For songwriters early on in their careers, getting a face to face meeting with a music publisher can represent the first major step towards connecting with the music industry. Not knowing how to prepare for a meeting like this can create genuine anxiety. To help you avoid this, I’m going to suggest a few things you can do to present yourself as a songwriter who takes not only their craft but the business side of things seriously.
As a brief but important aside, this article is based on the assumption that you’re reasonably certain you’ve got songs that are ready for prime time. Given that you only get one chance to make a first impression, it’s well worth your while to consider a song critique or two from a professional songwriter or reputable songwriting organization so that you have a sense of how the industry will respond to what you’re doing. This is a much safer bet than possibly poisoning the well by bringing a publisher songs that aren’t commercially viable. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide if your song/songs are ready to go. This is still art and no one can (or should) make that decision for you.
OK, that being said, here are a few things you can do to make that first meeting run smoothly.
One of the great things about the music business is that certain corporate rules don’t apply. For example, you don’t have to dress up to meet with a publisher. However, certain professional rules still DO apply. Under no circumstances should you be late for your meeting. People in the music industry are busy like people in any industry, it doesn’t matter how good your songs are, if you’ve made someone wait for you, you’re starting out with a strike against you. Also, it doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about the company you’re meeting with. Do your homework. Find out who their writers are, what their latest successes have been. Anything you can do to make a positive impression will set you apart from the rest of the publishing deal hopefuls.
Given the stiff competition out there for publisher attention, you need to put your best foot forward not only personally but musically. While a good song is, in reality, just the melody and lyric, bringing in a homemade rough recording immediately puts you at a disadvantage. The second the publisher starts to listen to your song, they’re beginning their decision-making process. If the recording is amateurish, they’ve already started to judge (whether fairly or unfairly) you as a writer. I’m not suggesting that you need a fully produced recording with drums, bass, electric guitars, etc. But I AM suggesting that you have a professionally recorded and performed guitar/vocal or piano/vocal that showcases your song and doesn’t distract the publisher from listening to your melody and lyric.
Publishers are busy people. They don’t have time to listen to more than a few songs in any one meeting. If they like what you’re doing, believe me, they’ll ask you for more, but bringing in a CD with fifteen songs on it is never a good idea. I’d recommend bringing in your two best/most appropriate songs. If you’re feeling lucky you can bring an additional CD with a third song in your bag so that if things go great and the publisher wants to hear more, you’ll have something. My experience is that there’s no need for press kits, lyrics or any kind of fancy artwork. A CD clearly labeled with the song titles, your name and contact information (phone number and email address) is plenty. Trust me when I tell you if a publisher likes what they hear, they’ll tell you exactly what they need from you.
Remember the part about being a professional? A thank you note is a great, old-school way of letting a publisher know you don’t take their time for granted. My experience has been that nothing in the music business happens quickly and it’s much more important to develop long-term relationships by treating people with respect.
Showing your songs to a music publisher is a big deal and well worth the time and attention it takes to make a great impression. Also, I think it’s important to note that it’s rarely a one-shot deal. In other words, don’t be hard on yourself if the meeting doesn’t immediately result in any kind of tangible success. As I mentioned above, you’re in the process of developing relationships and getting your material into the hands of the right people. Don’t put too much (or too little) pressure on yourself. Enjoy the process and, above all, keep writing.