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In Urban Music as in Any Other Genre, the Key To Success Is a Great Song

“Big Jon” Platt, Senior Vice President, Creative, West Coast at EMI Music Publishing, offers some sage advice on breaking into the urban music songwriting scene.

Posted in Songwriter 101 on January 18, 2005 by

What are urban music publishers looking for?

“Big Jon” Platt: The same as everybody else: hit records, as simple as that. But beyond that, personally, I’m a melody person first; I gravitate towards that. In my opinion, melody is one thing you can’t teach a person - they either have it or they don’t. For everything else, I can help you develop it or pair you up with someone whose strengths lie in lyrics or what-have-you - but melody is the key.

What’s currently working in urban music?

Platt: Some writers right now are striving for complete originality, trying to carve out their own name in the game. It’s always exciting to see someone like that break through. Then there are other writers who are interested in continuing trends that have already been put in place, but that still inspire them.

Can’t the latter approach be self-defeating, given how quickly today’s fresh sound becomes yesterday’s news?

Platt: Not necessarily. Depending on what’s going on, by concentrating on something that’s already going on you can help that sound keep getting larger and larger. That’s not always good, of course, because it doesn’t leave room for new styles to come in, but if you really have something positive to contribute to a sound that’s already happening, go for it. Of course, being the last one on the bus when the style in question is on its way out is not the place to be either. But if you can stretch a sound out for a longer period, and it remains popular, you can have a lot of success.

Are you on the lookout for someone who’s a pure songwriter, or someone who’s a songwriter/artist or songwriter/producer?

Platt: My advice is to play to your strengths. If you’re a 100% songwriter, first and foremost, then stick with that and keep working at that. If you only do music, stick with that; if you’re primarily into lyric-writing, then do that. I can put you together with someone else who’s strong where you’re not, if what you’re doing sounds like it might lead to something.

By the same token, if someone sends me [a tape] with100 songs on it and says, “I wrote all those songs just last week,” I say, “Great,” but I’m still interested in one great song. You can’t just be writing for the sake of writing.

Are there any “Must Avoids” that new songwriters should be aware of?

Platt: Blatant plagiarism will pretty much be the end of the meeting [laughs]. And unsolicited material is a problem. I used to be able to accept material that way, but it’s become so overwhelming that I don’t anymore.

What advice do you have for a songwriter who may not live in one of the industry’s capitals - Los Angeles, New York, Nashville?

Platt: You’ve got to leave your element sometimes. You can’t just sit there waiting for something to happen. It’s like being unemployed; the jobs aren’t going to come knocking on your door, you’ve got to go out and find them. Invest time, money and effort in yourself ? you may end up taking a trip to one of those markets to attend a conference or convention and start networking.

Networking always comes up as one of the key ingredients to success.


Platt: It’s true. Building relationships with the right people is important in anything, but especially in this business. Of course, you then need to learn how to manage that relationship without becoming a pest; it can be a fine line.

But isn’t it true that the business is always getting harder and harder to break into?

Platt: Unfortunately, yes. There’s less of everything right now, and there certainly seem to be fewer “real” conferences where things get done. When I was coming up you had things like the Jack the Rapper conference, the New Music Seminar. I started out as a club deejay, so I was able to rely on those relationships to a degree as well, but the relationships I was able to build at those conferences were crucial.

But it’s still possible to get your music heard. It sounds like a cliché, but you need to pound the pavement and meet people.

Do you put any credence into the argument that a big music publisher can do so much more for a writer than a small independent? Or do you think a writer is liable to get more personalized attention at a smaller house?


Platt: I’ve never gotten into that whole “small vs. large” argument. Companies can make that argument either way. But if you’re a guy at a smaller company who doesn’t write hits, then you’re in the same basic boat as a guy at a huge company who doesn’t write hits.

My advice is: Go with a good publisher. Somewhere you can establish a relationship, get attention, and have your songs get the attention they deserve and need. At the end of the day, it’s all about personal preference ? and the only way to determine what’s going to be right for you is to get out there, meet these people, and make your own decision.

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