Songwriting Business

The Professional Songwriters Code Of Conduct

You have just written Justin Timberlake's next big hit. But for some reason, try as you might, you can't get anyone to return your phone call or to listen to this blockbuster song of yours. Well, maybe the problem isn't with your song; maybe it's with your communication and business skills—or lack thereof. As co-owner of Azalea Music Group and a former assistant editor of American Songwriter Magazine, I've answered my share of telephones, opened lots of mail, and replied to plenty of e-mail. And I am constantly amazed at the lack of professionalism that I see and hear.

Image is everything in the music business—even for songwriters. Before a producer, publisher, record label, music supervisor or anyone else hears your song, they've already formed an opinion about you and your music from reading your letter, seeing your CD cover and packaging, and from speaking with you on the phone or in person. Yet 99.9% of aspiring songwriters don't think about anything other than writing the song. While I agree that talent and a great song are imperative to your success, I also know that first you must get someone to listen to that great song. And to get someone to listen means you must first get them interested in you. And to do that, you must act like a professional!

How do you do that? There aren't any hidden secrets to acting like a professional songwriter. Most of the professional conduct rules are common sense and require only a small amount of effort on your part. But this extra effort is not optional; it is essential to your success!

Below are the basics to the Professional Songwriter's Code of Conduct. Read them. Memorize them. Practice them religiously. Following these rules will instantly separate you from the throngs of amateur wannabes:

On The Telephone:

Don't instantly become someone's "best buddy." If they don't know you, they don't want to "chat" with you on the phone. They want to know who you are and what you want. State your purpose, ask your question, and get off the phone!

Don't ask open-ended questions that can't possibly be answered in 5-minutes or less (unless you are paying them a hefty consulting fee.) For example, "I've just written a song that my grandmother says is a #1 hit. How do I make that happen?" Respect everyone's time by being clear, concise, and to the point in your conversation. Have an agenda set ahead of time. Write yourself a script if you need to. Whatever you do, know what you're going to say before you make the phone call.

Remember to be polite, friendly, and pleasant even if it's the fourteenth message you've left and no one has ever returned your phone call. Polite persistence will eventually open doors. Under NO circumstances should you ever be rude, short, impolite, angry, or otherwise discourteous. That's a sure-fire way to get your song trashed and your phone calls blocked.

In A Letter:

Keep your business letters short, clear, and concise — usually no more than one page in length — and remember to use business letter style formats. If you are not familiar with these formats, visit a library, bookstore, or website near you to read up on the subject.

Unless you're writing a short, personal note to someone you already know in the industry, don't hand-write letters. Business letters should always be printed out, preferably on your own business letterhead. You can easily create your own stationery these days using a word processor or desktop publishing program and any inkjet printer. And never use lined notebook paper...especially the kind torn out of a spiral notebook. It makes you look like a seventh-grader.

Also, always use business-sized envelopes when sending your letters. An 8 ?" x 11" piece of paper folded a gazillion times to squeeze into a small standard envelope looks ridiculous.

In An E-mail:

An e-mail is simply an electronic version of a business letter. So, you should treat each and every e-mail message that leaves your computer with the same care and respect as your business letters. That means beginning your e-mail with a salutation (Dear So-and-so), ending it with a signature (Sincerely, your name), and using business style writing throughout your message.

Make sure you spell-check your e-mail and proof it for grammar BEFORE hitting the send key. One single, extraneous typo might be forgiven, but numerous typos and grammatical mistakes look extremely unprofessional and may send the signal that you just don't care. If you don't care about your own career, why should anyone else?

DON'T USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. It looks like you're screaming at someone and can be taken offensively. but don't use all lower case letters either. it's distracting and hard to read.

Likewise, e-mail is not the same thing as a text message. So, don't use those cutesy text message and instant message abbreviations! (IYKWIM!) Spell out all words and phrases.

And here's a huge no-no: don't spam industry professionals with e-mail like: "Check out for the greatest songwriter of ALL TIME!!!!" It doesn't work. No one will check you out. In fact, many will be greatly annoyed and will purposely avoid you forever.

When Sending A Package:

For a really consistent, professional image, have an eye-catching logo designed and use it on all of your printed materials, from shipping labels to your letterhead and business cards.

Don't seal the envelope with so much packaging tape that you need a razor blade and three people to pry the thing open. But PLEASE DO remove the shrink-wrap from your CD before you send it! You have a much better chance of someone slipping your CD into a player if it doesn't take them an hour to actually get to the disc.

And while we're talking about that...Remember that someone will SEE your CD before they HEAR it. So, make sure you've spent some time on what your CD looks like. Even if it's just a demo of a single song, you can print out a CD label or print directly on the CD itself to make it look clean and professional. Make sure you include your contact information on the CD itself! If they like what they hear, you want them to be able to contact you.

Always include a cover letter that clearly indicates why you are sending the package and what it is that you want. (For example: a critique, a publishing contract, a call back, a licensing deal, etc.) Just because you ask for it, doesn't mean you'll get it. But you still need to be clear on what it is you're asking for, so that the package can be directed to the right department or individual. I've seen stacks of CDs get discarded simply because no one knew what to do with them.

Also, make sure the company that you're sending a package to does what you want. We get music publishing inquiries at our studio all the time...but we are not a music publisher. These requests are glaring errors that scream "amateur."

Don't send your packages out willy-nilly to anyone and everyone. It's a waste of your money and their time. Besides, many unsolicited packages will simply be returned unopened to you.

In Person:

Developing and displaying confidence in your songs and songwriting is important—but be careful: don't brag about yourself or your song. In my experience, the amount of self-bravado is inversely proportional to the talent of the songwriter and/or greatness of the song. That is, the more a songwriter goes on and on about how fabulous his/her song is and how it's just perfect for (name of famous artist here), the more the song actually sucks and isn't even close to what said artist would be looking for. Great songwriters don't need to brag because great songs speak for themselves.

It's important to maintain a friendly, well-mannered, positive and pleasant demeanor at all times. Arguing with an industry professional will not win you points. Also, don't act like you "deserve" a deal or a cut. Talent alone doesn't give you the right to anything. There are tons of talented songwriters. Learn to handle all comments—positive or negative—with grace and dignity. That's what professional songwriters do.

In General:

Focus on developing relationships with people. Get to know people. Let them get to know you...slowly. Don't force yourself on anyone. Instead of always asking "what can they do for me?" find out how you can help them.

Feel free to inject your own personal style into your communications and actions. It will help people identify you. But don't be miffed if it takes them a while to notice or remember you. In fact, people will need to hear your name and see your name frequently before they remember who you are. So, always introduce yourself using your full name and if you've met this individual previously, give them the context in which you met. For example, "Hi Michael, I'm Nancy Moran. I met you last year when you spoke at the NSAI Symposium in Nashville. It's nice to see you again."

In my upcoming book, I discuss a much more comprehensive version of the Professional Songwriter's Code of Conduct. But these points will get you started. If you adhere to these rules, you'll be recognized as a professional songwriter before you know it.


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