Back when songwriting success was a distant dream, every time I met a music publisher, I was a nervous wreck before that encounter. I hoped that the publisher would instantly recognize that my songs were destined to be GRAMMY hits and that I would be offered a contract on the spot. Getting a “yes” was a one-way ticket out of tedious temp jobs and into the life of a professional songwriter. With so much to do at these meetings, I wanted to make the best first impression. Let’s look at what to do and say during our first meeting with an editor.
To be on time
Nothing will get you off on the wrong foot better than arriving late. Give yourself extra time for traffic and other unexpected delays.
Have lyric sheets available
Ask if the editor would like to see a lyric sheet. Not all publishers will want one, but many will, so it’s best to have a lyric sheet available for every song you play. Lyric sheets must be typed and must provide author names, PRO affiliation, copyright year, and contact information. It is not appropriate to offer lead sheets—notation of chords, melody and lyrics.
Be ready, but stay flexible
Before your meeting, decide which songs you’ll play and organize them into a digital playlist so you don’t take up an editor’s time while you search for a song. Depending on the responses you receive, you may want to play different songs than you intended. Do your best to have easy access to your entire catalog.
Don’t be defensive
If an editor offers a suggestion or recommends you revise a song, don’t argue. If someone doesn’t like your song, you’re unlikely to change their mind. Express your appreciation for the suggestion. Whether or not you end up rewriting your song, thanking the editor will demonstrate that you are easy to work with and someone who is open to suggestions.
Don’t explain the meaning of your song
Songwriting is a communication art. We cannot provide an explanation when our songs are played on the radio or streamed. If publishers – or any other listeners – don’t understand what our songs mean, or if they don’t feel the emotions we wanted to convey, we haven’t done our job effectively. Likewise, we shouldn’t need to share the backstory or inspiration of our songs. Let your songs speak for themselves.
Don’t overdo your songs
It’s great to feel confident and proud of our work. But it’s not appropriate to extol the virtues of our songs with comments such as “It’s going to be a #1 GRAMMY winner!” Let the editor draw that conclusion.
Anticipate being asked for suitable locations
You might be asked “Which artists are you listening to this song for?” Listen to current hits and compile a list of artists who do not exclusively write their own material, for whom your songs would be suitable. If your songs are in styles typically self-written by artists (eg, folk/Americana, hip-hop, pop, and rock), let the publisher know that you hope to collaborate with artists and music producers.
Do not apologize
It is not appropriate to offer excuses for the quality of your songs or recordings. They must be up to industry standards before playing them for professionals.
Share your strengths
Let the editor know what you can bring to the proverbial table. This may include your ability to produce tracks; sing vocals or play instruments on demos; produce recordings in a home studio; write toplines (melody and lyrics) on existing music tracks; etc Also worth sharing if you write with successful recording artists or producers and have access to them.
Let them know your credits
Notify the publisher of your songs’ releases on major, independent, regional, and local labels, as well as TV and film placements. If you’ve won widely recognized songwriting competitions, you can mention that. But avoid sharing information that might present you as an amateur, such as: “I write music and play piano at local school or religious events.”
Do not provide photos and biographies
It is not appropriate to offer portraits, other photos or your biography, unless you are an aspiring artist.
Release the pressure
Remember that your whole career does not depend on the outcome of this single encounter. You’ll write a lot more songs and have a lot more meetings.
Keep realistic expectations
No matter how good your songs are, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be offered a contract right away. If an editor is interested, they’ll probably want to listen to your material again and possibly share it for feedback from others in the business. Your main goal for your meeting should be to initiate a professional relationship and keep the door open so you can play additional songs in the future.
Don’t overstay your welcome
When an editor signals the meeting is over, don’t ask to play additional songs. If he or she wants to hear more of your material, they will be asked. Thank the editor for taking the time to meet with you.
None of my early encounters with publishers brought me the life-changing deals I was hoping for. But I learned something from each editor, and each encounter brought me closer to the encounter that brought me the success I was hoping for.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Successful Songwriting, This songwriting businessand Inside the songwriting (advertising books). His songs have been featured on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold over 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and the Berklee School of Music, and has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, rolling stoneand the New York Times. For more information on his workshops, webinars, supplemental articles and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.