How to Get A Job as a Staffwriter

Songwriters often forget that in addition to being artists, they are in the business of music. And as in any business, the successful people in it have a business plan.

     Some songwriters I've met sit around under yum yum trees, sipping moonberry smoothies, expecting Fat Freda the fairy god mother/manager/stolen plasma dealer to discover them and do all their work for them. But the most successful writers I know treat their art as a business, and follow the basic steps necessary for anyone to be successful in any business.

     Since this is a new day, and we all start clean this morning, I suggest you do what I did last night and make a list of things you'd like to accomplish with your songwriting career today, and then for the rest of the year.  Don't edit the list, no matter how grandiose your expectations in songwriting. The point is to have a plan and a vision, hold that vision in your mind and be committed to taking some action every day that will propel you towards fulfilling that goal.

     For example, if you want to be a staffwriter by this time next year, getting paid handsomely each week to do what you gladly do free, here is a plan I would suggest following:

     l. Determine where in the marketplace your songs can REALISTICALLY compete - i.e. – hip hop, alternative, rap, rock, crock, country, adult contemporary, Bahamian hula, jazz, etc. 
    2. Look in Billboard Magazine and find out who publishes songs in your genre. 
    3. Find out the names of the songwriting professional staffs at those publishing companies. 
    4. Ask everyone you know and meet who they know who knows somebody at those companies, and ask for an introduction, or permission to use their names. Maybe it's the person who prints their stationary, their roofer, florist, caterer, bookie, pusher, chauffeur, or lawyer. Somebody is bound to give you a name and a starting point. 
    5. Before you approach anybody, practice your pitch. I'd even record it on your voicemail, trying to keep your pitch under 10 seconds. You want to come across confident and professional, not like some yutz sleeping in a stolen '62 Subaru on the south east side of Selma. Here's a sample pitch:

    "My name is Tess Brokaw, I'm a singer/songwriter, and was referred to you by Richard Ward, our mutual dentist. I write in the genre of Tim McGraw, I have a demo of three brand new songs, I've heard wonderful things about you and your company, and I'd like to see if we can do business together. When would it be convenient for us to get together?"

     As you develop some songwriting credits, you can include them in your ten second pitch. Last week I was ordering lunch and met a TV producer sitting with an acquaintance at my health club. I asked, as I always do, if the producer needed a song or theme for his show. My name didn't register with him, but when I told him I had been nominated for an Emmy, he was immediately impressed, and wanted to meet with me. My whole pitch lasted two seconds.

     The most important thing I ever did as a songwriter, after learning my craft, switching to peppermint tea and purchasing assault weapons, was calling back. I can't remember anybody I wanted to talk to breaking the land/speed record to return my calls, but that never stopped me. I just called back. When nobody knows who you are, and has never listened to your songs, you can't personalize his not returning your calls. Even if he does know you and your work, you don't know what's going on in his office this week. So just stay on it. Often, the main difference between you and the songwriters in the Top Forty is they tried one more number, one more time.

     When you get your meeting with a publisher or record company, (and that could take six months, but you're pursuing several leads at once and won't let that upset you), let's assume he likes your work and wants to hear more. Make a new CD of three new songs. Now let's assume the publisher loves one of them, and wants to publish it.


     Now your job is to capitalize on your momentum. Take your publisher to lunch every couple of months, and over your jicama/halvah salads, talk about your latest songs and suggest artists who can realistically do the one he already publishes.  Be sure to thank this publisher for doing such a good job in promoting your songwriting, even if he hasn't. Your enthusiasm could inspire him to get back on the case.  And you pick up the tab for lunch.  That’s a power move.

     Then let's assume the publisher actually gets your song recorded. Now you're a semi-hot songwriter and there's even a little buzz going on about you. Your publisher develops a short-term case of the "nices", since his boss is all over him like a bad suit to make sure you stick with their company so nobody else publishes your work. That's when you say you've enjoyed working with him, and are hoping to become a staffwriter. Somewhere... 

     Meetings can be canceled while music publishers have emergency manicures, and lunches can be overlooked after long weekends at lichi retreats, but you get the idea. However, it would be premature of you to call a publisher and, without any credits, say you want to be a staffwriter. But following the plan I suggested has worked for me and everybody I've ever met who got that gig.

     I'm assuming that you approach this business plan only when you are absolutely sure the songs you write and play for a publisher are hit songs. Pretty good isn't good enough. As a songwriter whose work is unknown in the music business, your songs have to be better than anything on the charts. Playing a so so piece of material for a publisher can end your relationship with him right there.

     But that's a separate issue. Let's assume your songs are hits. If they aren't, do what the pros do and rewrite them. And if you don't know how to do that, you consult with me, who does. 
No matter what your goals are, they can be reached if you make a business plan and stick to it. Do something every day towards making your goal a reality. Mark it in your appointment book and check it off when you've completed it. 

     l. Hit the phones with a vengeance 
     2. Network with passion 
     3. Hold your vision in your mind
     4. Stay on it.

     When the year is over, and you look back at where you started and where you ended up, I bet you'll be very proud of yourself, ready to make a new plan for next year.

    Let me know how you do.  If you’d like my help along the way, I’m here for you. 

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Molly-Ann Molly-Ann Leikin