Things You'll Need
- Song demo
- Printed lyrics and contact information
- List of publishers
- Access to the Internet (helpful, but not required)
For non-performing songwriters, getting a song recorded by a major artist represents the best income opportunity available. Getting songs to major recording artists is the main objective of music publishers. Unfortunately, with thousands of songwriters turning out thousands of songs each day, the competition can be overwhelming. Many publishers won’t accept submissions from unknown writers or writers that haven’t been referred to them, which can make the task even more difficult.
Select some publishers to contact. You can find lists of music publishers in music trade magazines websites and various books. Song Writer's Market (see Resources) is a good resource of information and can be purchased at most major book stores or online. American Songwriter Magazine (see Resources) is also a great source of information and links. From these lists, select some publishers that work with your genre of music or artists that you feel would match your songs. Compile a list of contact information and leave room for notes on follow up with this publisher.
Contact each of these publishers via the method that they outline on their website or explained in print. Remember, it is very unlikely that you will get a contract with the first publisher that you contact. Plan on contacting dozens, if not hundreds, of potential publishers before you find the right fit. When you contact a publisher, you are usually asking for permission to send a submission. Polite, articulate and professional inquiries result in the best responses.
Don't wait if a publisher replies with permission to send a submission. Get your package in the mail as soon as possible. This publisher may have asked to hear your song based on a current need that might expire in the near future. Also, be sure to adhere to their submission guidelines to ensure that your package isn't tossed into the trash. Although some guidelines may vary, most submissions consist of a demo of the song (in the format that they request), printed lyrics and some background on the writers.
Follow up with this publisher. Be sure to read the follow up information provided by the publisher before contacting them. Give the publisher enough time to receive your submission and review it. Some will ask that you wait as much as four to six months before contacting them. Remember, your submission is probably not the only one on their desk.
Continue to submit your demos to publishers until you feel that you have adequately covered your possibilities. If you have been offered a publishing contract, consider your project an amazing success. If not, you may want to widen your search or consider other songs from your catalog for submission.
Check CD liner notes of your favorite artists to identify publishers that you feel are a good fit for your songs. Contact music business lawyers, agents or managers as a way to get a recommendation to a publisher.
Join BMI, ASCAP or SESAC to take advantage of their publisher contacts. Organizations such as the Nashville Songwriters Association can help you submit your songs to affiliated publishers.
Don't be pushy or arrogant. This is the best way to get the door slammed in your face. Don't be discouraged by rejection. It's a part of the business. Don't expect your first song to be picked up and recorded by a major band next week. Learn to be patient. Don't bother to submit songs to publishers that have a "no unsolicited submission" policy. It will be returned unopened or tossed.
Jeff O'Kelley is a professional photographer and writer, currently based in the Tampa, Florida area. His images and words have been featured by websites and publications such as CNN, Creative Loafing and Tampa Bay Times. O'Kelley holds associate degrees in telecommunications and website design from St. Petersburg College.