Many songwriters who are just starting out struggle with having a drawer full of songs they feel are ready, but they don't have the resources to get them to an artist. I'll admit this can be a daunting task. To help guide songwriters through that sometimes stressful process of connecting with artists who might want to record their songs, we've compiled these four helpful tips. Have one of your own? Let us know in the comments!
1. Start with a demo
Make sure you've got a demo – guitar and vocal is okay — or even a decent home recording. Just don't send a work tape where you start, stop, or stumble over the words to an artist! Remember, this may very well be an artist's first impression of you as a writer – make it a good one.
Another important thing is to make sure your song is appropriate for the artist to sing – are you pitching a reggae song to a heavy-metal act? Can you realistically hear this song sung by the artist you're pitching given their persona and previous song choices? This is all legwork that should be done before you even get to the pitching stage.
2. Approach up-and-coming artists
If you're currently someone without industry connections or credibility, it's a waste of effort to try to get your demo to someone like Beyonce or George Strait. If you happen to know someone who knows someone – go for it! Use that! But if you're like most writers starting out, anything you do manage to send will be refused by the sender or tossed in the trash.
Set your sights lower and get some notches on your belt with indie cuts. Try to look for artists with a good local or regional following. They may not be packing arenas (yet!), but they might be getting people into the smaller clubs and bars.
Sometimes you can even aim a little higher (usually once you've got some credibility) to more mid-tier artists. Artists tend to be less and less accessible the more successful they get, but you might still be able to make headway with some who haven't quite hit it big yet.
3. Get out on your local scene
If you live in or near a music hub, go to as many different artists' shows as you can. This serves a couple of purposes. First, it helps you get to know the artist you're pitching. Maybe you thought you had the perfect song, but after seeing them live, another might fit them better.
Second, it helps them associate a face with a name. Rather than a cold e-mail or Facebook message, it's a lot more personal. You can then always follow up with a nice, “It was great to meet you!”-type note on social media.
Remember, every interaction is going to be different – some artists you might find to be very approachable, and you can connect with right away. Some may be more aloof (perhaps they're tired or sick, etc.), and it may be best to wait before handing them a demo. Be polite and respectful, and don't be pushy!
4. Contact artists online
If you don't live near a music metropolis, or aren't able to travel to one, you might be stuck with emails and messages. That's still no excuse not to do your homework, however. Listen to a number of an artist's songs, read their bio, and really get a sense of what they're about. Then, send them a polite message along the lines of, “Hello, my name is so and so, and I'm a songwriter. I have a song or two you may be interested in – would it be okay if I send it over?”
Email the MP3 – with a lyric sheet – if they say yes. Some artists may be okay with people just firing off demos, but I personally think it's more professional to ask for permission first. Please don't bombard the artist with multiple songs. Nobody has time to listen to 10 or 12, even if they're really good! Pick three at the absolute most.
If the artist turns you down – or they don't say anything – don't pester them or berate them. Send a nice follow-up email thanking them for their time in about 10 days, and leave it at that.
Other options exist as well, obviously – though they can be a little bit tougher. Finding a publisher to pitch your songs is ideal, but difficult to do as an unknown and untested writer. Hiring an entertainment attorney to shop your music is another option, but that can require a substantial investment.
There is also always the option of singing your songs yourself, too! There have been quite a few successful artists that began life as songwriters – only to discover their true passion was being on stage singing their own songs.
There is no one tried and true path – only general guidelines. The important thing is to keep writing your best songs, present your music in the best possible light, and keep knocking on doors!
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.