriate for the pitch. There’s no good reason to add a “bonus track” to your pitch. Believe me when I tell you that if a publisher or label exec wants to hear more of your songs, they’ll ask. Here’s an example, if at the end of their work day, a publisher sees two CDs on their desk and one has one song on it and the other has nineteen songs on it, which CD do you think they’re going to pick up and put in their CD player? Also, once you’ve submitted your song, be prepared to follow up but, again, less is more here. A very brief email or voicemail about two weeks after your submission is just about right. You might need to do this a couple of times (again with a two week space between each successive contact) before you get a response but if you’re polite and to the point, you’ll almost always get a reply eventually.
It’s essential for people in the industry to know that they can count on you to do what you say you’re going to do. By showing up to meetings on time, following up on things you’ve discussed, and generally being reliable, you can go a long way towards developing a bond of trust. When people in the music business feel they can trust you, it’s amazing how many opportunities present themselves. It sounds simple but by consistently delivering on what you promise, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
There’s really no way around it. Building a solid reputation as a songwriter takes time and effort. A healthy dose of patience and humility will certainly ease your path. The good news is that once you’ve established yourself in the eyes of the music world as a solid, reliable professional, the benefits far outweigh all of the work it takes to get there.