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Pitching To A Publisher...


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Today I am pitching songs to a Nashville publisher—or seeing if I can. I got the invitation a couple of days ago. It’s not a big thing—I noticed a couple dozen other people got the same e-mail—but it’s not often one gets invited over to the bigger kids’ sandbox, so I’ll try to play.

The publisher says he’s looking for material to pitch to 21 different artists who are lining out albums. Only four of them are names I recognize, but that’s not surprising. One is brand-new—an Indiana kid who just got signed to a major label (the hometown newspaper did a front-page article).

One by one, I am going through their Websites or MySpace pages (some have both), to see what they sound like, what kinds of subjects they sing about, their styles, and the general attitudes they convey. All those things are presumably important. A guy who has done exclusively sappy love songs (or sappy praise songs) is probably not going to cover “Dirty Deeds We Done to Sheep,” for instance. I’m listening only to the uptempo stuff. Nashville, I’ve been told, is not interested in any more “power ballads.” Everybody’s got dozens of them.

Now, one can’t expect a whole lot out of this exercise. It’s like those old million-dollar Publishers Clearing House checks from the late Ed McMahon—looks neat, but it’s not a good idea to go buy stuff with it. Most of these 21 artists probably write or co-write nearly all of their own material—that’s the fashion these days, even in country music. What the publisher wants to do is tell the artist, “Dude! Check this out—this sounds JUST LIKE YOU!” If the song is really, really good, the artist may use it on the album instead of one of his own. The song needs to be good enough so the artist will want it on his album so it doesn’t get on somebody else’s.

And of course, there are dozens of publishers besides this one, all doing the same thing to these 21 artists. And the writers they’re pitching mostly live in Nashville, and have some Connections. I don’t.

I have envisioned each of the artists performing my songs, with the backup band he or she has (in some cases, the artist is a band, and the song needs to be able to accommodate all the instruments in the band). I can’t imagine these guys, girls or bands doing a lot of my songs. Dead animals just ain’t their style. Neither is the quirky stuff. (Modern country artists are awfully conventional.) Still, there are some pitchable ones. “Duct Tape” and “Bluebird on My Windshield” would work for the guys who sing about country themes (yes, folks are still writing about Mother, trucks, trains, farms, prison, and so on). The love-in-a-barroom folks could be interested in “Cuddle in the Darkness.” There’s even a few on the list I could see doing “When I Jump Off the Cliff I’ll Think of You.” And “Rotten Candy,” of course—that was written to be commercial, and would fit a lot of these folks.

The publisher will be the one deciding whom to pitch what (if any) songs to. I send my stuff to the publisher. I’m not sure if I should make any suggestions or not; the publisher presumably knows all these people way better’n me.

Some of the songs need to be dressed up a bit for pitching. No “worktapes”—we need demos. Songs from the last album would work as demos—but I may want to re-record some of them anyway. That album was done with a bluegrass band, and most of these 21 artists do “modern country,” a lot closer to rock ‘n’ roll. I can see them saying, “But I don’t do bluegrass music.” (So little imagination these days among supposedly creative people.) But I can re-do the songs with a country band—I just happen to be playing with one, and we have the ability to record. So while we’re recording the new album, I want to also record the songs abovementioned.

I do have one I can fire off right away: “Cuddle in the Darkness.” That was done with just rhythm guitar (me), fiddle and standup bass, and the arrangement would work well in a wide range of genres. It doesn’t need to be changed. It’s not too slow (most of my stuff is not slow), and you can dance to it. The rest of the pitchables will take a little time to re-do, but at least I’ve got something I can send immediately.

I doubt I’d have gotten that e-mail if the publisher didn’t want the stuff right away. (And the lesson there? Always be ready. Like lobbyist Bruce Vincent used to say, “The world is run by those who show up.”)

Joe

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