Pitching your songs. It means playing songs for publishers, artists or record label people in hopes of getting them to record or help you get a song recorded and it is one of the most important steps of being in the music industry as a writer – otherwise your songs without being pitched basically means nothing – yet, pitching is one of the areas where songwriters make the most mistakes. And, those mistakes can be costly. Sometimes the cost can be losing all your credibility as a writer while maybe your songs are actually pretty good, but you’ve already ruined your reputation by making these simple mistakes. You don’t get too many chances to make a good impression before you are put on the “burned bridge” list. Here are some of the important dos and don’ts to remember when you pitch songs.
Make sure that your song fits what the artist is looking for very closely. Just having a song “In the ballpark” is not close enough. You want to pitch songs like someone shooting a rifle, not a machine gun. The idea here is not just to throw something out and see if it sticks. You want to give them precisely what they need or think they need. To do so, you need to do a proper research about the artist or their A&R people or the producer or whoever is the key person in making decisions for that particular artist and analyze them as much as you can, to find out what exactly they are looking for at this moment, and if you have something very close to their target, pitch for it. Otherwise just let it be, and don’t ruin your future chances by just randomly sending them something unrelated and hoping it works. Maybe next time they will be looking for something very close to what you already have, and that will be your chance! The part you should understand is that these people – in most cases – have a direction for the artist and doing a new song and marketing it is not very cheap. It is extremely unlikely that they hear your song, far away from their target and say, “Oh this is a cool song. Let’s change the plan!”. Sending an unrelated song might sound like “free” and you might think you won’t lose anything by just giving it a try, but in long term you would lose your most important asset: Your reputation.
Make sure your song is competitive. If your song sounds like an amateur wrote it, then it will be tossed out and they’ll remember your name with a scarlet “A” beside it. When you pitch songs, you are competing against many other writers, including some the big boys. Your song should hold up against everything they are being pitched or you shouldn’t have pitched it. And this is strongly depended to the quality of your song. By quality I don’t mean to spend thousands of dollars on the demo, but the melody and the lyrics are determining the quality of your song. It should be catchy and meaningful. Don’t be too worried about the audio quality as long as it is decent and acceptable with minimum requirements. Of course if you can do a proper quality demo, it’s even better because it shows those people how serious you are in what you are doing but even if the audio quality is not great, it still is okay as long as you have a great song – which is the primary subject for professionals who are hearing it.
Keep your pitches to a minimum. Unless someone specifically asks you for more, pitch 1-2 songs at a time. Again, think rifle, not machine gun. Pick your best two shots for that artist and pitch away. If they like what you send, they may ask for more. Nobody in this industry have time to listen to so many songs and choose one or two. As a writer it is your job to pick the best of your songs which is the most relevant to what they are looking for. Even if you send 10 songs for a pitch, they will randomly – or maybe from the titles – will choose one or two and listen to that. It is better if you just send that one or two and make it clear for them which one you prefer them to hear! Plus by sending so many songs you are shouting “I am not a professional” and trust me, that’s the last thing you want people to think of you as.
Make your presentation business-like. Don’t hand-write the labels on the CD in sharpie. Make your presentation just as good as the publishers that are pitching. Make your lyrics sheet properly typed with all the information mentioned on it – we have discussed the proper format for the lyrics sheet. Show the artist and label people that how much you care about your work and how much you respect your work if you want them to respect your work too.
Start small. If you’ve never had a cut on a major artist, the chances of you getting one are really slim. Your chances are much better with newer, less established artists. Major artists get pitched thousands of songs for each album and most likely they would go with a songwriter they have a working history with, or their producer or label people know those songwriters in person, most probably from a long time ago. Newer artists get pitched hundreds. Which pile would you rather be in? Know your competition and place yourself in a safer area.
Never send unsolicited CDs, E-mails or pitches of any type. Always get permission before sending. I do that, even though almost everyone in my circle knows me. It’s the polite, best way to do business. Call or e-mail and ask permission to send 1-2 songs. Most people will let you do that. Doing things, the right way goes a long way. No one ever lost anything for being polite and considerate. By just asking for a “permission” in advance you are just showing your sincerity to that person and remind them that at least your personality is respectable enough that make them to sit down and listen to your couple of new songs.
Don’t put 20 songs on a CD. That will get tossed in the trash. So will 10. Probably 5. Dropping off a CD loaded with songs screams “I have no idea what I’m doing and no idea what you need, so I’m just sending everything I’ve got.” Don’t be that guy. When I receive a Dropbox link with more than a couple of songs in it, I just ignore it because the writer didn’t even respect my time to spend 2 minutes and pick one or two of their songs and mark them as the ones they want me to hear. When they hadn’t spend one minute on their own craft, why should I spend half an hour of my busy day listening to their songs?
Don’t irritate the person you are pitching to. Drop it off, be courteous, and leave. Don’t hang around yakking. And don’t e-mail them the following day asking what they thought of your songs. If they like them, they will contact you. I promise. Generally, you don’t want to contact them after you drop off the pitch. They don’t have time to everyone that sends them something they aren’t interested in. Drop it off and move on. If they contact you, great! If not, that means “no”. Don’t ask for reasons. It’s nothing personal.
Don’t brag or name drop. The people you are pitching to don’t care who you know or what names you can drop. Don’t talk about who you write with or who liked your songs. Other people don’t have anything to do with the quality of your writing. Let your songs speak for themselves, don’t try to brag your way to the top. Doing so places you in the “amateur club” once again. Also, never say the words “My songs are better than the ones on the radio”. Ever. Professionals in the business have heard that said ten thousand times and it has never once been true. People who write better songs than the ones on the radio don’t say that. They just pitch their songs and a couple of month later, turn on their radio and listen to their song on the radio while having their beer. So, if you find those words coming out of your mouth, stop them in their tracks.
Never complain and whine to the people you are pitching to. If you tell them how hard the business is, how no one will listen to your songs, and other “woe is me” type statements, you’ll get shown the door promptly. People only want to work with hardworking, positive people. Those people don’t complain and whine. They’re too busy working.
Don’t pitch any song that isn’t amazing. Just don’t. Pitching it will hurt you far more than it will help you. I suggest getting professional feedback on a song before you pitch it on the open market. If you get professional feedback that the song is pitch ready, you can start pitching it without worrying about burning a bridge. Make sure your song is ready. Make sure it’s commercially competitive. And make sure it fits what the artist is looking for precisely. Then, and only then, should you pitch it.
Hangi Tavakoli is our in-house established and professional music producer with more than 15 years of experience in music production, mix and mastering, recording engineering, live sound designing/engineering, lyrics writing and music arrangement. He has produced more than 800 and written more than 2000 published songs to-date, including some major hits in international scale.