How Can I Break Into the Music Industry as a Songwriter?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I'm a singer songwriter who has recorded a full album of original material with a great producer. The feedback I'm getting is extremely positive. I am not trying to become a recording artist. I really just want to write and have other people record my songs. How does an unknown songwriter go about finding a manager / publisher with the rolodex to pitch songs to popular artists?
For the sake of getting you the most practical advice possible I reached out to two kind and successful songwriters about how they got where they are.
Jesse Shatkin, who co-wrote Sia's "Chandelier" and has worked extensively as a producer and engineer, says that he knows plenty of songwriters who got noticed at songwriter events like ASCAP expos. But he says he wasn't good at promoting himself, and so had to take another route. "I used my other skills, becoming a general assistant in a studio, and then working my way up to being an engineer. It was a matter of being in a position where I was in the room with the right people, and having their attention." So, he backdoored it, essentially. His other suggestion was to do anything you can to further your cause: In this case that means promoting your record as an artist, getting it out there, and promoting it. Also important is playing songwriter nights where you live but, also, seeing as you are a country artist, investing in a trip to Nashville and trying to showcase as a songwriter there.
The other expert opinion here is from Toby Lightman, who has a slew of TV and film placements. She has taken a more traditional route, and suggests you can start where you are. "Join a songwriting union—BMI, SESAC or ASCAP—and take advantage of whatever opportunities they have for members in LA, whether it's networking events or songwriter-specific workshops. Getting the vouching of someone at a songwriters' union can help you in terms of networking, making the rounds and opening the doors." She also said that through your publisher you can find out about opportunities to showcase for people in the industry in Nashville. There are chances for writers to meet people, demo stuff and get feedback—for free. What else? "Get your social media in order for maximum exposure."
Finally, there are a lot of pay-to-play opportunities for songwriters that will get you in the room with country industry players—for a price. Everyone I talked to, however, said there are plenty of free and useful ways up. It's really about the hustle and having people hear your best material, not about putting coins in the right hands.
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