Heard In A "No Unsolicited Material" World
you've written that great song or completed your writer/artist masters
or demos, you face the prospect of getting heard by the music industry.
You take off your creative songwriter hat and put on your marketing
hat. For some of you, this is an exciting challenge. For others,
it runs a close second to major surgery.
anything else, though, it gets much less daunting when you have
some practical information. Let's start by understanding the barriers
you may encounter when trying to get through the doors of the music
IS IT SO HARD TO GET THROUGH THE DOORS?
be able to deal with this problem effectively, we need look at it
from the point of view of the publishers, producers, record company
A&R representatives or managers who are your most prominent
"targets." They have two major concerns: finding great
talent/songs in the most time and cost-efficient way possible, and
protecting themselves from lawsuits.
the first case, if they have an open-door policy, most companies
are deluged with tapes. In fact, even with "no unsolicited
material" policies, they're still deluged with solicited tapes
(those referred by other writers or industry people they respect).
biggest problem for those with open-door policies, particularly
for producers and record companies looking for songs for specific
projects, is that most of the songs they receive are totally inappropriate
for their needs. Usually this is because writers who are sending
in tapes haven't taken the time to do their homework on the project
(more about this later).
those listening to tapes already know that more than ninety percent
of their time will be wasted. Pretty bad odds for someone who may
have only one or two assistants who can screen tapes.
is another barrier keeping industry professionals from listening
to unsolicited tapes. Music publishers who may just be looking for
great songs or writer/artists for development will have a broader
scope of material they're seeking, and it may take more time to
evaluate the songs they receive because they're listening for more
than whether the song will work for a current project. They're also
looking for writers who have potential for future success who they
can work with and develop.
legal barrier is also a formidable door-closer, as most companies'
legal departments advise them against accepting unsolicited material
in fear of potential copyright infringement suits. A key factor
in determining infringement is proof of "access." In other
words, if a copyright infringement suit goes to court, the prosecution
has to prove that the accused has had the opportunity to have heard
that someone at the company has opened the package containing your
tape is, of course, proof of access. You may wonder why an infringement
lawsuit can't result from solicited material. Of course it can,
but the odds are much lower because industry people already know
that most infringement suits are brought by writers who are not
seriously pursuing a career as a songwriter (they know those writers
are unlikely to sue if they ever want to get another tape heard
are referred to as "nuisance suits" in which, on scant
evidence and understanding of copyright law, a writer says "I
wrote a song called 'I Love You' that contains the line 'I love
you more than life itself' and that new hit by Joe Rock contained
the same line and I can prove I sent it to his publisher-producer-A&R
rep last year so I'm suing you."
is an oversimplification, but not by much. The hitch is that Joe
Rock could have heard that line in a song while he was still in
the womb and in many other songs thereafter. He didn't have to hear
it from a tape in his publisher's office. Since a suit has to be
dealt with by the company's legal department, it uses up valuable
time and resources.
this fear of lawsuits why many companies ask you to have an attorney
submit a demo tape for you? No. Certainly, your attorney could document
very definitely the publisher's "access" to your tape.
But most industry pros do not believe that submission of a tape
by someone with a law degree guarantees its artistic and commercial
that there aren't entertainment attorneys whose musical tastes are
respected, but it isn't the law degree that insures it. So why is
it that they ask you to do it? After pursuing this question for
years and asking a lot of questions of a lot of industry people,
I've come to one conclusion: they want to know that you're serious.
countless occasions I've heard industry people say things like "I
don't accept unsolicited material but if someone is really worth
hearing, they'll find a way to get to me or I'll hear about them."
This is sort of a "survival of the fittest" philosophy
that, like it or not, has some merit. They figure that, if you're
serious enough to pay a couple of hundred dollars an hour to have
an attorney shop your tape, you're serious enough for them to listen
THROUGH THE DOORS
Showing the industry you're serious is the key. One of the most
important things you need to do is research. Become aware of the
industry people involved in your style of music. Read the credits
on the recordings of your favorite artists--find out who produced
them, who wrote and published the songs, the record label and possibly
even the record company A&R representative who works with that
artist. If the A&R rep's name isn't on the package, call the
record company's artist relations department or A&R coordinator
and get his name.
can also get the phone and fax numbers of the artist's producer
and manager. You should also study the artist in order to "cast"
the right song so you can be reasonably confident it will be appropriate.
Casting involves knowing the artist's style and, if it's an established
artist, being familiar with the artist's most successful recordings.
Know their vocal range. Artists will often have a special place
in their range that highlights the uniqueness of their vocal sound
or style. It's referred to as their "sweet spot;" give
them something in that place to enhance their style.
to determine what it is that makes the artist's music successful
and make sure you have that quality in your writing. Is their attitude
positive, negative or spiritual? Do they sing about lost love or
hopeful love? Are they victim songs, songs of strength, rebellion,
sarcasm, cynicism or alienation? Look as much for the absence of
these as you do for their presence.
thing to remember in casting is that there may be a couple of years
before an artist's next album so you don't need to copy their current
production style or your demo will be dated. Try to imagine how
you'd like to hear the artist develop in their next album and produce
your demo accordingly. This is tricky, but creative.
possible, try to find out from the artist's producer, manager or
record company if there's a change in the artist's direction. If
you're pitching for a new artist, get information from those same
sources or find a tip sheet.
you're pitching yourself to record companies as a self-contained
artist or group, it's more complex.
same no-unsolicited-material policies exist here too. You're much
better off if you have some performing experience. All the better
if you've got good reviews, have been on the road and are used to
traveling. Record companies want a band or performer to have been
field-tested, if not test-marketed regionally with some success.
If they're going to risk (in the case of the major labels) at least
half a million dollars to record and market you nationally, they
want to know you can handle it.
this situation too, you need to research the names of companies,
producers, managers and A&R reps who know how to market the
artists/groups in your musical style. You need to know their names
and who they've worked with.
far, the best advice about doing your research is to read the trade
magazines such as Billboard, Hits, Radio and Records, College Music
Journal, Music Connection, The Hollywood Reporter (especially if
you're interested in film music) and any industry trades that relate
to your own musical style.
the biggest newsstand in town to find these publications. If they
don't carry them, call your local library. If they don't have them,
gather a group of others to formally petition the library to subscribe.
They may not be getting the music trades because they don't think
anyone is interested. Most are weekly magazines and they're very
expensive ($250-$300 per year), but if you feel you're ready to
begin your assault on the industry, they're one of your best investments.
magazines can provide valuable information such as what records
are on the charts in every genre of music and who performed, wrote,
produced, published, released and distributed them. For those who
want to write songs for others to record, the most valuable information
available from the charts is whether or not an artist records "outside"
SPECIFIC IN YOUR SEARCH:
the songs supplied by the artist and/or the producer? If so, you
have a pretty good idea, though not a certainty, that sending songs
to this artist is a waste of time. Those few songs you'll see on
the Billboard Hot 100 charts with writer names that differ from
the artist and producers' names are the ones to analyze for casting
find more of these opportunities on the Country and R&B charts.
This information alone gives you a savvy-sounding opener for your
a hypothetical example: In Billboard you see Bonnie Raitt's name
on the charts with a new single. You don't have any of her CDs yet
(you'll buy them today) but you've heard her on the radio and think
you might have something for her. You've also read an article about
her in which she talks about the songs on her new project, where
she got them, who wrote them and about working with her new producers.
you've also seen their names listed as writers under the song title
on the chart , you've also noticed other writers' names so you know
she's open to "outside" songs. You also learn she's on
Capitol Records. So you call Capitol and ask for the A&R coordinator.
"Hi! This is so-and-so at This and That Music.
the same producers be working on Bonnie Raitt's next album? Do you
have a numbers for their companies? Who's doing A&R on the project?"
Get those names down quick. If you ask them to spell it for you,
you're already another step away from credibility with them. They
figure that if you're the pro you seem to be, you'll already be
familiar with the names. (Look to directories such as the A&R
Registry (SRS Publishing) or the Recording Industry Sourcebook to
help you out.)
you have the name of the A&R person at Capitol or someone in
the producers' offices, call them directly and ask about the musical
direction of Bonnie's next album and how to go about submitting
songs for it. It's a good idea to ask if there's a code you should
use on the package. They often use a personal code so their secretaries
or mail room personnel know that it's actually been "solicited."
the trades publish special-focus issues which will contain a treasure
of information on specialized areas of the industry. Among them
are children's music, classical, heavy metal, alternative, folk,
music publishing, Latin, Celtic and film music. They may focus on
cities and countries that are emerging as music centers such as
Minneapolis, Seattle, Atlanta, Ireland, etc. You'll get information
on the movers and shakers in those genres or places, the record
labels, publishers, producers, managers, radio stations, booking
agents and artists, along with stories about who signed whom and
their career strategies.
music industry trends is also important. Industry legend Russ Regan,
now CEO of Starbound Records, gave me a great bit of advice once.
He not only looks at what's on the charts now but what isn't there.
Looking at it that way, we shouldn't have been surprised a few years
ago when, on a chart full of drum machines and sterile, sequenced
tracks, an acoustic-based record called "Fast Car" by
a new artist named Tracy Chapman broke through like a breath of
fresh air. It's the business of the trades to help the industry
predict and follow trends.
is also a predictor of trends, and you can find some useful information
in the trades about how new technology will affect the industry.
Here are a few examples.
Billboard Sound-Scan technology revolutionized the industry by providing
accurate retail sales and airplay information showing country music
to be selling much more than was thought to be true. It's now showing
several new country artists on the "Hot 100" pop chart.
projects have opened a new market for songwriters and performers.
Live radio over the Internet has opened a new avenue for exposing
and selling music though monitoring these performance has presented
the performing rights organizations with a new challenge.
LOCAL RECORD STORE:
of your local record store as a research center. Record stores can
be great sources of information. They usually have a list of current
hits in your favorite style. Familiarize yourself with them and
find the albums in the record bins. Many stores have listening posts
where you can spend some time listening to new releases and reading
the CD covers for information on the artists.
stores even have information kiosks where you can bring up artist
information on a monitor and look up past albums, reviews, etc.
If you have an Internet connection, look to see if the artist has
a worldwide web site you can contact. You can also look at an Internet
directory under "music" and find web sites for record
2: MAKING THE CALLS ! ! !