Hi everyone, it has been a while since I posted here. I want to share my past experience with the whole pitching thing.
I did not start writing songs from a Christian perspective until 1996 and my very modest success in the music business happened before I got saved for the most part. Take what I say with a grain of salt because I have not figured out how the Christian music business differs or is like the secular side of the business. I think what I have learned applies though.
I have written songs for 37 years now, I am 53. In 1979 I decided to concentrate on writing country songs exclusively because in my mind, it would be easier to get a hit in country music. Boy was I naive!!!
I armed myself with a copy of the Songwriter's Market
and started pitching to anyone and everyone in Nashville. I walked to the post office every day and just shotgunned cassettes and lyrics out to everyone. I was rejected by everyone, Tree, Atlantic, Bug, Warner, Maypop. At one point I considered wallpapering our bathroom with the rejection notices; I still have them all somewhere.
I think I eventually signed 2-5 single song contracts with mom and pop music publishers in Nashville, a couple actually through the mail and a couple as a result of 2 to 3 trips I made to Nashville in the 80s. (Side note: NO REVERSION CLAUSE; do NOT sign a contract like this if you can help it. ) Nothing has ever come of these contracts though.
The trips I made to Nashville cost me a lot of money and in 1981 I actually pawned a Gibson J45 and Fender Pbass in a Nashville pawnshop to extend my stay and have money to get back home again. I lost both of those guitars..........
The publishers up there joke about the songwriters walking up and down the sidewalks in Music Row with a guitar, lyric sheets and CDs or cassettes. That is exactly what I was doing. I never made it past the receptionist at any of the large publishing houses or record label/publishers under those circumstances, (although it IS important to treat the receptionists with respect. They can make or break the possibility of you seeing someone higher up the food chain at a later date.) I think maybe 2 of the smaller publishers actually did let me make appointments and talked to me, but passed on everything I pitched. I think I quit making the cold call trips to Nashville in 1985.
Pitching Unsolicited Songs through the mail does NOT work!
Cold Call trips to Music Publishers and Record Labels does NOT work!
The shotgun approach with no specific focus/goal does NOT work!
I sulked for a few years, but I never stopped writing.....
In the early 90s I had a couple of years where I got a songwriter showcase at SXSW. Although that festival is making a LOT of money and the musicians and songwriters are getting a tiny amount of pay for the showcases and I resent the exploitation of bands hocking everything they own and driving across the US in a van to play a 45 minute showcase, there are industry people out and about and a few of them actually heard me at the showcase. None of the industry people who heard me at the showcase picked up any of the songs though.
(a friend of mine who is a GREAT songwriter was hanging out with a rep from a then up and coming independent music publisher in Nashville. This friend of mine had targeted this publisher specifically and had made many trips to Nashville to build a relationship with this specific staff member of this specific publisher. He took him out to lunches and dinners and LISTENED to what the publisher had to say. He did NOT just pitch him songs right off the bat. He let the publisher know that he was willing to move there and that he was interested in being a staff writer for them. That is exactly what happened for him.)
This friend of mine introduced me to the publisher during SXSW and because my friend talked me up, I had a new door open up and was given the opportunity to pitch them some songs. I made a few trips to Nashville specifically to talk to him and pitch songs. I probably pitched 50 songs over the course of several months and they passed on all of them except for 2, which I signed single song contracts WITH reversion clauses. To my surprise, 1 of the 2 they picked was a song written from the heart, personal experience deeply felt. For the most part, the commercially crafty songs I had written did not interest them at all. They said those songs sounded like anything else they could hear at any publishing house in Nashville. They wanted to hear unique songs from the heart, sincere and somehow different and fresh.
They paid to have demos of these songs recorded by really good singers and musicians, no cost to me.
More lessons learned at this point:
Write from the heart, not what you think will be a hit!
A real publisher puts their money where there mouth is!
A real publisher is not afraid to sign a reversion clause!
WHO YOU KNOW IS AS IMPORTANT AS HOW WELL YOU WRITE!
RELATIONSHIP IS IMPORTANT!!
I had a chance to be a staff writer if I moved Nashville, but I was a greedy dog and kept lobbying to get a staff writing deal AND stay where I lived. I actually got them to consider it, but they didn't bite ultimately and I can't blame them. If I had been there, they would have had me co-write with writers far more experienced and talented than me. Still kicking myself for not making the move..........
I stayed here, but during that period in the early 90s I co-wrote every week with friends who were good songwriters. (Although we wrote a lot of stuff I would just as soon not every hear again, I also wrote the best secular songs I have ever written during that period. Even the ones I wrote alone were better because I was treating it as work and hitting it hard every week.)
One of those songwriters got some cuts with a singer in Norway on a CD that went platinum in Norway and made him quite a lot of money. He subsequently got a song we co-wrote cut on another CD and I had my first cut and actually earned money for something I had been doing for the love of it with no financial return for 20 years at that point.
I also play bass with several very good singer/songwriters, which has opened the door to co-writing with them and subsequently resulted in getting songs on their CDs with regional and overseas distribution.
WHO YOU KNOW IS AS IMPORTANT AS HOW WELL YOU WRITE!
A recent surprise - that same singer contacted me in 2007 to get permission to record another song I wrote........ that I pitched to him back in 1993!
Don't give up on a song you know is good!
I have had many disappointments: deals I was sure were going to happen fell through. My ship has come in and sunk at the dock several times. I have been confused over the years, but now I know plain and simple, it was just not in God's will for those things to happen. The successes that have happened were in His will. Actually, I think all of the successes that I have had were new doors opening that were not at all the doors that I was knocking on. They were either complete surprises or tangential to what I was trying to do under my own power.
Now, having said all of that, I started writing Christian songs in 1996 and I think they are good, but they are not praise or worship songs. They are closer stylistically to Michael Card and some of Twila Paris's non praise songs (not that they are as good, but those are my 2 favorite Christian songwriters.) I don't really know what God has purposed for these songs, but they did get a good response when I played them at church. They are really written more as songs for unbelievers, kind of a witnessing/convicting slice of my life experience. I am not really a performer per se and I am definitely not a worship leader, so I am not sure what God wants me to do with these songs.
Here is what I have learned over 37 years:
*Never give up writing if God has gifted you with this talent
*Network with other writers; don't isolate
*Find people you like and trust in music ministry and industry and cultivate those relationships
*Don't give up on a song when it is rejected
*Don't pitch unsolicited songs
*Don't make cold calls to music industry reps
*Don't pay someone to write lyrics or a melody or review your song!!
*Write from the heart, not for commercial success
*Do copyright your songs
*Do sign with a Performing Rights Organization
*Trust God if he closes a door you have been trying to go through; Father knows best (Remember Paul and Asia, good idea, not God's will)