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Starting in the Business - Intro to Publishing and Demos
Starting in the Business - Intro to Publishing and Demos

When talking to new writers, one common comment that I have heard is how hard it is to break into the song writing side of the business and have your songs heard by artists or publishers. I am not going to sugar coat it for youÖ..it is tough. But the good news is that with hard work and great writing you can get there.

Would moving to Nashville make it easier? My answer, no! With todayís wired world you can live and write from anywhere with anyone. Sure itís easier to network if you are in the heart of country music but, until you are at a point that your foot is in the door it is not a necessity. If you are one of the lucky few to break into the business you may never need to relocate. A few simple trips down south or east in Canada may be all that is needed throughout a successful career.

How do I get my foot in the door?

The simple answer - write amazing songs (and be patient it wonít happen overnight). There is an unwritten rule in Nashville that it takes ten years to break into the business. Thatís ten years of trying with solid songs and the will to make it. Some get there sooner, some later. But, the bottom line is that if you write consistently great songs your chances are pretty good someone will catch on.

I have also heard that landing a publishing deal is possibly the hardest step in the process to a songwriting career. I have to agree with this as once you have a publishing deal the fate of your song is in the hands of your publisher. Sure, you can pitch a song to people along the way but the majority of pitching is done through your publisher, and you have to trust that they are pitching it at every possible opportunity. Donít expect your publisher to fill you in on who they are pitching to or when, it does not work that way.

Also, keep in mind that are several levels of publishers out there, some small some large. Despite what some people may think, getting your songs heard by a smaller publishing company is not any easier. Publishers that do accept unsolicited material receive so many requests that it is extremely easy to be overlooked, unless your song can catch their attention right from the start. Your chances of getting a cut are better with a large publishing company but you will not start out there.

Another point to remember is NEVER send a song to a publisher until it is truly ready. By sending a song that is not quite there yet you are hindering your chances at the publisher listening to any future songs you may submit.

How am I sure my song is ready?

Get feedback. Not from family or friends either, but from other people in the industry. You parents will always tell you they love the song, thatís what parents do. If you do not know any one in the business locally you can join online writing communities etc. Ask the reviewers to be honest (and brutal) because you want to improve the song. And, donít take the criticism personally - learn from it and understand that each persons review may have a different take. Listen to all critiques and use your judgment on what will best improve your song and writing. Trust me, after a few song reviews you will start to notice a huge improvement in your writing.

Do I need a professional Demo?

Yes you will need a professionally produced demo Ė WHEN THE SONG IS READY. Despite what some people say, your song needs to be radio ready or publishers will not take notice from the start. You can have high quality demos produced for around $300. Donít over spend! Again, only get a demo made when the song is ready. Unfortunately, so many writers waste their hard earned money on demos for songs that aren't ready to be pitched. Have your songs critiqued first to know if they are competitive enough before getting that demo produced. The last thing you want is to get a demo made and have someone request a change to the song. That said, even if you feel the song is ready and have that demo made not every publisher will listen and like the song. Even with a strong song, some publishers will say the song needs this, some will say it needs that. You just have to find the one that likes the song as is.

Remember, if you work hard at your craft and continue to learn and evolve as a songwriter you can make it a successful career. It does take time and a lot of work but is possible. Donít be discouraged by lack of response or bad critiques, learn from them and grow. And, with each step you take welcome and celebrate your wins along the way.

Chris Ising

Manitoba Country Music Association