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Rap #1 for August 1999
By Diane Rapaport - 06/04/2007 - 07:43 PM EDT

A famous producer of country musicians once walked on stage with two grocery bags full of cassettes and CDs sent by songwriters who had likely read a 'tip sheet' informing readers that one of his artists was about to go into the studio. He began choosing at random, the way someone picks out lottery tickets from a jar.

The first cassette had a copyright date/owner, but no return address or phone number on the cassette. The return address on the mailing package was an indecipherable scrawl.

The second cassette had an address/phone but no other information except the names of the songs.

The third cassette contained a written note: "I hope you will consider these songs for. . . " He put it on the tape player. The first 15 seconds were a screaming rock guitar, followed by indecipherable industrial rock lyrics. Quick forward to a new song. More of the same.

The fourth was a CD of new age instrumental dulcimer music, with an elaborate press kit. "I hope you will consider producing my next album," the letter read.

By this time, several important points can be made.

1. Don't waste a famous person's valuable time with music that isn't appropriate for the artist being produced or the producer's interests. Do your homework.You want them to listen to you? Then show that you taken the time to find out about them.

2. Producers (and publishers) often receive hundreds of tapes and CDs a week from songwriters. They prioritize their listening. First, they review material by already famous country songwriters. Then they review songs that have been sent by close friends and publisher associates. Most often, packages that have been sent unsolicited (without being requested by the producer or publisher) will almost always be sent back unopened. This is because it prevents them from being accused of having had 'access' to original material. (Songwriters who sue for copyright infringement must prove, among other things, that the person(s) who are being accused had access to the song.)

On rare occasions, the packages may be assigned to an assistant to quickly screen them and pick out five or ten that seem promising. What seems promising?

One of the CDs that the producer brought with him was a one-off CD. The note read

"Enclosed are one minute samples and lyric sheets for 5 original songs that I especially selected for your artist. They are produced with only guitar and vocal to make it easy for you to pay attention to melody/rhythm and lyrics.
Two bands in my state have recorded my songs on their independently produced CDs. . .
Finally, I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed your productions of...
You can contact me at. . . "

The producer said that ultimately he rejected the songs but sent the songwriter a note to keep him in mind for other productions and sent the name of a publisher contact.

3. The business of being a songwriter is equal to the art of being a songwriter. You may have a great song, but if you approach it with a lack of knowledge of the business and the people you may be working with, you might as well not be in the business at all. Here are some of my rules of business. . . and each could take an article.

a. Know the business you are in. There are lots of books and seminars to help you out.

b. Understand your competition.

c. State in 30 seconds or less why your songs are as good as or better than your competition.

d. Start small. Approach indie bands and their publishers first. They're more accessible and you can practice business skills.

e. Grow your business at a tempo you can handle. If you can only deal with three new contacts a week, so be it.

f. Make it easy for people to do business with you and to contact you. This is a relationship business. Get to know the people you work with on a personal basis. Be pleasant. Be accountable: do what you say you are going to do.

g. Have some organized way of taking notes of conversations with people you talk with so that you can remember what was said or agreed on for the next conversation. Personal tidbits are expecially important.

h. Ask questions about things you don't understand. There is no such thing as a dumb question. We were all naive at the beginning of our careers.

i. Don't sign anything without having an entertainment lawyer look at it. Being intimidated into believing that asking too many questions or using a lawyer will cause a contract to be withdrawn is revealing a lack of professionalism that will either lead to the contract being withdrawn or your being taken advantage of.

j. Leave succinct 30-45 second messages on answering machines and with secretaries about what you want. Most people make phone calls for three reasons: (a) an appointment; (b) commentary on something they sent; (c) the correct name of the person they should be dealing with. State your purpose as succinctly as you can. When you achieve your purpose, sign off. This isn't the time to tell people your life story (unless they ask).

k. Learn to accept rejections with a good attitude. At some point, your efforts will hit home, sometimes from the same person who may have given you ten rejections and ten unreturned phone calls. One of the people's 'hidden agendas' people is finding out whether you are in the business for the long term and have resilience. This is too barbed and callous a business for you to bounce around feeling sorry for yourself. If one approach doesn't work, find another.

l. Accept criticism without negativity and be willing to learn from your mistakes. That's how music and sports are taught and learned. Learning business isn't a whole lot different.

Questions for commentary:
What makes it difficult for you to be a business person?
How did you learn some of the rules of business?
Can you add some of your personal rules of business?

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