The DIY Guide to Submitting Your Songs to Anyone in the Music Industry
Writing great songs is only part of the success equation. Learn more about song submission and getting your music heard.
By Cliff Goldmacher
So you’ve written a great song, made a fabulous demo and now you’ll live happily ever after, right? Well, kind of. There’s no doubt that being a great songwriter and having beautifully recorded versions of your songs is an admirable goal in and of itself. However, if you’re interested in having your songs see the light of day, your work is really just beginning. While organizations like Tunecore do a beautiful job of helping you get your music out in the world, it’s still entirely up to you to make sure your songs get in the right music industry hands. Until the people who can actually do something with your song (i.e., record labels, producers, managers and publishers) have heard it, it might as well not exist. I know this sounds obvious but I think you’d be amazed at the number of songwriters out there who have great song demos that very few, if any, music business people have ever heard. Creating the music is one thing but getting your music out in the world requires an entirely different set of skills. The skills I’m going to focus on are networking, professionalism, persistence, persistence (yes, I know I wrote it twice), courtesy and patience.
Like any business, it’s not only what you know but also who you know that gets you ahead. What this means in the music world is getting yourself out there to open mics, writer’s nights and any industry events you can find. For those of you in music cities like New York, Nashville and Los Angeles, there is an almost endless stream of opportunities. For everyone else, you might have to look a little harder or travel from time to time to one of the cities I just mentioned. I think it’s a universal truth that this kind of stuff isn’t always that much fun but, especially when you’re starting out, it’s essential. Let’s put it this way: All things being equal, if you’ve met someone from a record label or publishing company in a social setting and assuming you’ve had a nice exchange, there’s a much greater likelihood that they’ll not only remember you when you call but will make more of an effort to help you out if they can. The point is that the more you’re out there, the more people you’ll meet and the greater the chance it will pay dividends down the road. I’d also recommend remembering a few basic social skills while you’re at it, like not immediately launching into your 10-minute, spoken-word bio. It’s a much better idea to find out a little something about the person you’re talking to by remembering to ask a few questions as well.
Did I mention we’re talking about the music business? This means it’s in your best interest to be professional about how you approach people in the industry. When reaching out to someone in the music industry, call or email first. Make this first contact short and to the point. In other words, let them know why you’re calling/emailing (e.g., to schedule a meeting, to see if they’re accepting CDs, to ask whether you can submit an mp3, etc.). This is not the time to have a long discussion. If you’ve been referred by someone they know (see “networking” above), mention this as well. Also, while it’s great to be excited and even confident about your material, it rarely pays to tell someone that you’ve got a “great” song or you’re an “amazing” songwriter. Let your music speak for itself. Once you’ve gotten approval to do so, then submit your song or bring it to the meeting. It really doesn’t make sense to send out CDs or mp3s without first getting approval, as they usually end up at the bottom of a pile or, even worse, the person who hasn’t asked for it considers it an intrusion. Don’t kill the messenger here; I’m simply saying that the odds are that if someone isn’t expecting your material, there’s a good chance it won’t get heard.
By the way, if you’ve never seen the office of an a&r rep or music publisher, I’m here to tell you that it’s wall-to-wall CDs. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of them. Make sure that your CD is clearly labeled with a few simple elements: your name and contact information (phone and email), the name of the song or songs and possibly — if it’s a song for an artist — the name of the person you’re pitching it to. Also, make certain that every part of the package is labeled. This means putting your information on the CD and on the CD sleeve or jewel case. Make sure that if the CD itself gets separated from the case, the information is the CD, too. Also, if you’re using a jewel case, make sure there’s information on the spine. Remember the part where I said there are thousands of CDs in these folks’ offices? When your CD ends up on a shelf with all the others, the spine of the CD will be the only way for them to identify it.
Finally, I can think of no good reason why any submission should be more than three songs. If you’re pitching a song to an artist, they’re not hoping for a “bonus track.” If you’re pitching to a publisher, three songs is a good way to show them you’ve got more than one good song without overdoing it. If they want more, believe me, they’ll ask. It all comes down to putting yourself in the position of the industry person. If they’ve got a desk full of CDs to listen to and have to choose between a CD with two songs on it or one with 19 songs, which one do you think they’ll pick?
Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to reach someone by either phone or email and they’ve agreed to let you mail in a CD or email them an mp3. Here’s what you should expect: Nothing. In other words, it’s extremely rare that you’ll hear anything back quickly after you submit it. As a matter of fact, you should put in your calendar to follow up two or three weeks after you’ve submitted something. This follow-up should be even shorter than your initial contact. Email is probably best for this. A simple email saying you wanted to make sure they’d received your submission is enough. Also, don’t be surprised if the response you get back (if you’re lucky enough to get one) says they haven’t gotten it and would you mind resending it. Resending material is something that you should expect to do. Following up every two to three weeks (unless you’re asked not to) is perfectly acceptable if you’re polite and to the point. I’m not a cynic and I don’t believe that anyone has an agenda to ignore submitted material. I’m a realist and the sheer number of submissions makes it almost impossible for anyone to stay on top of things. Anything you can do to help remind someone is in your best interest and generally appreciated.
I think it’s important to realize that no one in the industry owes you anything. This may sound harsh but it’s an important point. You may very well have great songs and it would be in the best interest of the industry professional you’re pursuing to listen to them, but there are a lot of great songs out there and only a limited number of opportunities for them. If your song isn’t listened to right away or even if it’s lost or ignored, don’t take it personally. I’m a songwriter myself so I know exactly how important your songs are to you. It’s not easy to submit them for judgment and tougher still to wait around hoping someone will actually listen. However, you’ll only do yourself a disservice by being rude or impatient with someone and heaven help you if you get a reputation in the industry for being difficult or unpleasant.
Given that there are so many artists, songwriters and songs out there vying for a limited number of spots, it all comes down to patience — patience with yourself as you improve your musical skills and patience with the industry people you’re soliciting as they make their way through all of the material in line ahead of you. My recommendation is to have as many irons in the fire as you possibly can at all times so that you’re not waiting for any one thing to happen or not to happen, as is so often the case. The more people you get to know, the more opportunities you explore and the more submissions you make, the less likely you are to get discouraged and the more likely you are to start having success.
Cliff Goldmacher’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” is available as a free download from his website at http://www.cliffgoldmacher.com/ebook.
Posted Mar 15, 2010
This article is SO helpful! Thanks
This is article is just what is needed at the right time.love it.
1.) Pick and choose “open mic” venues. Are ANY music biz people actually there
on a regular basis ? How many songs or minutes do you get to perform ?
Does the house PA sound tech know their stuff ? Ask other performers first
about these questions before you sign up. KNOW the turf !
2.) Develop working relationships with local newspaper “culture vultures” and
radio station music programmers that spotlight local music.
3.) Have your best material so well rehearsed that you can perform it with your
eyes closed. THAT really impresses the crowd & other musicians !
4.) Have quality demos done that sound truly professional. Its not a cheap hobby,
passion or business.
5.) Copyright your material and research which websites offer you the most bang
for your buck when it comes to radio airplay, submissions for soundtracks,
trade magazine & website reviews. Hype is easy, a STRONG reputation with
a proven track record of success is not.
Good advice, Cliff. Look at CD’s in a stack, with just the spines showing. Which ones can you easily read, and which ones decided to be artsy and write their name or the name of the CD in tiny gold script or some ‘artist-formerly-known-as-prince’ logo that just looks like a piece of lint got into the jewel case?
Communicate. Put it in black or red on white, in big block letters, with just your name if it’s a pitch CD, or with your name AND the name of the CD if it’s a release to the consuming public. Make it easy to find, easy to ‘get’ at first sight.
That’s why the slim-line CD case is NOT recommended. That spine is your flag in the CD ocean, your only hope the rescue plane can spot you, fish you out, and make your dream come true.
Put your name and contact data, home phone, cell phone, mama’s phone, your address, email, snail mail, female, however they can get in touch with you, on the jewel case, on the CD itself, on the J-card or other paper insert, on the lyric sheets, and on any correspondence. These things may come apart in the A&R rep’s or publisher’s or artist’s possession. The labeling can help them put it all back together, and get back to you to move the business forward.
Keep your letters and emails and phone calls brief and to the point. Time is capital and you can spend it or invest it. Hope the person you’re communicating with is busy, investing their time, and appreciates you not wasting theirs or yours.
I find a review useless. I’m the only one who can judge it and decide whether to exchange my money for it. So it is with us all. Your task is to get them to listen, not to convince them they will agree with you when, or if, they do listen.
Gary Andrews has been at this song submittal schtick for a good long spell.
Take heed of his suggestions and learn from a PRO !
Excellent advise as usual Gary~~Thanks you !!!
God Bless you,
Great advice! I would love to hear advice for someone who is strictly a songwriter. Not a performer. I am now completing my 3rd CD. I do this because I love to. I like to release the CD to appropriate outlets and it is all pretty much a DIY operation. I keep my expectations to the minimum but do the “getting it out there” seriously with patience and professionalism.
If anyone knows where singer songwriter who is unpublished can get some good words of advice, it would be most appreciated.
Thanks In Advance,
If you have a site where your music can be heard, never miss a chance to market. If you comment on a site like this, post it. Only hearing it can ‘sell’ it to any consumer, individuals or publishers, artists, or music supervisors for tv and film.
Fill out your profile here on the 101 and list any sites where your music can be heard.
Have you explored http://www.taxi.com ? If your music is broadcast-ready recordings they have customers who may be in the market for it. Sign up for their newsletter to see descriptions of what they’re looking for.
The links at the top of this page have data you may need to know.
http://www.amazon.com has books on the commercial end of songwriting. Creating the art is one thing; bringing it to market is another matter, and a complex one.
Thanks Cliff! I found this very article very helpfull. I live in cali and would have to travel about three hours to do an open mic in LA which I wouldn’t mind the drive at all. I just don’t want to waiste time at the wrong open mic.(Meaning I want to network with music industry type) I know it’s all a little unpreddicatble, but what’s the best way to find the open mics that will help me best?
Lots of good info here, but my question is: how can I target someone to pitch to? I’ve got a couple of songs that I want to get to specific artists, but I haven’t found any front doors or back doors to get the material to them or their people.
Great advice. This industry is tough, but time and chance comes for us all. Keep it up guys.
I am a Jazz/Funk song writer. My tracks are mostly dance music touch to it with interesting beats and rythms. I have managed to get my music on itunes, emusic and other music sites. My artist name is Faheez and I am working to get my music out there. Check out the samples and link and I will really appreciate it if anybody can leave any feedback.
Awsome article.. I learned a lot from this one. This is a part of the bizz that is not my strong point for sure. It will be a struggle but my drive will compensate.. I am a good networker and comunicator , but selling my art to someone is not.. I’de rather break out the guitar and play for someone than to talk about it. A nessisary evil thogh I suppose.. Just do it as nike would say .
Stop focusing on what your not going to do and get better at what you are going to do. Don’t be a quitter… -R. King (My New Famous Quote)
I live by this code now & forever….
Rodric King Website: http://rodricking.bandzoogle.com/home.cfm
Greatly enjoyed this article Cliff. Very informative and extremely well written. Thank you for being an outstanding representative for the Music Industry.