Songmine: Publishing Yourself: Developing a Filing System by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Publishing Yourself: Developing a Filing System by John Braheny

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Songmine by John Braheny

PUBLISHING YOURSELF: Developing a filing system

If you plan to be actively “plugging” your own songs it’s important to keep track of what’s going on. You’ll need to develop a list of producers and recording artists for whom your songs may be appropriate. Keep a running file on each of them so that every time you make contact you can note who they’re producing (for producers), what type of material they need for the upcoming LP, where they’re recording, what kind of demos they prefer, whether they usually ask for a percentage of publishing, etc.

Info on the artist should include vocal range, what style he/she prefers and information about personal idiosyncracies like “hates sexist songs” or “positive lyrics only.” This information can be obtained from the producer, consumer and trade magazines, radio and TV interviews or, if you’re more fortunate, from the artist.

It’s also wise to keep a record of personal items about the producer, such as “plays golf,” “anti-nuke activist,” “just had a baby,” “going to England in August,” etc. This type of info is useful in all businesses where personal contact is important. It allows you an instant recap and reminder when you call them or set up a meeting, gives you an idea for opening conversation to break the ice, and lets them know that you’re concerned about them as people. It doesn’t take the place of having good songs, though, since many producers have little time for “small talk” and are best served by a brief presentation of your material. It can, however, create a better climate for you to get feedback on your songs and help you develop as both writer and publisher.

After every meeting or phone call notes should be made regarding the outcome, such as “loved ‘Don’t Take It Away,’ doesn’t feel it’s right for (artist) but wants to keep the tape for future reference – remind him,” “didn’t like ‘Do It Again’ but maybe if the hook was stronger – rewrite,” “will be producing (artist) in Sept. -start writing.” Aside from those personal notes, keep another file on the songs. It should tell you who has demos on each of them, when they received the demos, dates of follow-up calls and what was discussed or decided, etc. The value of these records will become apparent after you’ve called about 30 producers and are preparing for another call or visit when you discover you can’t remember whether it was producer X or Y who hates cassettes or whether he’s already “passed” on the song you intend to present.

You should also have a ready file of lead sheets and tape copies on all the songs you’re currently pitching so you don’t need to delay if someone asks you for a copy.

It’s a good idea to have 3X5 cards with you at all times so you can write down any info you pick up on the street. The cards are better than little scraps of paper or matchbook covers because they don’t get lost as easily and are easily filed. The street information you pick up is usually about who’s recording now or a new producer with an unknown act who might give you the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

For tax purposes make sure you keep track of all expenses incurred in doing business. They include lunches (must be documented as business), demo costs, tape copies, lead sheets, trade magazines, night-clubbing (looking for new talent), auto expenses, telephone calls, all musical instrument purchases and repairs, sound equipment, records and tapes (to keep up with what’s happening).

Remember that all of this takes a lot of discipline but once you get in the habit it becomes easier. If you don’t get in the habit you could seriously jeopardize your chances of success.

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.

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