One of the seeming ironies of the music business is that we’re told music publishers are constantly looking for great songs but, at the same time, most major music publishers have a policy of NOT accepting unsolicited material. As an up and coming songwriter, this can seem at the very least confusing and worse yet, discouraging.
I posed the question as to why most publishers don’t accept unsolicited material to John Ozier, the Vice President of Creative at ole publishing. Not only was John’s answer clear but he also provided essential information for songwriters as to what they can do to circumvent this seemingly impossible situation.
From the publisher’s perspective, accepting songs from unknown sources creates a scenario where one of the publisher’s staff writers could be accused of copyright infringement if one of their songs is even remotely close to something submitted from an unknown writer. This is of enough concern these days, according to Ozier, that publishers are even starting to shy away from giving song critiques at music conferences for the same reason. Publishers are simply limiting their exposure to material from unknown sources. Period.
More valuable than the above insight from John as to the publisher’s position, though, are his recommendations for what new songwriters can do to get their songs into the hands of publishers in spite of the “no unsolicited material” prohibition.
Performing Rights Organizations (BMI, ASCAP and SESAC) – and in particular the writer/publisher relations representatives – can be an excellent conduit between new songwriters and established music publishers. While by definition a PRO’s role is delivering royalties to songwriters based on the performances of their songs, the reps in writer/publisher relations can go a long way towards making the appropriate introductions when a songwriter shows promise. At this point, armed with the introduction from a PRO rep, a songwriter can get that elusive meeting with a publisher and/or submit their songs.
To back up half a step, new writers – especially unaffiliated ones – should try to schedule a meeting with all the PROs. Getting these meetings takes time and patience. A polite follow up email or phone call every few weeks is not inappropriate. My general recommendation is that if you find a writer/publisher relations rep who responds well to your material and is willing to make the above introductions to publishers, that is the PRO you should affiliate with.
If your interest is in writing country music and meeting with country music publishers, the NSAI is a great organization to join. Not only do they provide a built-in peer network of songwriters but they also have countless events where songwriters can meet and connect with music publishers and other industry decision makers in a low key, constructive environment.
I love that John put it this way. One of the things we forget as songwriters who are deeply passionate about our work is that we have to take other people’s feelings and situations into account. A little common sense goes a long way. What this means is that since music is a relationship-based business, you should slowly and organically broaden your network of industry connections. This means, for example, introducing yourself politely to a music publisher at a conference and leaving it at that. You will, inevitably, meet this same publisher in the future and another quick introduction and reminder as to where you both met the first time builds the slow but solid foundation of a relationship. Once you’re a “known” person to this publisher, everything becomes easier and your material – in time – will no long be unsolicited. As John put it, “you’d be surprised at how many publishers are willing to take meetings once they’re familiar with the writer who is asking.”
I put this article together after my discussion with John so that what might seem like an insurmountable problem – no unsolicited material – can be broken down into a series of steps that will ultimately get you in the door with a music publisher. Thanks again to John Ozier for his candidness and insights.