Helpful Info for Songwriters
- How to most effectively record your songs
- Guitar/Vocal or fully produced songwriter demos
- How to pitch songs
- The Nashville scene
- Getting your songs published
- Staff songwriter for a publishing company
The way your songs are presented is vitally important in getting the attention of publishers, producers, and record companies. They need to be done professionally and sent with a typed lyric sheet or you will be not taken seriously.
We work with publishers, producers, and record companies all the time and know the quality that they expect to hear and make our songwriter demos competitive with the very best for about half the cost.
Whether we’re working for a major company or an unestablished songwriter we use the same standards of quality to make the songs sound as good as they can be. Even if a song is marginal, we can make it sound as good as it can possibly sound by taking the time and care to do it right. If your song is good, it’ll sound great when we’re done. All you need to convince you is to listen to a few samples of our work.
Some publishers, producers, or artists say that they would prefer to hear a guitar/vocal or piano/vocal demo. Most prefer to hear a fully produced songwriter demo so they can get a better idea what the final product will be. So what do you do?
It’s important to understand the process. Popular publishers, producers, and artists are constantly barraged with CDs from amateur songwriters and professional songwriters. After about 10 seconds of listening, they will throw out an amateur’s CD. Sometimes a good song will be presented with a weak production and get thrown out before it has a chance.
This is a very competitive field and most major publishers and songwriters present their songs fully produced to attract the attention of the listener. Now, sometimes an established songwriter or publisher with a track record of hits will pitch a song as a guitar/vocal and get a cut, but if they don’t get a cut, they will almost always recut the song as a full songwriter demo.
If you are an unestablished songwriter, you increase your chances of getting a cut, the better your songwriter demo is. If you do decide to do a guitar/vocal or piano/vocal demo, use a professional demo singer and a professional musician at a professional studio, so you don’t come off like an amateur singing in front of a home recorder. Unfortunately they have little sympathy for a low budget.
If you live in a recording center like Nashville, L.A., or New York, it’s easier to pitch songs. You can visit local publishers and production companies and deal with them directly, although you can’t get past the secretaries at the big companies. But if you live out of town, you need to mail your songs to publishers and producers that are open to outside solicitation. There are several publications that list these people, check with some songwriter organizations. You can also hire a song plugger, but this can sometimes be a rip off, so be careful. Here at Midi Magic Studio, we can recommend resources that are legit, professional and reputable.
It’s useless to send anything to major companies or major people in the industry unless you have an invitation, so your best bet is to send to people you know are open or up and coming publishers and producers, who have some success, but are not so swamped with people trying to get to them, like the very successful ones.
Don’t come off too over confident, like you know you have some hit songs and they need you more than you need them. This is a professional business and they know you wouldn’t be sending them material, if you didn’t think it was very promising and could be a hit song.
You can subscribe to tip sheets to find out who’s cutting, when, and what kind of songs they’re looking for. Also it’s important to realize that they are looking for hit songs for today’s music not the 90’s, not the 80’s, 70’s, 60’s, 50’s, or 40’s. You may have something that is very good, but it may not be what they’re looking for, for various reasons, like: type of song, style, lyric content or it may sound dated to them.
That’s why it’s so very important to use a songwriter demo company that will present your songs with a current up-to-date sound, musically and vocally. Many times we’ve taken a song that was dated and did it in an up to date fashion and it no longer sounded dated.
Midi Magic Studio is located in Nashville. In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s the Nashville music business was mostly country and southern gospel. But mass exoduses to Nashville from all over the country during the 80’s and 90’s have diversified the climate very much. Many L.A. and N.Y. people and companies have relocated here and many people predict that in a few more years Nashville will be clearly the largest recording center in the world, surpassing L.A. and N.Y.
Today country music is very diverse with rock, R&B, Pop, Jazz, and Gospel influences. Nashville today is considered not only the country music capital of the world, but also the contemporary Christian and Gospel music capital of the world. Also there is much pop and rock recorded, a thriving jingle community, and quite a lot of music videos and some TV shows and movies.
With the increase in activity there is an incredible talent pool of excellent vocalists and musicians of every style that can be used on your songwriter demos. I’m very particular of the vocalists and musicians I use on Midi Magic Studio demos, because they can make an incredible difference in the outcome of a songwriter demo.
Time after time I’ve been surprised at how good a song can sound with an excellent vocalist and excellent musicianship. After I arrange it, produce it, and polish it, many times it doesn’t even sound like the same song to me anymore. We’ve all heard weak songs on the radio, and wondered why it’s playing. Well, I think many times it’s the arrangement, the production, and the performance that makes it appealing and popular. I’ve certainly seen this transformation take place in my studio.
Some inexperienced songwriters are happy to give up their publishing rights to their songs to a music publisher thinking that this is the first step towards getting someone to record it. Not necessarily so. Music publishing is not like book publishing, getting your song published only means that you’ve given up your publishing rights to your song, half of the royalties go to a publisher, who may or may not do anything for you.
I’ve noticed that companies or people with a lot of money who want to get into the music business many times buy several smaller publishing companies and overnight have a huge catalog of songs. How many songwriters like yourself, that signed their publishing rights away to their songs, have been surprised to find out they have been sold to another company that shows about as much interest in them as the first company. In this situation it’s all about clout and sheer numbers of songs in a publishing catalog. Don’t just be a feather in someone’s cap, protect your songwriting rights, and don’t give away your publishing rights for life.
In Nashville a very fair system has developed over the years that protects the songwriters. If a publisher doesn’t pay for the cost of the songwriter demo and has none of his own money tied up in your song, then the publishing contract lasts only for one year and if the publisher doesn’t get an artist on a major label to record and release your song then the publishing rights revert back to you. But if he does get a cut, then he has the publishing for life and you both make money.
I have friends who are staff songwriters at local publishing companies (Sony-Tree, Warner Brothers, and some smaller companies) in Nashville. They get a weekly salary, usually $500 – $1200 a week if all they do is write. Sometimes it’s more if they help out doing other things like running the recording studio, playing on sessions, pitching songs, evaluating CDs (like the ones you send to them), singing songwriter demos, or going to Wendy’s (gophering) or all of the above and more (washing the publisher’s car).
What they also get is free songwriter demos paid for by the publishing company. Usually the publisher won’t demo every song, only the ones he thinks are pitchable, so sometimes the songwriter finds himself in the same situation as you. He knows he’s got a great song, but the publisher doesn’t hear it that way, so he won’t demo it. In that situation it would be nice if the publisher passed on the song and forfeited his rights to the publishing on your song, giving you the freedom to demo it with your own money and pitch it yourself. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way, make sure you have a pro music lawyer (not your brother-in-law that’s a lawyer) read your contract before you sign it.
The salary you get as a staff songwriter is a draw against future royalties. If you get a hit song your first royalties pay back the publisher the salary he’s paid you all these years, but hopefully not demo costs and other expenses (read your contract so you won’t be an indentured slave or tenant song farmer). Of course, if you never have a hit song, you never have to pay back the money, it’s not a loan. But obviously the publisher is not going to want to continue this arrangement forever if he doesn’t get a return on his money. After all. this is a business.
I’ve seen songwriters get nervous about spending a lot of demo money, they know someone somewhere is counting. For instance at Sony-Tree most songwriters can spend $700-$1000/song for a songwriter demo, above that they have to pay. Sometimes they will demo a song with a full production at an expensive studio and other times they may just do a guitar/vocal at the in-house studio. Most songwriters are sensitive to how much of the publishers money they are spending, because they realize that the bottom line is how much they are spending versus how much they are bringing in.
The publisher also should provide song pitching for the songwriter in order to get major cuts on the songs. Sometimes there is a person that does nothing but that, and is called a songplugger. Other times, if it’s a one man publishing co., the publisher himself will do this.
In most instances in staff songwriting the publisher has the publishing on the song for life. This is fair in this situation, the publisher is sticking his neck out, paying you a salary, demoing your songs, and pitching them with no guarantee of any return.
So there are pros and cons for being a staff songwriter, some decide after a time to not renew the staff writing position and to become an independent songwriter and maybe start their own publishing co., hiring staff songwriters and starting the process all over again, this time calling all the shots (oh, the power).