Now that you’ve got that great song written and demoed, it deserves to be recorded so you can start earning the compensation you so richly deserve. In the broad scheme of things, there are two ways to get your songs recorded. You either become your own publisher or sign a contract with a publisher in which the publisher finds users for your song, negotiates fees for their use, then collects the money and splits it with you on a 50/50 basis. The following are some ways that can take place with or without a publisher. Without a publisher, the negotiation and collection still has to take place but you hire a copyright administrator or an attorney with that expertise to do it for you. You just take on the task of “selling” the song and experiencing the rejection yourself. Here are some strategies:
1. Find a Music Publisher to represent your songs.
If you have no inclination to be on the phones making cold calls and researching recording, TV and film projects and negotiating deals and you have no existing contacts in the industry you’ll want to go this route. If you have internet access, search the data-bases of ascap.com, bmi.com, sesac.com, in the U.S.A. or the performing rights organization in your country . Search for song titles and writers in your style and find out who publishes them. Call for permission to submit your songs. There are also other resources for the names of publishers. Go to your library, find Billboard Magazine, look up songs on the Hot 100, R&B or Country charts in the style of your songs and see the accompanying list of publishers. You may also be able to also get referrals from your performing rights representative if your songs are exceptionally good.
2. Pitch songs directly to recording artists.
If there are artists you truly believe should record your song (Not “they’d really sound great singing it”) and it fits their image, attitudes, style, vocal range, go after them in any way you can. If they’re playing in your town, try to get back stage or run into them in the hotel lobby. Tell them you have a song you feel is right for them and ask if it’s all right to give it to them. Often, to protect them from future lawsuits, their attorneys will have advised them not to accept tapes. In that case, ask if you may present it to their manager or record company A&R (Artist and Repertoire) representative. (See also: Casting)
3. Have an entertainment attorney submit your tapes.
Entertainment attorneys have industry contacts and if they feel your songs merit referral, they’ll shop them for their usual fee (roughly $100-$300 per hour) or may do it on spec. Not all attorneys will shop tapes, however.
4. Submit your songs or music into film, TV, production music libraries or multimedia productions.
There are increasing opportunities in these industries for not only songwriters but for composers of instrumental music who have master-quality recordings. Start your research in the phone book and ask the companies if they use original music in their productions. Some will use music from production music libraries or services that supply prerecorded music to film and video productions. Ask them for the names and phone numbers of those whose services they use and follow up to submit your music. If they like what they hear they’ll usually do a contract exclusively for visual use which means you’ll still be free to use it on your own audio recordings. You’ll be paid as the music is used and you’ll also receive royalties through your performing rights organization, after your music appears on television. How much you’ll receive depends on a variety of factors including the terms of your contract.
5. Offer a percent of the income from publishing royalties to anyone associated with the artist.
This time-honored sales incentive can work if those contacts aren’t prevented by their employers from participating in that type of transaction. Contacts may include, limo drivers, hairdressers, road managers, touring musicians and crew, recording engineers, relatives. How much? 5-10% of the publishing half of the song’s “mechanical” income (from sales of CDs and tapes). Only offer the percentage of income from that specific recording. Do not offer the percentage of ownership of the copyright, which will last the life of the copyright and include income from other recordings of the song.
6. Produce an artist/band and write for or with them.
If you have developed some production skills and have access to a good studio, find an exceptional local group with a great singer or singers and write for them, creating a style with the songs you write for or with them. The Glen Ballard /Alanis Morrisette collaboration is a good example of this strategy. Shop the masters to record companies.
7. Be your own artist, produce your own CD and sell it at your gigs.
This is a good route if you have a working band with a following, a database of fan addresses and somebody in the band with a good business head. (Read How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording by Diane Rapaport and Tim Sweeney’s Guide to Releasing Independent Records)
8. Find a local group to write with.
If you’re a good lyricist, whether or not you can write melodies, find a group with a great lead singer and write with him or her. That way, the singer can infuse the song with an individual style and also be motivated by participation in the writing royalties.
9. Submit songs via a respected service organization.
The best one I know is TAXI, an innovative tip-sheet/independent A&R service. Members, world-wide, receive listings every two weeks by major and independent labels, film music supervisors and publishers looking for writers, writer/artists, bands. All submissions are pre-screened and critiqued by industry pros. All styles including instrumentals.
Another service worth looking into is SongCatalog.com where, for a fee, you can post your songs online and, by way of entering specific search criteria, potential users can find your song and contact you or your publisher.
10. Attend seminars and meetings of songwriting and music industry organizations.
These events and organizations invite record company representatives, music publishers, record producers and managers to speak and screen songs at their meetings. You can meet them and hopefully begin to form ongoing relationships with them and continue to submit songs.
This is an updated version of an article that was written for Canadian Musician Magazine.