One of the great mysteries in the music business is how to meet the decision makers who can help bring success to you and your songs. However, the second greatest mystery is why – once in contact with one of these elusive industry people – so many songwriters throw common sense out the window and behave in ways that can only hurt their cause and, ultimately, their reputation in the eyes of the industry. In my years as a professional songwriter and producer, I’ve been on both sides of the equation and so I’d like to, hopefully, help you refrain from some of the common – and easily avoidable – networking mistakes songwriters make.
If your plan is to be in the music business for more than just this week, then take a deep breath and know that, more than anything, patience is essential for a long and healthy career as a songwriter. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you may have to wait many years before the networking seeds you’ve planted bear any fruit whatsoever. Becoming impatient with someone – whether it’s a publisher for not returning your call or a record label exec for misplacing your submission – can only end badly for you. I have a music industry friend who still talks about some of the threats, angry voicemails and poisoned pen letters he’s received over the years. The problem is that by losing your cool, no matter how justified it may seem at the time, you’ve branded yourself as unprofessional in the eyes of that particular industry person. And, by the way, did I mention that music industry people meet for drinks after work and compare notes? The last thing you want is for your name to be the topic of conversation at some music industry happy hour. My recommendation would be to remember that no one in the industry is purposely avoiding you and your songs. More likely, they’re overwhelmed by submissions for a variety of projects and will get to yours in time. The best way I know not to become impatient is to have as many irons in the fire as I can at any given moment so I’m not waiting for “that one thing” to come through.
Let’s say you’ve had a really nice interaction with a publisher who has expressed interest in hearing some of your songs. While I understand the temptation to send this individual every song you’ve ever written including a few that aren’t finished yet, restraint should be your default setting. I’ll give you a scenario to explain why this is not a good idea even if you’re confident that all of the songs you’re sending are great songs. Imagine the desk in a publisher’s office with every inch covered in CDs. If a publisher is looking for the next CD to listen to and one CD has two songs on it and one CD has nineteen, which one do you think they’ll pick up? Believe me when I tell you that if a publisher likes what they hear, they’ll ask you for more but if you overwhelm them from the start, you might never get listened to at all. Your best bet is two or maximum three songs on a CD or in separate emails (once you’re certain you’ve gotten permission to submit an mp3). My experience is that there’s no need to include lyric sheets, bio information or any photos. It’s always better to start small and build up rather than the other way around.
I’m a big believer in the “talk softly and carry a big stick” approach when meeting with anyone in the industry. The hallmark of a novice is informing the industry person you’re talking to that you’re a great songwriter and you’ve written a hit song if only it got a chance. Even – especially – if it’s true, you’ll do more harm than good by coming on so strong. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe in your work or be quietly confident about what you’re doing. It does mean, however, that the best way to approach anyone whom you’d like to have listen to your music with humility and an understanding that your music isn’t the only music in their world. Saying something more along the lines of “I think I’ve got a song that’s appropriate for your artist” or “if you’re looking for songs, I’d like permission to send you a song or two” will go a long way towards establishing your professional bona fides.
This seemingly simple suggestion ends up roundly ignored at most music conferences. If you find yourself with a private moment to chat with a publisher, A&R rep or music supervisor, why not start by asking them a few questions about themselves? The temptation to launch into a ten-minute, spoken-word bio seems to be too great to resist in a lot of cases but, often, this is the wrong time for unsolicited personal information. Given that networking relationships – the healthy ones, that is – take time to develop, it would seem that your best bet would be to get to know a little bit about the person you’re talking to and, in time, they will want to know a little about you as well.
OK, so you’ve got the beginnings of a nice relationship with a publisher and they’ve asked you to send them some music. If you send them a couple of songs – either by mail or email – and don’t put a note on your calendar a few weeks later to follow up, then you might as well have not sent anything at all. What I mean is that without a brief, to-the-point follow up email or even briefer voicemail, your music is likely to get lost at the bottom of a pile of submissions in that publisher’s office. I can say with absolute certainty that several follow ups are the norm to confirm that your music has been received and listened to. Now, the flip side of this coin is that you need to be judicious in the spacing of your follow up messages. Following up every day for a week after you’ve sent your music will be more significantly more damaging to your reputation than not following up at all. You’re walking the fine line between professionally following through on your delivery and being a nuisance. The key is a quick, polite follow up every couple of weeks and not getting discouraged if it takes three or four attempts. And, by the way, sometimes you’ll never get a response. It’s ok to write off a submission after you’ve given it sufficient time. There are plenty of opportunities out there and there’s no point in getting discouraged by one that doesn’t come through.
I hope that this article will serve as a gentle warning to avoid some of the common networking mistakes that we, as songwriters, are prone to make. Having personally made almost every one of these mistakes early in my career, I can safely say that there is hope and a chance at recovery if you’ve slipped up a time or two (or three). All this to say, it’s good to be passionate about your art and by understanding some of the elements of the commerce side, you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting your music out there.