Songwriting Advice From Successful Songwriters

Toby Lightman, one of our experts. - Screenshot from "Holding Me Down" video.
Screenshot from "Holding Me Down" video.
Toby Lightman, one of our experts.

Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Hi Fan,

I'm a singer-songwriter who has recorded a full album of original material with a great producer. The feedback I've been getting has been extremely positive. I am not trying to become a recording artist; I really just want to write and have other people record my songs. How does an unknown songwriter go about finding a manager/ publisher with the rolodex to pitch songs to popular artists?

Thanks, Baxter

Baxter, For the sake of getting you the most practical advice I could I reached out to two kindly and successful songwriters about how they got to where they are.

Jesse Shatkin, who co-wrote Sia's "Chandelier" and has worked extensively as a producer and engineer, says that he knows plenty of songwriters who got noticed at songwriter events like ASCAP expos, but said that while he ultimately wanted to work as a songwriter, he wasn't good at promoting himself and had to take another route. "I worked my way up to being in the right situation," he explains. "I used my other skills, becoming a general assistant in a studio, and then working my way up to being an engineer. It was a matter of being in a position where I was in the room with the right people, and having their attention."

So, he backdoored it, essentially. His other suggestion was "Do anything and everything you can do," which in this case means promoting your record as an artist, getting it out there, playing songwriter nights where you live but also, seeing as you are a country artist, investing in a trip to Nashville and trying to showcase as a songwriter there.

The other expert opinion here is from Toby Lightman, who has a slew of TV and film placements, and has taken a more traditional route. She suggests you can start where you are. "Join a songwriting union -- BMI, SESAC or ASCAP -- and take advantage of whatever opportunities they have for members in LA -- whether it's networking events or songwriter-specific workshops. Getting someone at a songwriters union to vouch for you can help in terms of networking, making the rounds and opening the doors." She also said that through your publisher you can find out about opportunities to showcase for people in the industry in Nashville, and said there is a day a week where writers can go in and meet people, demo stuff and get feedback -- for free. The other thing: "Get your social media in order for maximum exposure."

Finally, there are a lot of pay-to-play kind of opportunities for songwriters and outfits that will get you in the room with country industry players -- for a price. Everyone I talked to in publishing and songwriters said there are plenty of free and useful ways up. If you are looking to workshop and get feedback, find the good ones, ones offered through publishers or with established songwriters. It's really about the hustle and having people hear your best material, not putting coins in the right hands.

Good luck, Fan


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