From The Side of the Road… the threat of an aggressive song pitcher

Greetings from the studio! My band and I are in the studio all this week and time has run short, what with oboe overdubs and getting basic rhythm tracks for our much-requested medley of No School Bus in Heaven and The Lollypop Guild. Before going into the studio I was peppered with song-pitches, even though we write almost all our own material. Here is a column from a several years back about how to make these pitches as effective as possible:

There’s a perception in some places, in Nashville especially, that songwriters and publishers are becoming overly aggressive in their song-pitching strategies.

I have to respectfully disagree with this viewpoint, and below I will submit my argument that, in fact, people aren’t pitching their songs aggressively enough.

While it is true that in Nashville you can’t go anywhere in town (the ball game, the supermarket, church, the hospital emergency waiting room, etc) without getting songs pitched to you, this is more a problem of song and songwriter quantity and concentration than it is a problem of pushy marketing. There are just a lot of people doing it, and it’s accepted in Nashville that, with the exception of a memorial service (the reception afterwards is fine), you should just expect to have a song pitched to you anywhere.

Take this recent scene in a Nashville area tire store:

Cashier: Looks like we have a set of Integra tires in your size available for a decent price.

Me: Okay.

Cashier: By the way, I noticed some CDs of yours on the floor of your car. Are you a country artist?

Me: Not really.

Cashier: Well, I’m a songwriter in town. This is just my day job for now. If you’re interested, I just wrote a really good one about taking a truck full of beer down by the river.

Me: Careful, I might steal that idea (followed by forced laughter). What’s it called?

Cashier: Truck by the River. Well, here’s a copy of the demo. Check it out. Tires will be ready in an hour.

Me: Thanks.

There was nothing particularly aggressive or predatory about this exchange. Some feel that you should be able to buy a set of tires in peace, but this is after all “The Music City,” not “The Leave-People-Alone-While They’re-Spending-Too-Much-On-Tires City.”

The fact is that most of the songwriter and publisher solicitations I receive are really pretty timid. I was sent a link to a song recently with a one-paragraph pitch that contained the phrase “no obligation to record.” I ask you, in this highly competitive market, is it good business to make people feel less obligated? Of course it isn’t.

I would suggest that songwriters should not only foster a sense of obligation, but they should consider using a play for sympathy and/or veiled threats to help drive the point home. Remember, you’re trying to get songs cut, not make friends.

Here are a couple of possible strategies you might consider using in a song-pitching email:

“I began writing songs fifteen years ago, and since I made the decision to become a full time songwriter, I’ve lived a life of abject poverty and sadness. I currently live in a tent on the roof of the ASCAP building in Nashville (no one has noticed me there yet), and I subsist almost entirely on a diet of stale crackers and cream of mushroom soup. I don’t own a can opener, so I gnaw the cans open with my teeth. I know you’re busy living the luxurious and successful life of a bluegrass musician, and probably feel no particular need to listen to any of my little songs, but if you would just see your way clear to record even one of them, I think I would have the strength and resources to go on.”

That’s the kind of obligation I’m talking about. Another approach is based on the old chain-letter model, which has been so seamlessly adapted to the medium of email:

“Dear Friend,

I’m sending this letter to you and fourteen other recording artists. There is a lyric sheet and MP3 of an original song, Smells Like Lonesome, attached. I’m not the writer of the song (though I do own half the publishing). To continue this chain, please forward this to fifteen of your own friends, preferably the ones with record deals. 

No one is sure where the song came from originally, but through this email, it has been around the world several times. The former King of Spain, Ferdinand Castellano XVIII (or ‘Dave Evans’ to his friends) performed the song for his daughter Isabella, and she was blessed with her first child that year.

On the other hand, trouble has rained down on those who have deleted this email and failed to forward it to their recording artist friends. One young musician deleted it and three hours later, he was struck and killed by a train, and he was sailing on a ship at the time.

One woman listened to the demo, but failed to forward it, and she was later hospitalized with severe food poisoning from a bad tuna sandwich.”

This will make people think twice before they ignore this song.

I’ll admit that I’m not really qualified to talk about aggressive marketing strategies, since I don’t even pitch songs at all, myself. I rely almost exclusively on people hearing one my songs by accident, and then recording a cover version (also by accident).

You know what they say, though, “those who can’t do, teach.” In that spirit I will be leading an IBMA seminar this fall entitled “Ignore My Demo At Your Peril: Using Fear To Sell Your Songs.”

I would suggest signing up for this, if you know what’s good for you.