What is it that makes an artist or a songwriter successful? For that matter, what makes any one of us successful in any field?
My folks – and likely yours too, if you were raised in the South – regularly quoted 1 Cor. 15:33 to me, which in short says, “If you associate with people who have bad habits, it will rub off. If you associate with people who have good habits, it will rub off’.” It was drilled into me. “Who are you going to be with? Where are you going? Who else is going to be there?” It was constant.
Though this may simply sound like good parenting, it is more than that. There is quite a bit of truth and relevance to “success by association” in all avenues of our lives. Some financial trainers even claim that each of us will earn annually about the same amount of money and have similar career levels as the five persons we associate with most regularly.
So how does this relate to “becoming a star”? Though there is a most definitely a mindset involved, there is also much to be said for finding the right associates to help you on your road to success.
A true story to illustrate…
A now-successful songwriter friend of mine was offered a gig playing guitar for his cousin, who was performing a showcase for top executives at a major record label. His cousin got signed, but while playing guitar in the showcase, my friend was introduced to some of the same industry leaders and songwriters who’d originally shown interest in his cousin. So he got their information and stayed in touch. Though my friend didn’t live in Nashville, he began sharpening his songwriting skills and making regular trips to Nashville for co-writing sessions. The result? He got signed as a songwriter BEFORE he moved to Nashville. Then he got his first cut, kept co-writing, and voila! He achieved his own record deal. Can we say “Networking 101” class?
Was it ALL about association? Not entirely. He did have to have the talent to back it up. But compare that with the number of talented people I’ve met in this very same town – who, though very deserving – have not yet made it. Why is that? Especially when some of them have been in town for years and have huge Internet followings. Perhaps they are associating with their five closest friends who haven’t made it yet?
Another true story…
I had a very dear friend who had written many top 10 hits. At the time I met him, he was single and had two roommates. One of the roommates was an already-successful road manager for a famous artist, and the other roommate wanted to be famous. He was a great singer and a superb but unsigned songwriter. Well, he wasn’t unsigned for long. Coincidence? I think not. Granted, he sought out his own networking connections in the business outside of the house he lived in, but rooming with and regularly associating with two other successful music industry professionals no doubt affected the decisions he made. He reached his goal. He is indeed a famous artist!
Do you want to be a songwriter? Or an artist? Then don’t just write songs and lay them aside. You need to go to songwriters’ nights and perform your songs. If you don’t play an instrument, learn to play one or find someone who can accompany you. But it cannot end there. Dozens, even hundreds, of songwriters play songwriters’ nights. It’s the ones who take the additional required steps that end up “making it.” You have to be self-promoting and pitch your songs. (If you’re strictly an artist and not a songwriter, you’ll likely have a harder time, but we’ll go into that at a later date. Or you can email me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Pitching songs means going to a publisher or record label to play your songs for the powers-that-be. This is no easy task, as most do NOT accept unsolicited material. You normally have to KNOW SOMEBODY to get an appointment. Are you seeing a trend here? Let me say that again. You have to KNOW SOMEBODY in order to get an appointment.
How do you get to know somebody? You guessed it! You have to seek out the “right associates.” How?
First, research the publishers you’d like to get in front of, because not all publishers will be a good fit for you. Many artists start their own publishing companies, but even if they signed you, they would likely be plugging their own songs ahead of yours.
Secondly, ask around your core group of songwriting friends and find out if anyone knows the publishers you would like to approach. Associate with others who are also pitching their songs, and keep your ear to the ground. If you hear a publisher is listening to new material, don’t be the “unspoken-code keeper,” thinking you’ll shove your friends under the bus if you take the same opportunities they are taking. TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY!
Join the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International (NSAI). NSAI is a great organization and a great team of people to associate with. They care about songwriters, and they hold a “pitch to publisher night” about once a month. So it gives you an opportunity to meet publishers and associate with others who have your same goals. Further, if you can find a publisher who likes your music and/or signs you, they will get your songs to the artists or label heads.
ASCAP, BMI and SESAC? Also great places to build your positive associations.
Hire a Songplugger…as in someone to shamelessly plug your songs. A successful songplugger’s associates will include publishers and label reps who have authority to make decisions. The only downside is that it usually costs money. Many songpluggers are also publishers and may plug your song for a percentage of any future returns, but if you enter into an agreement with them – even a “single-song agreement” – have an attorney give it a quick once-over.
ONE MORE THING!
Avoid the negative singer/songwriter. They are few, but avoid them at all costs – no matter how great their talent. These writers, though having the gift, complain that they’ll “probably never make it,” or that they’re “not good enough,” or that they “probably should give it up,” etc. STAY AWAY FROM THOSE PEOPLE!!! Bad (or negative) associates corrupt good character and will cut short your journey to greatness!