After an upbeat pep talk to begin the year, it seems appropriate now to acknowledge what we all know:

Things do not always go as planned.

Have you noticed that? If you’ve tried any of the previously given tips on how to get your music out there, I’m pretty sure you’ve definitely noticed that as good as the ideas look on paper, they don’t always play out as well in real life. The truth is that the work of putting your music out into the industry is every bit as difficult as the creative work of writing songs and making records. And that’s pretty hard.

Unfortunately, most of us bring a lot more tenacity and determination to making the music than we do to selling it. It’s always interesting to watch musicians, who have spent countless lonely, isolated hours honing and refining their ability to play a musical instrument or to sing, then devote all of twenty minutes to researching potential contacts. Producers who will miss deadlines or blow out their budget to fix tiny flaws in a recording (which are probably noticeable only to them), will balk at spending money to attend a conference, or will choose to send out mass emails to A&R contacts, rather than personalized ones, in order to save a few minutes worth of work. Songwriters will work and rework one simple line in a hundred variations, but give up in despair when their first phone call attempt to an A&R person goes unreturned.

Be forewarned: no matter how strategically you approach it, getting your music out there will always be challenging. You will run into closed doors everywhere you turn. Everyone does. But somehow, each year, a handful of people do break through. We know then that it can be done. It’s simply a case of trying every possible avenue until you find the one that works. So, to conclude a series of blogs on “How To Get Your Music Heard”, here’s three ideas of how to trouble-shoot when your sales approach isn’t working. Most importantly, don’t panic and don’t get discouraged. This problem is no harder than learning to play an instrument, finding the perfect title, or figuring out why your Protools isn’t working. When your first approach fails…

1. Check your connections.

The most common response you’ll hear when trying to get someone in the industry to listen to your music is this:

Our company does not allow us to accept unsolicited material at this time.

Welcome to the dead zone, from which most songwriters and publishers never return. Indeed, that’s part of the reason for such a policy. By its nature it will eliminate at least 50% of the people trying to call the company. Most will just give up.

Don’t give up. At the same time, don’t get mad– as irritating as it obviously is. The person who is telling you this is telling you the truth. Almost every major music company has an official policy, drafted by the corporate lawyers, that no A&R person is ALLOWED to accept material that is “unsolicited”, which is to say, from someone the A&R person doesn’t know. This is to protect companies from the very real threat of lawsuits, launched by amateur songwriters who are sure that their song was stolen by a superstar act. An A&R person who violates the policy and suddenly finds himself or herself at the center of a lawsuit could very likely lose their job.

The best way around this obstacle is to get out of the category of “someone the A&R person doesn’t know”. You need a connection. If you can drop the name of a lawyer, your ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC writer rep, another songwriter or producer who the A&R person has worked with, a friend in a different department of the company, or an established manager, booking agent, or radio programmer who is recommending you, you are now no longer “unsolicited”. This is the cover that the A&R person needs to be in compliance with company policy. It’s also the test you need to pass in order to make the person on the other end of the phone believe that it’s worth his or her time to speak with you.

If you’re getting the “unsolicited” line, then it’s time to go back and figure out who on your team (lawyer, manager, writer rep, songwriting buddies, studio engineer or owner, gear salesman, friends, etc.) might know the person you’re calling and be willing to refer you. If no one on your team can help, see if they know a friend of a friend of the person you’re calling. If you’re still unconnected, then you need to expand your team. Figure out who might be able to get to the music weasel you’re after, and go after that new person, starting the whole process over again.

I didn’t say it was easy.

2. Check your levels.

The second most common issue, after the “no unsolicited material” roadblock, is “nothing”. That is, total silence. Unreturned phone calls. Unanswered emails. The big freeze-out. You’re trying to get your music out there, and it seems there’s no “there” there.

Again, don’t get mad. Remember– just because you want someone to hear your music does not lay an obligation on the other person to take your call or listen to what you send. The person on the other end of the phone is being given priorities and duties by his or her boss, and they probably don’t include speaking with you. This is especially true as you move up the corporate ladder, and start trying to reach out to the higher-ranking executives on the A&R staff.

Most major record labels do have people that are searching for the next “developing” star– the hot, unknown songwriter or the undiscovered artist. But they are junior A&R people– not Sr. Vice-Presidents. The more elevated executives are supposed to be devoting their time to the superstars that are already signed and paying the bills. The same is true in major publishing companies and management firms. If you don’t yet have a track record or the calling card of a current “hit”, you will probably not have much luck reaching the Big Weasel. But that’s not who you need anyway, nor is that the person that needs you. You want to speak to the hungry, ambitious, excited, 22 year old kid that works for the Big Weasel and who wants more than anything to discover the talent that no one else knows about yet. This is how the kid will eventually become the Big Weasel. It is also how you will eventually get a returned phone call.

If you’re hitting a wall, it may be that you’re aiming too high. Adjust your aim one or two levels down the corporate pecking order, and you might find an open door.

3. Check your sound.

I know it will come as a shock, but some people may simply not like what you do. They have that right. In fact, if what you do is reasonably stylized, quirky, or clever, you can be sure that most people in the industry will not quite get it. Sony dropped Alicia Keys. Jive dropped Kid Rock. Lady Gaga is already on her second record deal. The fact that some people don’t like what you do might mean that there’s a problem with your music– you’ll have to determine how to address that. But it also might mean that you simply don’t have the right match between your sound and the person listening. There’s no accounting for taste–and you don’t have to. All you have to do is find the person whose taste is suited to your music.

As a veteran of the music industry, one of the few advantages that I enjoy is that I have begun to understand the likes and dislikes of the people to whom I’m pitching music. This means that a huge part of my job is simply knowing how to match a particular song, a new artist, or a producer with the people in the industry who will “get it”, whatever that “it” is. If I hear a great Swedish style pop song, I know to send it to Jive Records or Syco, and not to Island/Def Jam. If I’ve discovered a new female singer/songwriter or a Triple A band, it’s going to fit better for Chop Shop than Activision. Much of song-pitching is not how you send it out, but who you send it to. If you’re not getting results, it may simply be that you haven’t matched your sound with the correct listener.

4. Check your options.

Every office has multiple entrances. There is always an alternate way into any project. Persistence is vital, but persistently beating on a closed door will not make it open. The good kind of persistence is the kind that knocks on a door once, twice, maybe a third time… and then circles around the back, and goes in the side entrance. If an A&R person refuses your “unsolicited material”, try the artist manager. Many managers are one or two person companies, and thus have far fewer corporate “policies” that have to be respected. If the manager won’t respond, try the producer. If that proves to be a dead end, just keep searching– try the artist directly on MySpace or Facebook, or a friend of the artist, or the recording engineer, or the fashion stylist. Whatever crazy idea you have, I promise you, someone has tried something stranger. Not quitting doesn’t mean picking one person and torturing them until they listen to your song. It means searching for every possible person to torture. Just joking. But it does mean that you never stop looking for another way to approach the project that you’re targeting.

I hope the little series we’ve done on “Getting Your Music Out” has been helpful. I know in the opening paragraph of this blog, I compared the challenge of selling your music to making it– and in many ways the two things are quite similar. But in a few important ways, they’re as different as night and day. You know that rush you feel when you play a great guitar solo, or come up with the perfect hook line for a song? You’ll probably never get that feeling when you’re pitching music. It just doesn’t have that kind of reward. Instead, you get rejection followed by rejection followed by a slight glimmer of hope.

But here’s the thing: if you don’t do it, nothing happens. No stranger is going to find a song hiding on your hard drive and decide to put it on the radio. You’re going to have to make that happen. That’s the point of my book, “Making Music Make Money”. The only thing that can move your career ahead is if someone else hears your music and wants to buy it, sell it, perform it, or help you to do one of those three things. That won’t happen if the song never leaves your home studio.
If you haven’t made your New Year’s Resolution yet, here’s one: resolve to spend one hour pitching songs for every five hours writing or recording them. Get your music out there, and let’s see what happens…

    This is the best new years present i received. Thank You.

    Selling and writing music are, as you pointed out, very different aspects of the business. Many successful musicians and songwriters I have met absolutely hate the concept of having to pitch their songs or sell themselves off stage.

    An interesting thing I have found in my business career is that sales people themselves are often scared of making the cold call. Sales courses are full of material about call reluctance. So if fear of cold calling is a problem for people in the sales profession, it may even more so be a problem for songwriters, who are often shy and introspective people. Sales people are very good at procrastinating and finding good reasons for not picking up the phone or banging on a prospects door.

    I belong to a local songwriters group and in the beginning found it difficult to perform my new material for critique from my peers, even though in public, I was always confident performing the same songs to strangers. I overcame the fear and learned to appreciate the positives, accept the critique, whether I was open to it or not and welcome suggestions on how to improve it.

    I wonder if the same call reluctance could be more of an issue for songwriters, than allocating the time. We want people to love what we write. Almost everytime we write a new song, we love it, it becomes our favorite. We don’t want someone rejecting it and perhaps it is easier not to submit it.

    I found the support and genuine critique of my peers to be empowering, particularly because it was genuine. That would be one of the biggest failings imho of sites like MySpace, where we tell people who have songs that are like listening to someone scraping their fingernails down a blackboard, but we want to build them up, so we tell them they are great. But I digress.

    Thanks for another illuminating blog. Persistence is totally important, but first of all you need to take that first step and act. Each step becomes easier. We also need to have a thick skin and sales people have great techniques to deal with that.

    For example, if we know that on average it takes 10 calls to make a sale. Instead of being dissapointed with the rejection, we can tell ourselves that we only have 9 calls left to success.

    Nice advice! I really like the idea of going after the people who are coming up and, “Working for the BIG WEASEL.” You also need to be very polite and friendly to every single person you meet in the industry…you never know when the admin will be running the joint.

    Three years ago I saw a musician (I played bass on a track of his EP record) refused on his first contact to a A&R. He remained an entire month at his home with closed windows and doing nothing. I’m still laughing for this kind of reaction.

    I read in John Maxwell’s book “The Winning Attitude”, that Abraham Lincoln failed at a ton of things before he became President of the US. I can’t remember exactly what they were, but it was a lot of things. And maybe that’s exactly what it took for him to become president. Because if he was a success at something before, he may have not tried something different or new.

    I look at being in the music business, or any business, the same way. You have to fail in order to succeed. I think a big reason is you have to understand what success is. And something that you may consider a failure is actually a success in itself..(wow, that was kinda deep huh?). When I think about it, if I’ve never called a record label directly to ask which artists they are looking for songs, I have not succeeded or failed, because I haven’t tried! If I call, and get hung up on, the failure is I did not get the names of artists recording, but the success is that I actually called, and the success is I am now making progress in figuring out how to get the information I need to be successful.

    Anyone reading this comment may have to read it two or three times to really understand it, but eventually I hope it hits. Must, must, must be persistent like Eric said, and make things happen, not waiting for things to happen. I think you said it before Eric, about if you are waiting to hear back on something, you really aren’t doing anything at all. Keep movin, keep movin!

    I wish everyone taking time to read these blogs, and books to further their knowledge of the music business great success!!

    Eric, I could just kiss you Dude for your insightful analysis of how to effectively “break” into the music industry! lol But I’m not Kidding!…

    My grievance is that there’s much to sing about, oh boy is there ever, but such is getting filtered out by the music publishers, their preferring to publish songs about old topics instead, topics which may have shaken things up in the past but now stand as dead, nonthreatening, toothless, whatever. Particularly with the China market now being looked at with baited breath. What hasn’t changed in terms of what constitutes a great song is one that motivates listeners to be other than rich and/or famous; that breathes life, meaning and excitement into lives that are not rich and/or famous. For it is with such listeners that real meaning lies, what really matters lies. That always was the case, and it hasn’t changed. What has changed, however, is the I.Q. level of those who head up the music publishing industry. As industries go, it now appears to have the highest concentration of stupid people of all. Stupid in that they have it set up so that songwriters, whether they have something to say or otherwise, are forced to crawl to them. And if you crawl you lose, at least in terms of what really matters. This is why, folks, music that’s getting any sort of celebrity treatment nowadays isn’t saying anything, why when you speak of music nowadays to every day people — those expected to buy it — they don’t exactly jump up and down for joy. Let the record show (no pun intended) that that wasn’t always the case. Music on the airwaves used to say what those in the every day realm need to have said. Now the music publishing industry filters that out, refusing to allow to be said through them what needs to be said from where it needs to be said. And until that changes, people, I advise that nobody crawl, particularly those with anything really worthwhile to say. Music publishers might not owe you a living, but at the higher level they do owe something.

    Great Article,
    Thank you.

    Also the book Making Music make Money is great, a lot of useful information and it is very educational.

    Yana:

    Thanks so much for the comments. Glad you found the book helpful. Really appreciate your support of the blog!

    Best,

    Eric

    [...] by Eric Beall @ Berkleemusicblogs.com [...]

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