For most songwriters, the idea of being a staff songwriter for a music publisher is a lifelong dream. However, in order for this dream to become a reality, you’ll need to be more than just a gifted songwriter. You’ll need to show a publisher – and yourself – that you’re ready to think and act like a professional songwriter. This means considering much more than just how good your songs are. Hopefully the pointers below will give you a sense of the other things you’ll need to keep in mind as you pursue your goal of getting a publisher interested in you and your songs.
There’s a lot you can do beyond showing up with your songs to show a publisher you’re serious about the business of songwriting. Knowing the names of the songwriters currently on their staff, what hits they’ve written and a little bit of the history of the publisher will go a long way towards showing them that you’re a serious songwriter who also takes them seriously.
When you’re first meeting with a publisher, don’t assume that they’ll be able to hear through your homemade rough recordings. I’m not suggesting you need to do full-band demos but I am saying that a professional vocalist and single instrument (either guitar or piano) recorded in a real studio will go a long way towards putting your songs in their best light. In time, as your relationship with a publisher develops, they may tell you that rough recordings are fine but until then I’d stick with polished recordings.
Early in our careers as songwriters, we’re so hungry for praise that when someone in the “industry” tells us we’re doing good work, we’re ready to hand over the publishing to everything we’ve ever written. It can be helpful to keep in mind that you’re entering into a business relationship where you’ll want to be sure of what you’ll be receiving in exchange for giving up your publishing. For example, make sure they have a plan to pay you a draw, pitch your songs, set you up with other writers, cover your demo costs and a host of other services that you should be sure you’ll be receiving in exchange for a big percentage of your copyright.
I know that musicians can have a reputation for being flaky and unreliable. Don’t let that be you. If you’ve scheduled a time to meet with a publisher, wasting their time by being late – even five minutes – brands you as an amateur. If you want to be treated like a professional, act like one.
Bring a maximum of three songs to a meeting with a publisher. I understand the temptation to bring more songs. You’re proud of your songs and you’re hoping that a publisher will want to hear more of what you’ve written. Unfortunately, bringing a lot of songs to a meeting feels overeager and puts pressure on the publisher to devote more time than they may have allotted for your meeting. Believe me when I tell you that if a publisher likes what you’re doing, they’ll ask you to bring more songs the next time.
Over my years of being in the music business I’ve found that nothing happens as quickly as we’d like it to. The plus side is that the longer it takes a relationship with a publisher to develop the longer it tends to last. Nothing of value comes quickly so relax and concentrate on building healthy, long-term relationships with music publishers and good things will happen in time.
Meeting with publishers can be a bit daunting for songwriters given how passionate we are about our songs and about our dream of getting them out in the world. That being said, remember that a meeting with a publisher is simply the first of many steps that you’ll be taking as you continue to grow as a songwriter and learn about the business of music. Hopefully the above tips will help you keep things in perspective as you make your way though your songwriting career.