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Terre Haute Federation of Musicians
The Business of Music 7


            It isnt easy to get a song published, but it never was. It isnt impossible either. Finding the address of a publisher in your town may be easy, but is it right for you? Is your work a rock piece, and the publisher specializes in gospel? Not a good fit. There are major publishing firms that are strong in many types of music, as well as quite a few that specialize in one or two types only. Read the trade weeklies to figure out which ones are right for you. First you must realize that the first publisher you approach may not sign up your baby.  Some songwriters still think that its the main job of a publisher to print up sheet music of your work. That hasnt been true for 50 years. And today sheet music is rarely printed until after theres been a successful record to generate demand for it.  The main job of a publisher is to get your song to the right record company or to the manager of  the right recording artist. Even if you are fortunate to have a record cut of your song, the job of a producer isnt finished. That record could be either a flop or hit. The responsible publisher should try for more records by other artists-now and later. The writer isnt pushy if they check every year or so on whats being done with their songs.

            First things first. Make a clear, audible tape on a decent machine-not a $19 model. The listener must get an exact picture of both the lyric and music. A single guitar or piano will do just fine. You dont need a great voice-just one that isnt rotten. Most firms demand you put no more that 3 songs on a demo with 10 to 15 seconds empty space between MINIMUM. A lyric sheet MUST accompany the tape with a single song per page. TYPED!  [Three songs=three lyric pages] REALITY..lead sheets are not necessary. Most persons in publishing firms now dont read music!

            Once you find the name and address of  the publisher of your type of music, write them asking for a chance to play your demo for them in-person. The letter should say that youll be phoning in six to eight days. Call when you say youll call, and if this isnt productive, do it all over again. Be persistent. But be polite.

            Dont be discouraged. Youll receive many more rejections than not. And dont expect to play your song for the president of the company. Youll probably get a middle-level person. This is good enough. This is what they do. They will be polite and many times very helpful. Most often your tape will be returned to you unopened. If you do score a face-to-face, get to the point. Dont bend their ear about your entire life or the songs background. Get to playing the tape for them within the first four minutes.  Make sure all the songs are of the same type also. i.e.: all rock, all country, etc. If these songs dont get recognition, ask for a return appointment in six weeks or so. Not many people in this business are incompetent jerks. Most are very capable and some even genius. But they will also be the first to admit they have passed on hits at one time or another.

            Many firms will not accept unsolicited material. So dont be discouraged by a returned unopened envelope. Ripoffs. Here is where we need to cover copyrights. Regardless of the firms position, ALWAYS have any material submitted copyrighted properly. This means, having your song registered with the US Copyright Office and NOT mailed to yourself. This is a myth and has never held up in court.

            An even bigger bummer is dealing with a publisher who wants you to pay money to have your song published, or for lead sheets or demo records. These are vanity publishers and a waste of money. Publishers pay writers. Not the other way around. ASCAPs policy is to NOT accept such vanity publishing or recordings as valid compliance with their requirements for joining.  Good luck.