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.

Unsolicited submissions are potential grounds for a lawsuit

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.

What can songwriters do about this?

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.

1. Reach out to your PRO

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.

2. Join the Nashville Songwriter’s Association (NSAI)

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.

3. Use “real life common sense”

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.”

Conclusion

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.

Good Luck!

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8 responses to “How Songwriters Can Pitch To Publishers Who Don’t Accept Unsolicited Material”

  1. Ben Benjamin says:

    Cliff,
    I attended your last workshop at BMI. Thank you again for informative stuff. Although I feel am seasoned, I continually learn more. The workshop helped me tie up a few loose ends and the online is huge also.
    THX again,
    Ben

  2. Thanks for some good advice

  3. Karl Crosby says:

    Should a songwriter send a demo to one music publisher at a time? Or should the songwriter send multiple demos to more than one music publisher at a time?

  4. Cliff says:

    HI Karl,

    No problem pitching songs to multiple publishers until one of them decides to sign either you or the songs you’re pitching. Hope that helps!

  5. Dean says:

    Any advice for someone that lives in a far off country..say New Zealand?

  6. Robert Pollina says:

    Dear Cliff
    Help! I’m preparing to do the 3 song consult with you-of course I’m not happy with the demos I will submit. I’m hoping you will be my first music-biz “ relationship” that will springboard to fantastic success. Yep, a little humor to soften the inevitable punch in the mouth! I plan on spending some time preparing for our hour -long discourse. Excited, terrified, don’t want to waste my opportunity or your time. I’ll prepare my music, demo and written material, questions about publishing and pitching.Can you direct me to other points of interest I should cover with you? I’m studying your blogs for ideas, assistance. I sound like a teenager-I’m 56 years old-forever passionate about music! Hope to hear from you-Robert P

    • Hi Robert! First of all, it’s always great to see someone who takes their craft so seriously! Secondly, here are the questions you’ll receive from me once you sign up for your consultation. Along with up to three mp3s and lyrics, this is what I’ll need. Hope this helps and looking forward to chatting with you when the time is right!

      1. What are you goals for your music/songwriting?

      2. What are your goals for yourself as a musician/performer?

      3. Did you record your demos at home or at a professional studio?

      4. If you recorded at home, what are your goals as an engineer/producer?

      5. Do you have any specific questions about the music industry that you’d like answered?

      6. What is your biggest concern/fear when it comes to the music industry?

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