What’s the best way for an independent songwriter to go about meeting industry people who will help get their demos in front of ‘major artists’ to be cut?
Hi Nathanael –
I can definitely empathize because I had this exact same question before I moved to Nashville more than ten years ago. Now, to be clear, I haven’t had a ton of major artist cuts. But I have had a few.
Here’s what I’ve found.
There’s a lot of different ways to get your song cut by a major artist and those ways continue changing over time. The way you described–getting your demo in front of them–is one way. But honestly, it’s probably the least likely way.
Most major artists today are cowriting their material. So the best way to get a cut is to write the song with them. Obviously that begs the question, How do you write a song with the artist? Well, patience for starters. But let’s use a fire analogy I heard recently that I think will work for this situation.
Right now, for you, writing a song with the artist is like trying to start a fire with a log and a match. You don’t start fires that way. If you’ve ever built a fire, you know you start first with some pine needles, dry leaves. Then you add some sticks and kindling, followed by split logs. Once all that’s going you can add a log.
Here’s what all those elements translated to for me.
Pine needles and dry leaves:
I moved to Nashville and started attending every industry or songwriting event I could. I signed up for camps and master classes. I met industry people. I didn’t shove my demos in their face because that would have been like pouring water on my dry needles and leaves. (Ok, at first I did push my demos, but realized that was a mistake. Patience, grasshopper!)
Sticks and Kindling:
I began cowriting. Anyone who wanted to cowrite or suggest I cowrite with, I did. Some of my cowriters were published, some weren’t. Some had cuts. Most didn’t. I worked at Starbucks and did odd jobs. I tuned pianos. Mainly, I met people and cowrote as often as I could. Keep in mind, my pine needles and dry leaves were still cooking. I was still attending industry and songwriting events. I’d attend songwriter rounds and just listen.
All of the above led to me signing my first publishing deal. And I mean all of it. Starbucks, too. I actually served my publisher coffee before I wrote for him!
Now, in theory you don’t need a publishing deal to have a major artist cut, but what I found is it removed a lot of resistance from people working with me or listening to my songs. It was like having a Costco card. Sure you can get into Costco without one, but you’ll encounter way more challenges. Moreover, my publishing deal allowed me to quit working at Starbucks and doing odd jobs. I was advanced roughly $30k per year to focus purely on cowriting and recording demos. At the end of three years, guess how many major artist cuts I had?
Guess how unrecouped I was on my advances?
That publishing deal ended. I went looking for another one. Yes, three years didn’t produce any major artist cuts or financial success; but it did produce a lot of indie band/artist cuts. Most importantly, a ton of relationships with people who liked working with me.
It wasn’t until two years into my next publishing deal that I was in the room with an artist. He never recorded the song we wrote.
But then I was in the room with another artist and he recorded our song. Then I was in the room with another artist who recorded our song.
Nathanael, I finally had a decent fire going.
So…if I were you, reverse engineer writing with the artist. How?
Step One: Meet people, go to events, be yourself—say what you do, but don’t push your work.
Step Two: Continue Step One but begin cowriting with everyone you can, signed or unsigned. It’s the best way to spread yourself and your work. This will hopefully lead to Step Three.
Step Three: Sign a publishing deal and cowrite with everyone your publisher sets you up with. BUT…and this is important—continue to write with the unsigned cowriters you loved from Step Two. Your publisher will be cool with it as long as it doesn’t keep you from writing with the people they want you to write with.
Step Four: Write with the artist.