You've just finished producing a killer demo. You're certain it will kick start your career, if only you can get the right people to hear it. But how do you find out who the “right people” are, and how do you get your demo into the hands of the decision makers?
How and to whom you pitch your demo depends on whether you're looking to snag a music-publishing or recording contract or hoping to score music for film or TV. Industry movers and shakers have strong preferences about what they want to receive in your demo package. You will have to decide what kind of deal you want and tailor your pitch and your promotional package to match.
PITCHING SONG DEMOS
The goal of a song demo is to obtain a record deal or music-publishing contract for the song (for more about demos, see “Producing Types of Demos” on p. 32). For most songwriters, winning a recording deal for a song is an almost impossible task to accomplish alone. The necessary time commitment, industry connections, and knowledge of contract law are so daunting that most songwriters enlist the help of a music publisher in shopping their songs for a record deal.
The best music publishers know, on a day-to-day basis, what types of songs industry decision makers such as producers and A&R reps want, and they have working relationships with and ready access to those people. When you sign a music-publishing contract for your song, you're essentially giving the publisher a cut of your royalties in return for its promise to pitch your song and, hopefully, get it recorded by a major-label artist.
How do you find a music publisher to pitch your songs to? You can find the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of leading music-publishing contacts in readily available directories (see the sidebar “Music Business Directories”). Another way to make contacts is through one of the performing-rights societies (see the sidebar “Performing-Rights Societies”). Make an appointment to see a writer/publisher-relations person at one of the agencies to play them three or four of your best songs. That may require you to travel to one of the major music centers. If you can impress the writer/publisher-relations person with your songwriting abilities, he or she may set up an appointment for you with a publisher who would be hard to meet without a referral.
Do it yourself
If you have the time and know-how, you can bypass music publishers and pitch your song demo directly to record producers and A&R reps, the latter being the record label staff who often choose songs for artists on their label's roster. To be successful at pitching your song demo to producers and A&R reps, you'll need to know which artists are looking for songs to record, what kind of material (for example, up-tempo or ballad) is being sought, and who the artists' producer(s) and A&R reps are and how to contact them. Thankfully, pitch sheets (aka tip sheets) can provide that information in condensed form, saving you many hours of research (see the sidebar “Industry Pitch Sheets”).
Some pitch sheets provide more current information than others. Also, many pitch sheets are geared toward industry insiders who already have established connections; they may list the artist, type of material sought, and names of contact people to pitch your song to, but not the contacts' phone numbers or addresses. For that reason, it is important to have an up-to-date directory of A&R reps on hand if you will be pitching to them directly. Contact information for record producers is often harder to come by. Some producers double as A&R reps or music publishers; you might find their names and contact information in the index of directories for those types of entities.
Pitch sheets and directories are helpful, but making contact with a producer or an A&R rep will not guarantee that your song will be heard. Mike Whelan, director of creative services for country-music publisher Acuff-Rose, says songwriters “have a better chance of winning the lottery than succeeding at a cold pitch to a producer of a major artist in Nashville.” Whelan notes that producers might receive thousands of songs for one artist. “If they get a CD from a major publisher, that often goes to the top of the pile,” Whelan says.
Jim Vellutato, creative director for Sony/ATV Music Publishing, credits publishers' generally superior research and catalog depth for their preferential treatment. “Most songwriters don't do their homework very well,” Vellutato says. Many songwriters often pitch inappropriate songs, and unlike publishers, who have a wealth of alternate songs to choose from, songwriters usually don't have more suitable songs to offer if their first pitch is off the mark.
Before you contact a music publisher, a producer, or an A&R rep for the first time, make sure you know what kind of material he or she is seeking. Sending a hip-hop tune to a country-music publisher will ruin any credibility you may have had with that publisher, closing the door to your future demo submissions.
Most industry contacts prefer — and many require — that you submit your song demo on a CD. Include a lyric sheet with any songs that contain vocals. You don't need to include your photo or bio with a song demo. However, it's important to include a discography if you've already had major records cut.
You can mail your demo package to your contact person, but setting up a face-to-face appointment to play your demo will increase your odds of success. Whelan says country-music songwriters who live in Nashville have the best chance of winning deals because of the daily contacts they make.
PITCHING ARTIST DEMOS
The purpose of an artist demo is to secure a recording contract for the musicians performing on the demo. The best people to shop your artist demo to are A&R reps, producers, and music-business attorneys. The best way to find an attorney is by getting a referral from your contact at a performing-rights society. Generally speaking, it's more important to have an attorney than it is to have a manager when seeking a record deal.
“You don't need a manager,” says Jojo Brim, producer and senior director of A&R for Def Jam/Def Soul Records. “We're more inclined to listen to something that an attorney brings to us.”
Your odds of getting a record deal increase if you wrote the songs that appear on your artist demo. Many artists break into the business by first getting music-publishing deals. The leading publishers often have major-label affiliations. A songwriter who consistently serves up awesome performances on song demos will probably be noticed for his or her potential as a recording artist and may be offered a record deal.
Some pitch sheets list record labels looking for new acts, but most new acts come to the attention of record labels through industry buzz surrounding their live performances. You're especially likely to grab major-label attention if your concerts get rave reviews and you have a self-produced album that receives regional airplay (though the latter is by no means required to get a record deal). On the other hand, an act with a great studio demo but little touring experience will usually get little consideration from a record label.
In fact, demos carry little weight with some country-music labels. Many Nashville labels require unsigned acts to come in and sing for the label executives. Nashville's insistence on live performance and personal contact makes it difficult for unsigned artists to succeed if they don't live in Music City.
Most A&R reps want song demos to be submitted on CD. Because good looks are so important in the country-music industry, Carole Ann Mobley, director of A&R for RCA Records in Nashville, advises country artists to include a photo in their demo packages. “A head shot and a body shot are always good,” Mobley says. “The bio and press releases, I don't even look at those.”
PITCHING FILM AND TV DEMOS
In talking with prominent film and TV composers Carter Burwell (whose credits include Fargo and Being John Malkovich) and Douglas Cuomo (HBO's Sex and the City, NBC's Homicide), it quickly became apparent that no clear formula exists for pitching demos to secure work in those mediums.
“As far as pitching your demo goes, it's as much of a mystery to me as it is to anybody,” Burwell says. “Most composers I know fall into [music scoring] by accident.”
Burwell suggests that budding composers consider going to film school, where they can write music for thesis projects. If and when the directors of those projects go on to making feature films, your established relationships with them could lead to you scoring those films. You're not likely to score Hollywood feature films without first establishing a track record on smaller projects. (See “Working Musician: You Ought to Be in Pictures,” in the January 2002 issue, for a primer on breaking into scoring music for film and television.)
Cuomo says that making cold pitches to producers and directors is typically a futile strategy. “Most of the cold-calling stuff doesn't directly pay off,” Cuomo says. “The thing that really helped me the most was to have done things that people have heard of a little bit.” Getting mentioned in a prominent review of an off-off-Broadway theater production helped kick start Cuomo's career. He used the favorable press to win work on projects he heard about through a network of friends and associates in the TV industry.
Once you succeed in making personal contact with the producer or director of a film or TV project, both Burwell and Cuomo recommend you submit your demo on CD. They also suggest you include in your package a list of any completed film and TV projects you've done. It's not necessary to include your photo in your demo package.
No matter what type of demo you pitch, be sure to always include your name, telephone number, and mailing address on every item (CD, lyric sheet, and so on) you submit with your package. Those items sometimes get separated from one another — and sometimes even lost — in the process of listening to the music. Nothing would be sadder than losing a major contract for your knockout song because the person you pitched it to couldn't find a way to contact you.
MUSIC BUSINESS DIRECTORIES
Whether you're pitching song, artist, or music-scoring demos, you'll have an easier time finding the right contacts to pitch your music to if you let your fingers do the walking. Here is a sampling of helpful music-industry directories.
The most comprehensive domestic and international listings of names, titles, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses for A&R reps ($350 for a six-issue annual subscription, $65 for a single issue; also available on disc). The Music Business Registry; tel. (818) 769-2722; e-mail email@example.com; Web www.musicregistry.com.
Billboard International Buyer's Guide
Domestic and international listings of record labels, music publishers, entertainment attorneys, performing-rights societies, and much more. Contacts for each organization are not nearly as comprehensive as in the three Music Business Registry offerings listed here, but many more business categories are included ($155). Billboard Music Group; tel. (800) 344-7119; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Web www.billboard.com/directories.
Film and Television Music Guide
More than 200 pages of listings organized by record labels, music publishers, film and TV music departments, music supervisors, film composers, composer agents, music editors, scoring stages, and much more ($95; also available on disc). The Music Business Registry (see A&R Registry listing for contact information).
Music Publishers Registry
Comprehensive domestic and international listing of names, job titles, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses for leading music-publishing contacts. A must-have for songwriters ($125 for a two-issue annual subscription, $75 for a single issue; also available on disc). The Music Business Registry (see A&R Registry listing for contact information).
Musician's Guide to Touring and Promotion
Listings for A&R reps, personal agents, entertainment attorneys, booking managers, and more ($15.95, published twice a year). BPI Communications; tel. (800)407-6874; Web www.billboard.com.
INDUSTRY PITCH SHEETS
Pitch sheets (aka tip sheets) provide current information on songs sought by producers and A&R reps for the recording artists they work with. Some pitch sheets also list record companies and music publishers looking for new talent.
This country-music pitch sheet is sent out once a week to subscribers and includes many major-label listings. It lists the artist, record label, producer, studio dates, and type of song requested, but usually does not provide the address to send submissions to. However, Music Row Publications offers a directory through its Web site for $34.95 plus postage. (Subscriptions are $129 per year by e-mail and $155 by fax.) Music Row Publications; tel. (615) 321-361; fax (615) 329-0852; e-mail email@example.com; Web www.musicrow.com.
Unlike pitch sheets that provide direct links to industry contacts for named projects, Taxi screens demos from bands, artists, and songwriters and forwards the cream of the crop to “major record labels, top music publishers, and music supervisors working on film and TV projects.” Listings are for all styles of music and include top-tier companies ($299.95 for the first-year subscription, $199.95 for renewal, plus $5-per-song submission fee). Taxi; tel. (800) 458-2111; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Web www.taxi.com.
Performing rights societies collect performance (such as radio airplay) royalties for songwriters and music publishers. The writer/publisher-relations staff at performing-rights societies will sometimes assist promising songwriters with meeting music publishers. Here are the main headquarters for the three most prominent performing-rights societies in the United States.
tel. (615) 320-0055