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Common Mistakes Songwriters Make When Seeking a Publishing Deal - By Cassandra Kubinski
If you’re seeking publishing, you must first fully understand that a publisher, whether a company or individual, is a BUSINESS. Pubs make money by dealing with products (i.e. music) that have the most income-generating potential. Publishers are people, the same as others in the world; trying to do something they (hopefully) enjoy, wanting to keep their jobs and probably advance, dealing with all the same life pressures (family, friends, fitness/health, etc) that you do, and just looking for a little love, peace, and happiness. Considering these facts will help you immensely in approaching publishers.

So what exactly are you supposed to do to get a deal? Too many songwriters have tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a deal with a music publisher and have found themselves wondering “What am I doing wrong?” Here are a few of the most common mistakes songwriters make when contacting publishers about deals.

1. NOT HAVING MARKETABLE COMMERCIAL MATERIAL Are your songs potential hits? Can they compete with what’s in the marketplace now? Are they BETTER than what’s out there? Have you discovered your unique voice? And most importantly, how do you know? Your material needs to compete with the BEST in the market. You should be able to say confidently that it does, not just because your friends and fans say so, but because industry people like those who work at songwriter organizations, owners/bookers of popular clubs, producers, PRO reps, all tell you your songs are commercially viable. You need to be thoroughly versed in song structures, lyrics, and melody. You need not just one, but a catalog of hooky, moving songs. If you don’t have incredible songs (yet), work on your craft by co-writing “up”, reading and studying any of the terrific books on songwriting (one quick trip to the bookstore will get you dozens), finding a successful songwriter to mentor you, taking workshops and classes through songwriter organizations, and seeking continual feedback. You DO NOT want to waste a publisher’s time by presenting songs that don’t “measure up.” Do not send or bring material in a genre you just started writing in. Present songs that fans and industry people alike love. Carol Spencer of Famous Music Publishing claims that the biggest mistake she hears is songwriters mimicking what’s already out there on the market, instead of bringing strong, unique material. As hit songwriter Alex Forbes (“Don’t Rush Me”, performed by Taylor Dane) says, “The publisher's first priority is generally to Keep Their Job by generating a string of hits and lucrative song placements.” Bring hit songs.

2. SENDING UNSOLICITED MATERIAL We all think we deserve to be heard. Put yourself in the publisher’s shoes! If you’re a busy person looking for the next hit, you trust your industry allies to provide leads and introductions. So network your way in…find people who know those publishers, make friends, and get recommendations. THEN you can call, introduce yourself, and ask permission to meet to pitch material or send material. In the best case scenario, you have gone in thru a reputable industry source (attorney, PRO, songwriting organization). In the worst case scenario, you’ve called, introduced yourself and your situation, and asked permission to send songs.

3. CONTACTING THE WRONG PERSON, OR THE WRONG WAY Know the exact person to whom to send songs. Call and ask who handles your genre, if you need to. And what about follow up? John Redmond, a previous VP/General Manager of Polygram Music Publishing, Canada, has this to say: “Send your material, then wait two weeks to follow up. A simple call to find out if the package arrived may be enough to entice the publisher to listen to it next time he goes through new music.” Other tips of his include “Clearly label EVERYTHING in your package (CD case, CD, insert, bio, lyrics) with your name and contact info, ALWAYS include lyrics, address your package to a SPECIFIC person, and send MAXIMUM three songs (all your strongest hits, obviously).”


4. NOT RESPECTING PEOPLE AND THEIR TIME Define exactly what you want, then ask for it. Work on your phone etiquette before you call. “Um,” “like,” and stammering all make you sound unprofessional and unintelligent. Ask for what you want, whether it’s permission to send material, or for a rep’s name, clearly and confidently. Respect the response. If it’s no, wait a little while and call again (preferably once your songs are stronger). Be polite to the receptionists, who are most likely the people you’ll speak to first when you call. If they sound busy, offer to call tomorrow. Both receptionist and publisher will remember and appreciate you for valuing their time.

5. NOT BEING PERSISTENT. So what? The first time you called, the receptionist had to go quickly to answer another call. The second time, they put you into the publisher’s voicemail and you never heard back. The third time, you got permission to send and haven’t heard a thing back. Persist until you get a specific response. Most publishers are too busy to respond to everything that comes in. Politely persisting in getting a response (perhaps a call or email once every 10 days) will help you appear professional, driven, and confident…all desirable traits in a songwriter or artist. Don’t drop the ball until you have a qualified “pass” or “No thanks” response from the publisher who has listened to your music. In my experience, if you have strong material, eventually you can get a meeting or at least a hearing with that publisher. But you must persist confidently.

6. NOT THANKING PEOPLE Yes, you are making a huge mistake if you don’t. A written thank you serves to remind someone of you and also positions you in their mind as a grateful, caring, professional individual who takes the time to treat THEM as an individual. Don’t you like those people best?

7. JUMPING ON BOARD WITH THE FIRST OFFER TO COME ALONG As published writer Jennifer Marks (Bartic Records) says, “I have seen people take the first thing that comes up even if it isn't the right place for them to be just so they have something. Really check out the company and make sure they are people you will be able to stomach. Also, know that a publisher is often just a bank...you are still going to do most of the work.” Once you are offered any type of deal, take the time to really weigh the pros and cons with your team. It might not be a bad idea to alert any other companies who have shown interest that you’ve been offered something to see if someone else wants to make a counter offer. What you DON’T want is to sign on, only to find that the publisher is too busy with A-List Rockstar to bother promoting/plugging your material or helping you develop as a writer. You want to be sure you feel comfortable in your gut with this publisher, especially your individual rep. Remember that your professionalism must jump to a whole new level once you get that deal.

May your songwriting bring you happiness, wealth, and satisfaction!

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CASSANDRA KUBINSKI is a singer/songwriter, goal coach, and song coach in NYC. Visit www.ckubinski.com to snag HIDING UNDERNEATH, her latest EP, or to drop her a line! For more info on song critiques, songwriter goal coaching, and demo singing, contact cassandrakubinski@yahoo.com


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