If you've been pitching your demos long enough, you've surely seen something to this effect: “No unsolicited material.” But what does this mean? Simply put, if someone didn't ask for it or it didn't come through someone he or she knows, you're wasting your time. At best, you might get it back with “refused - return to sender” on it (if you've sent it physically). At worst – and more typically – it winds up in the trash.
These music executives aren't doing this because they're heartless and want to crush your dreams – it makes very real sense. Here's why.
It could lead to legal trouble
Perhaps, first and foremost, this is the main reason – nobody wants to get sued. If an exec accepts your demo, and it happens to bear similarities to another song he or she, or that person's label, puts out later (whether this is intentional or not), that person could be on the hook for a big lawsuit. That either means an expensive trial with experts or settling out of court – both are time consuming and costly.
Some labels and publishers who are still willing to listen to outside material have even taken the extra precaution of asking writers to sign a waiver before they agree to listen to their music – but, for most, it's not even worth going that far.
It's extra work
The reality is that most music execs have hundreds upon hundreds of songs they need to listen to in a given week – and these are just from people they work directly with. Some demos are even from vetted, hit writers or hot artists that they need to consider signing. To take even five minutes listening to a demo from someone they don't know is asking a lot.
I frequent a forum where pros and amateurs often interact – most amateurs respectfully ask for opinions and don't push. One exploded at a pro who turned him down and demanded an answer to why that person wouldn't listen. The pro put it like this: “Let's say I'm a plumber on retainer for a company. All I do every day is work on pipes, inspect pipes, replace pipes. You demanding I come to your house – for free, mind you, and without even asking me nicely – and look at your pipes is not something I'm inclined to do.”
The point is, this is their job – and a difficult one at that. Refusing unsolicited material helps close the floodgates and lets them focus on the songs they actually do need to listen to.
It hasn't been screened
In my experience, whether a song is good isn't quite as relevant as whether or not it's what a particular publisher or label is looking for. If you don't have an idea of what they're looking for – and as an outsider, you probably don't – you're likely wasting their time even if your song is great.
Some music execs do get outside material, but often it doesn't come directly to them. It's screened first – by an intern or assistant, or by a service like TAXI. This is another method of cutting down on the sheer influx of material and ensuring what does get to them is more likely to be on the mark.
They don't know you
Personal relationships are everything. The fact of the matter is, you can be an amazing artist or writer and, yet, your personality clashes with music execs'. If they haven't at least met you – and sometimes they have to know you well – they're probably not going to take the time to listen to your demo unless someone they know and trust hands it to them.
The hands down, best way to get your material to a music executive is to create a personal relationship. This can be difficult but can be done. If you hang out in Nashville long enough, you're bound to establish some contacts. If you can't make it to town, there are always pitch services – even conferences can be a great way to connect and get to know people.
If you have the money, another way to go about things is to get a connected entertainment lawyer to pitch you. And there's always the possibility of somebody hearing you and asking you for your music. If you get this big green light, go right on ahead and take the opportunity. Just don't waste your time – or theirs – sending blindly.
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.