What to Say and Do When You Meet a Publisher for the First Time
Back in the days when songwriting success was a distant dream, each time I met with a music publisher, I was a nervous wreck leading up to that meeting. I hoped the publisher would instantly recognize that my songs were destined to be GRAMMY-winning hits, and I would be offered a contract on the spot. Getting a “yes” represented a one-way ticket out of tedious temp jobs and into the life of a professional songwriter. With so much riding on those meetings I wanted to make the very best first impression. Let’s examine what to do and say when we initially meet with a publisher.
Be On Time
Nothing will get you started on a wrong foot more than showing up late. Give yourself extra time for traffic and other unexpected delays.
Have Lyric Sheets Available
Ask if the publisher would like to see a lyric sheet. Not every publisher will want one, but many will, so it is best to have a lyric sheet available for each song you play. Lyric sheets should be typed and should provide the writers’ names, PRO affiliation, copyright year, and contact information. It is not appropriate to offer lead sheets—notation of the chords, melody, and lyrics.
Be Prepared—But Remain Flexible
Prior to your meeting, decide which songs you will play and have them organized in a digital playlist so you do not take up a publisher’s time while you search for a song. Based on the responses you receive, you might want to play songs that are different from those you intended. Do your best to have easy access to your entire catalog.
Don’t Be Defensive
If a publisher offers a suggestion or recommends that you revise a song, don’t argue. If someone doesn’t like your song it is unlikely that you will change his or her mind. Express your appreciation for the suggestion. Regardless of whether you ultimately rewrite your song, thanking the publisher 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 an art of communication. We do not get to provide an explanation when our songs are played on the radio or are streamed. If publishers—or any other listeners—do not understand what our songs mean, or they fail to feel the emotions we intended to convey, we have not effectively done our job. Similarly, we should not need to share the backstory or inspiration for our songs. Let your songs speak for themselves.
Don’t Hype Your Songs
It’s great to feel confident and proud of our work. But it is not appropriate to extol the virtues of our songs with comments such as, “This will be a #1 GRAMMY-winner!” Let the publisher draw that conclusion.
Anticipate Being Asked for Appropriate Pitches
You might be asked “Which artists do you hear 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 a good fit. If your songs are in styles that are typically self-penned by artists (for example, folk/Americana, hip-hop, pop, and rock), let the publisher know that you are hoping to collaborate with recording artists and music producers.
It is not appropriate to offer excuses for the quality of your songs or recordings. They should be up to the industry standard before you play them for professionals.
Share Your Strengths
Let the publisher know what you can bring to the proverbial table. This might include your ability to produce tracks; sing the vocals or play instruments on demos; produce recordings in a home studio; write toplines (melody and lyrics) to existing musical tracks; etc. It is also appropriate to share if you are writing with recording artists or successful producers and have access to them.
Let Them Know Your Credits
Tell the publisher about major label, independent, regional, and local releases of your songs, as well as television and film placements. If you have won widely recognized songwriting competitions, it is okay to mention this. But avoid sharing information that might portray you as an amateur, such as, “I write music for and provide piano accompaniment for local school or religious organizations’ events.”
Do Not Provide Photos and Bios
It is not appropriate to offer headshots, other photos, or your bio unless you are an aspiring recording artist.
Take Off the Pressure
Remember that your entire career does not hinge on the outcome of this one meeting. You will write many more songs and have many more meetings.
Keep Expectations Realistic
No matter how good your songs are, it is extremely unlikely that you will be offered a contract on the spot. If a publisher is interested, he or she will likely want to re-listen to your material and possibly share it to get feedback from others in the company. Your primary goal for your meeting should be to initiate a professional relationship and maintain an open door so that you can play additional songs in the future.
Don’t Overstay Your Welcome
When a publisher signals that the meeting is concluding, don’t ask to play additional songs. If he or she wants to hear more of your material, it will be requested. Thank the publisher for taking the time to meet with you.
None of my early meetings with publishers brought me the life-changing contracts I hoped for. But I learned something from each publisher, and every meeting brought me one step closer to the one meeting that brought me the success I hoped for.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, and has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. For information about his workshops, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.
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