Intro to Music Biz Articles
by Frank Imani Jamal
Cornbread Productions
How to "Break In" as a Songwriter

Beginning songwriters often find themselves facing what seems to be insurmountable hurdles when trying to succeed at their chosen craft. They often approach the publishing houses, record labels, and production companies with material they feel is destined to become a "hit" only to have an endless stream of rejection letters flood their way. Many times the material they are submitting is not even evaluated before being summarily rejected. Although the music industry is constantly in need of new songs to sustain its growth, new songwriters are increasingly frustrated by the process of attracting a sympathetic ear to their material. There is a way, however, to help the new songwriter "break-in" to this formidable field.

The first thing songwriters need to know is that before they can become a known commodity to the music industry at large, they must first become known in their immediate region, city, or locale. They must first establish among the music community in their area that they have talent of note.They must create this "buzz" about their ability that causes other people to inquire about them and seek them out.

Creating interest in your work locally involves letting people know what you do--and letting them know often. This method could be called TTP (Talk To People), or if that doesn't work, TTMP (Talk To More People). Songwriters could start this process by letting other local bands, club DJs, production houses, radio station programmers, and artists know that they are writing tunes and are seeking any and all critiques or comments about their material. At this stage, the beginning songwriter should NOT be trying to submit material to these people, but simply should be using their opinions as guidance as what works or does not work about their songs. Most of these music professionals would be flattered immensely that someone was seeking their input and or expertise about a song. This respectful approach would go a long way in making the beginning songwriter stand apart from his peers.

Another method used to "break in" to the songwriting business is to write a letter of inquiry to various publishing companies and production houses about their submission policies, and whether or not they would be interested in receiving new material. With this letter of inquiry, the songwriter should send a stamped, self-addressed envelope or a pre-paid postcard so as to make it easier for the person to whom the letter is sent to send back a reply. And one note about this letter: nothing smacks of amateurishness than a letter addressed "To Whom it May Concern" for it shows that the writer did not know--or care--enough to research exactly who the letter should be sent to. Most companies readily supply a list of their key personnel, so obtaining this information should involve very little effort. It is often said that the sweetest sound in the world is that of your own name, so it should come as no surprise that recipients of impersonal greetings often throw them in the trash.

If a positive response is garnered from the letter of inquiry, the song submitted would then be considered a "solicited" song. This distinction further separates the beginning songwriter from his peers who simply bulk-mails their material to every publishing house or record label they can get an address to. This is an all too common practice and places the material received from these beginners in the "unsolicited" or uninvited pile. Most publishing houses, record labels, and production companies rarely accept material which is unsolicited due to the high incidence of lawsuits being filed by people claiming their material was stolen by the companies they sent the songs to. Most of these companies try to avoid this matter and will only accept material which has been specifically asked for or submitted through a trusted third party such as a reputable manager or attorney.

Once the songs have been asked for, the beginning songwriter should send three of his best which run no longer than three minutes in length each. Most reviewers of material at publishing houses and production companies are extremely busy with other tasks and with other material that they do not have a great deal of time to listen to much of the material before them. The goal should therefore be to hook the interest of the reviewer as quickly as possible and with material that practically demands to be turned up. Also, songs submitted by the writer should stick to one genre or style at a time such as pop, jazz, or funk--even if the songwriter feels he is equally adept at writing country, rock, and gospel tunes. Sticking to one genre helps to focus the skill of the writer and will help aid in the decision making by the reviewer.

These methods have by no means exhausted all the ways that a songwriter could "break in" to the music industry. One could adapt these methods in many, many ways if the internet, for instance, was involved. These methods were detailed simply to show that it is possible to enter into the lucrative songwriting market, but as with any effort of value, it will take a great deal of persistence, patience, and perseverance to prevail.

2004 Cornbread Productions, Alexander Magazine. All Rights Reserved