Do It Yourself

So, what’s the big deal about a deal?  I mean, in today’s market do you really need a publishing deal?  A record deal?

I’ve been a music publisher for 25 years and I can tell you that yes, there are serious advantages to landing a publishing deal (a record deal may be a different story).  And I’ll go through those with you.  But at the same time, I want to make one very important statement …

Publishers are looking for hit songs and hit songwriters.  Period.  They are not looking to find amateurs to develop into superstars.

Why, you say?  Isn’t that the way the music business has always worked?  Then, how do I get my start?  Well, let’s begin with the the first question …

Why are publishers and labels no longer anxious to sign and develop new talent?
1) The music industry has been on a downward financial spiral since the introduction of mp3s.  Napster introduced free, illegal file sharing, which continues to this day at various sites.  Computer upgrades made ripping and burning for friends easy.  iTunes devalued the album from $16.98 to $9.99 (for those who still actually purchase their albums) and iTunes also introduced consumers to the idea of buying a single song instead of the entire album, further reducing consumer spending on music.  Need I say more?  Record stores are out of business.  Can you find one in your home town?  With music industry revenues in the toilet, a publisher or a label can no longer afford to spend development money on promises and risks.  They need to sign the hits and only the hits.  So now more than ever, that’s all they’re looking for.

2) Also, because consumers can now purchase songs ala carte, labels and artists can no longer afford to put average songs on their albums.  If they want you to purchase the whole album, they must now make sure the entire album is full of hits.  No more filler.  So from a publisher’s standpoint, he has to be pitching mega-hits to the artists, if he wants to land a song on their album.  Great songs are no longer good enough.  They must be better than great.  They must be absolute smashes.  And if that’s the case, then when Mr. Publisher is signing a writer, he must look for the superstar talents, not the developing ones.  He needs a roster of hit makers.

Then how do I get my start?
How do we climb the ladder of songwriting success, you ask?  How do we become wanted songwriters?  In my opinion, it’s never been the smartest move to look to someone else to take you to the next level anyway.  Industry folks have always wanted hard workers … self-starters … serious musicians with a serious passion to make it to the top.  But now more than ever before, you have to be a self-starter.  But you’re in luck, because this is the best time in history to do that.  More opportunities lie at your doorstep than ever before …

1)  Training –  Take your craft seriously.  Work hard to become the very best you can be.  There are a myriad of songwriting seminars, training programs and boot camps available that can be very helpful.  There are hundreds of books you can read.  Study materials about songwriting, but also study hit songs.  Pick them apart, compare them, and find out what makes them great.

2) Practice – Write, write, write.  Co-write with others who are a step ahead of you. Join songwriting clubs to find co-writing partners or meet potential collaborators at events you attend.  If songwriting is going to be your career, then you must treat it as a business.  Get out and do your homework.  Write for local artists, write for special occasions, write with others.  Write your songs – evaluate them objectively – then re-write them.

3) Get Honest Feedback –  Not from friends and family, but from people who would really know.  If you’re writing worship songs, then send them out to other churches.  Ask for honest feedback.  Ask for feedback from your pastor, and the worship leader down the street.  If you’re writing for bands, then make friends with local bands and pitch them your songs for feedback.  Send your songs in for professional critique at songwriting events, contests, here, or at other online critique sites (Google is your friend).   Listen to what others are saying and take it to heart.  Learn from the criticism and don’t take offense or defend your work.  Use the feedback to your advantage and become a better writer.

4) Get Your Songs Out There – In the new world of social media and web 2.0, your song can be heard by thousands of people around the world in a very short time.  Use the web to your advantage.  YouTube is the number one song discovery tool across all genres of music today!  If you’re not a social media guru, find a college intern to help you.  Pay attention to the reviews, the feedback, the number of views.  If your songs are good, people will tell you.  They will catch on like wildfire.  If your songs are average, then people won’t say much.  Just get your songs in front of the right audience and listen.  If you’re writing congregational songs, then get them in front of worship leaders.  If they begin using your songs in their home church without your twisting their arm, then you’re on your way.

5) Monetize It Yourself –  My policy is always to give it away first.  Create interest, create a buzz, get the song heard.  Then slowly begin to sell your material.  In the world of worship music (which most of you are in), giving it away is the best thing you can do.  You’ll be paid on the back end through CCLI.  Just get it out there. But you’ve also got iTunes and a hundred other places to sell your music online, in addition to your concerts and events.  Physical retail is dead, so don’t worry about that.  The only “distribution” you need is online.

6) The Music Industry Will Come To You – When you’ve created a buzz and folks are clambering to get your material, you’ll start getting calls.  Labels and publishers watch the social networks, they watch YouTube, and they watch CCLI.  They’ll know if your songs are gaining popularity.  They’ll know that you are a hard worker and that you’re serious about your craft.  You’ll be the kind of writer they want to work with, partner with.  They know that if you have done the hard work up front and that you’ve honed your craft, then they can take a risk on you.  They are then more willing to crank up their big, expensive machine to help take you on to the next level.  And yes, at some point you WILL need their expensive machine to help get to where you’re going.  You’ll need their knowledge, experience, contacts, networks and money to get to the top.  At that point, it will make sense for you to bring them on as a partner for your business and your ministry.  And that’s what they will truly be for you – a partner.  It’s much better for you when you’re looking to them as a partner and not a miracle worker.  And at that point, you’re in a much better negotiating place anyway.

So, in today’s music market, Do It Yourself.  That’s today’s stream-of-consciousness advice from Songsphere. 🙂


One comment on “Do It Yourself

  1. Pingback: Tools For Effective Songwriting (4) | Nate Fancher

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