How Much Would You Pay to Advance Your Songwriting Career?
From independent song pluggers to writing with a pro, is it right for you?
In their quests for songwriting success, many writers engage a variety of paid services. This article offers a glimpse at some of the companies and services that pitch songs for licensing in television and films, and those that pitch their members’ material for placement with recording artists, music publishers, and other industry professionals—for a fee.
Hiring an Independent Song Plugger
Independent song pluggers are individuals who are paid a monthly fee—a retainer—to pitch songs. Many of them were formerly employed as music publishers or A&R executives. In the event that a plugger places a song, he or she typically does not share in ownership of the copyright or the publishing income. However, most independent publishers’ agreements stipulate that in the event that they secure a song placement, they receive a bonus that is determined by factors such as the highest chart position the song attains, the income the song generates, and the number of units sold.
While independent song pluggers can be found in most music centers, they are far more prevalent in Nashville. This is because genres other than country music offer few opportunities to place songs that were not written or co-written by the artist and/or producer.
Some published Nashville songwriters hire a song plugger to augment their publishers’ efforts. Why? When a publisher pitches songs face-to-face to a recording artist, record producer, or A&R executive, it is unlikely they will play more than five or six songs during their meeting. But a publishing company might have twenty or more staff-writers and thousands of songs in their catalog that are essentially all vying for one of those few opportunities to be heard. By engaging an independent song plugger, writers who are signed to a publishing company increase their chances of getting their songs played for decision-makers.
For songwriters who are unable to secure a publisher to represent their work, and for those who would rather not invest the time and energy necessary to obtain a publisher, hiring an independent song plugger might seem to present the ideal solution. There are song pluggers with excellent music industry connections and the utmost integrity. To maintain their reputations, the top pluggers are extremely selective about the songs they represent, primarily working with writers who have proven track records. Songs by aspiring writers typically make up a small percentage of the songs the successful independent pluggers pitch.
During the more than twenty years that I’ve been teaching songwriting workshops and master classes, I have mentored thousands of aspiring songwriters. Many of them have reported spending thousands of dollars on independent song pluggers—in some cases, tens of thousands. In some of these instances, it was painfully clear that the writers were not producing material that was competitive with current hit makers.
In preparation for this article, I posed a question to several songwriting instructors, and to my 5,000 Facebook friends, most of whom are songwriters or music industry professionals. I asked whether they were aware of any unpublished songwriter, without a previously established track record, who secured his or her first major-label release as a result of paying an independent plugger.
Many of the aspiring writers who responded to my Facebook post shared that they had invested significant sums to engage independent pluggers and/or knew aspiring writers who had done so. None had ever secured that elusive breakthrough recording as a result of the pluggers’ efforts, and in my many years of teaching I have never encountered a writer without a track record who broke through as a result of engaging a song plugger.
Organizations That Pitch for Pay
Several companies provide opportunities for their members to by-pass the “No Unsolicited Material” policies that bar access to many industry pros. Below is a summary of the services some of these companies offer.
Broadjam (www.broadjam.com) submits its members’ songs for consideration for film and television licensing opportunities, publishing, and artist placements. The material is not pre-screened, and the industry professional who is seeking material is paid a nominal fee to review all of the Broadjam submissions.
Broadjam offers three membership levels with yearly fees that range from free to $200 per year. Song submission fees vary, ranging from $2.50 to $20, with periodic special opportunities for members to have their material pitched for free or reduced fees. In addition to the pitching opportunities, Broadjam’s members can participate in contests, network via an online forum and meet potential collaborations. Some members whom I interviewed for this article stated that they joined for the pitching opportunities, but found some of the greatest benefits to be the access to collaborators and the opportunity to receive feedback on their songs. Broadjam’s success stories include writers who have placed songs in commercials, television shows, and movies, as well as signing publishing deals.
Hit License (www.hitlicense.com) presents its members’ material directly to advertising agencies, music supervisors and companies looking to license music. Submissions are pre-screened for production quality and genre accuracy before songs are forwarded to the licensing clients. There are no membership fees. Submission fees average between $4.00 and $5.00 dollars per song, with no fee for some promotional opportunities. The “testimonial” page on their website provides success stories.
Music Xray (www.musicxray.com) provides opportunities for songwriters and recording artists to submit their music directly to a wide variety of industry opportunities. There are no membership fees. However, the first time each song is submitted, a purchase of their evaluation tool (called “Diagnostics”) is required for $10. Each submission also incurs a $5 transaction fee and a submission fee that typically ranges from $4 to $35. A portion of the submission fee is paid to the industry professionals to whom the song is submitted. A list of success stories can be viewed at Music Xray’s website.
SongU (www.SongU.com/success) is primarily an educational site. It offers a variety of membership levels that range in cost from $4.95 to $25.95 per month. Their pitching service connects members to music industry professionals such as publishers, song pluggers, hit writers, producers, and licensing agents for films/TV pitches, as well as major and independent artists and record labels both in the U.S. and abroad. The cost per pitch ranges from free to $5.00, depending on the membership level. Members’ and alumni success stories can be viewed at SongU’s website.
Taxi (www.taxi.com) sends its members listings that state the type of material being sought by recording artists, music industry professionals, and for film and television licensing opportunities. The specific company or artist’s name is not revealed. Taxi’s staff pre-screens the material ($5.00 per song) and forwards the material deemed most appropriate for the listing. The yearly membership fee is $295.95 for the first year and $195.95 for subsequent years.
Taxi offers an additional membership to Taxi Dispatch which provides members with opportunities to pitch specifically for TV and films with pressing deadlines. According to Taxi founder, Michael Laskow, “When I started Taxi in 1992, people laughed at us for placing so much music in film and TV—it wasn’t cool yet. Though we’ve had songs become #1 singles, and artists who’ve gone platinum, you’d be hard pressed to find any hour of any day where there isn’t music from Taxi’s members playing on TVs all over the world.” Laskow added, “We’ve always educated our members by giving them written feedback, a free convention, and Taxi TV, and that’s really made a huge difference in them becoming successful.”
Several companies offer paid pitch opportunities geared exclusively to the current country music market. These organizations include Play for Publishers (www.barbaracloyd.com/play-for-publishers) and The Song Tuner (www.thesongtuner.com).
For a fee, tip sheets, also known as pitch sheets, provide subscribers with a listing of artists, music publishers, producers, and companies that license music for television and film, and are looking for material. The tip sheets list the types of songs they are seeking and contact information for those who are screening the songs. While tip sheets share information about those who are seeking songs, they do not pitch material. Below is a listing of some of the top tip sheets.
Cue Sheet (www.cuesheet.net) focuses on film and television licensing opportunities in the U.S. and the U.K. Subscriptions are offered on an invitation-only basis. ($795/year)
Music Supervisor Guide (www.musicsupervisorguide.com) provides a listing of film and television projects, as well as contact information for the music supervisors working on these projects. It is available by invitation only. (Price available upon request)
RowFax (www.rowfax.com) is the go-to resource for almost all Music Row publishers. It provides up-to-the-minute information about Nashville artists seeking songs. ($179/year)
Songlink (www.songlink.com) primarily lists opportunities to place material with recording artists. Its listings include a description of the type of songs being sought, as well as contact information for those who are screening the material. With researchers in the U.K., Germany, and the U.S., many of its listings are for artists based in Europe. ($385/year)
Songquarters (www.songquarters.com) provides leads and contact information for songwriters to pitch material to established and developing recording artists, as well as for television, film, computer game, and advertising licensing opportunities. ($395/year)
Who’s Looking (www.musicregistry.com) provides a list of recording artists who are looking for songs or collaborations for their upcoming projects. Listings include U.S. and international opportunities. ($200/year)
When using any tip sheet, it’s a good idea to contact the recipient first and confirm the information. Those who are willing to do their own research can purchase a resource such as the A&R Directory available at www.musicregistry.com. The publication provides a list of the A&R executives at major and independent record labels, as well as their contact information. It is up to the writer or publisher to contact these individuals and ascertain their needs for material.
Pay to Write with a Pro
Those wishing to collaborate with a professional songwriter can pay for that opportunity. A number of songwriters who formerly earned a living from their songs, and some who have recent impressive credits will write with up-and-coming writers for a fee. This can provide an opportunity to get a glimpse inside the brain of a professional songwriter and observe their creative process. While prices vary, $500 for a 3-hour block of time is a typical fee and when approached strictly as an educational opportunity this can be quite beneficial, but it is unlikely to provide that breakthrough cut.
Is “Pay to Pitch” Right for You?
Broadjam’s Roy Elkins stated, “Every day I listen to about 30 – 40 songs. At least once a day, I hear something amazing, and lean back in my chair and smile.” Elkins’ comment is a reminder that not every song is “amazing,” nor is every song suitable for placement. Songwriters and recording artists need material that rises above the competition.
Some writers who have used pay-for-pitch services label these organizations “scams,” complaining that despite spending hundreds of dollars in fees, their music was never chosen. But if one of these companies or services delivers its members’ material to those who are seeking it, it has fulfilled its function.
No matter how much money writers pay to get music into the hands of the decision makers, they will only find success if their material is exceptional and well suited for the market. But for those who are indeed writing songs that meet the competitive industry standards, paying a company or an individual to augment their pitching efforts might be an effective tool.
Jason Blume is the author of This Business of Songwriting and 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books). He was recently consulted and filmed by CNN International for a report about the state of the songwriting business. Blume’s songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). Jason’s song “Can’t Take Back the Bullet” is on Hey Violet’s new EP that debuted in the top-10 in twenty-two countries and reached #1 throughout Scandinavia and Asia. He’s had three top-10 singles in the past two years and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart.
Jason’s songs have been included in films and TV shows including “Scrubs,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Assassination Games,” Disney’s “Kim Possible” “Dangerous Minds,” “Kickin’ it Old Skool,” “The Guiding Light,” “The Miss America Pageant,” and many more. Jason is in his nineteenth year of teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters workshops. A regular contributor to BMI’s MusicWorld magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica.
After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s latest books, online classes, instructional audio CDs, and workshops visit www.jasonblume.com.
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