I’ve written a great song, how do I sell it?

Karen Reynolds 2Guest blogger Karen E. Reynolds is an award-winning songwriter, longtime radio DJ, and respected music industry consultant. She’s taught songwriting and music business at the University of Tennessee and Kent State.


You’ve written your song. You’ve done a rewrite and have polished it to a luster. Now what do you do? Hit the road, perform it before millions? There’s more to it than that. Is the song pitchable and what does that even mean? Is it right for film? TV? Is it a radio ready anthem and relevant for today’s market? Here’s a list of actions that can help you zero in on the best opportunity for you and your song.

songwriter piano1) Be objective

Before you can explore the available opportunities, you have to be realistic about the quality of your song. Your mom thinks it’s great. If moms ran the music industry, we’d all have hits and be stars. But, alas, we have to consider what the industry thinks about it. Listen to the song from the perspective of someone who is hearing it for the first time, with no knowledge of the back story. Be sure that the verses create a storyline that makes sense, and one of the best ways to check this is to speak the song out loud to a friend or to the mirror. If it jumps around, then it’s going to confuse your listener. To give your song its best chance, it should be written in an acceptable structure so it will resonate and become more memorable to a listener. You can color outside the lines and that’s a heck of a lot of fun, but you’ve got to be a really great songwriter if you do that. If increasing your odds of a cut is what you’re after, stick closer to the time tested rules.

study2) Educate yourself

The music industry no longer makes a great effort to discover someone, it`s up to you. You have to work hard, stay focused, and keep your eyes and ears open. Read articles, attend workshops, meet with a consultant, and learn the language so that when you find yourself across the desk from a pro, you can speak with them in an informed fashion. Build an understanding of the different types of deals and what each offers along with the downsides. Gather information regarding submission protocols. Study, study, study, and then use that knowledge to be sure you’re not headed in a direction that only leads to a dark alley… and an ugly guy with a stick, asking for your ATM card and pin code.

social networking3) Branding is not just for McDonalds

Marketing is one of the most important facets of today’s music industry. Create your marketing scheme and establish your own brand. Kind of like McDonalds, only with music and less calories. Know your target demographic and look for direct opportunities to get your music heard by that specific group. If your song is bluegrass don’t waste time trying to get it into the hands and ears of a rock group. That only works when a song is already known and a group wants to present it in their own fashion. Social networking is a viable avenue for getting your song out there to a lot of people at once. You can choose to post it, share it or allow downloads.

woot4) Get feedback

You’re sitting with a record or publishing exec. They ask you to choose your best song so you encourage them to go to track x because your college buddy shouts “Woot woot!” every time it’s played. It could be a bad idea. Before that, let someone else listen to your song and ask their opinion of the proper applications for it. I don’t mean friends or family unless they happen to be in the business and will tell you the brutal truth. Your best option is to get a professional critique — someone experienced with what publishers want or what will appeal to general radio listeners. They can help you break the song down and find the weak spots. You could also get an opinion from a more experienced artist or writer. Try playing at an open mic and asking folks around the room what they really thought about the song. No song, regardless of how good 99% of the lines are, will ever be any stronger than that sucky 1%.

bad vocalist5) Are you the best vocalist?

You downright kill it at Club Whatchamacallit on karaoke night. So surely, you can sing like Alison Krauss on your new bluegrass song. Problem is, you sound more like Alvin the Chipmunk. This is where honesty is not just the best policy, it’s the only policy. Examine your style and be honest with yourself about whether or not you are the best vocalist for the song. If you’re not, then consider having the song recorded by a professional. If you do sing it yourself you may need to learn better technique. Sometimes just one session with a professional can help you become a more effective singer.

band in studio6) Get the best band and studio

A poor performance can kill a song before it even gets a chance, so be sure you have the best recording of the song that you can afford. Your cousin may be a nice guy but is he the best bass player for you? Some studios can refer you to professionals who can knock out a song quickly, play it well and save you money. If you can record in Nashville, New York or Los Angeles, there are great musicians and studios on practically every street corner.

The music programmer`s office could look like this.

A radio music programmer`s office might look like this.

7) Is it ready for radio?

Songs are like children. Some are brilliant and are immediately placed into a gifted program. For others, you may quietly steer them toward vocational school. Radio airplay is hard to get, and impossible if the song doesn’t met certain criteria. Take a little time and listen to what’s playing on the radio. Does your song stack up or does it fall flat? If you have a great melody and arrangement, but the lyrics aren’t the most poignant in the world, then perhaps radio isn’t the best option. Maybe your song would be better in a movie or TV library, great places for songs that are lyric-driven and more about arrangement.

hearse8) Think outside the box

Every October, one of my songs can be heard blasting from the speakers of a fleet of hearses. When I wrote it, I never thought about that as an option, but when I heard that a company was providing limo services in re-purposed hearses, I sent them the song. I wasn’t sure it would turn into anything at all, but it sounded like a unique opportunity for an equally unique song. Now, I’m practically assured of a certain amount of royalties from that particular song every year. Think about all of the places you hear music — in elevators, on planes, in commercials, films, for special interest groups, on the radio. Don`t forget tourism councils and local businesses. If your song fits in with their marketing scheme, you may get a placement and then, Houston, we have a winner!

diversify9) Islands in the multiple streams of income (my apologies to Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers)

Economics experts will tell you that the best bet for your investment portfolio is to diversify. Songs are like that too. Pitch it to publishers for artists that perform a similar style; Google new TV shows and submit the song to them for consideration. (Most of the time, you can find the director and music supervisor’s names online in a press release for the film.) Don’t discount sheet music if your song is suitable for a church or choir. Plus, a lot of visibility can be gained by allowing limited use of your song on a charity cd, and that can lead to more opportunities to make money from your song
I know this is a lot to take in and your head may very well be about to explode. However, once you begin conditioning yourself to look toward the multitude of marketing options, your road will become smoother and easier to navigate. Get those songs out there and keep those royalty checks rolling in!

Karen ReynoldsA respected music industry consultant, Karen E. Reynolds provides consultation and career coaching to artists wishing to further their careers, has organized songwriting educational programs, and has developed workshops providing effective information specifically tailored for the independent artist and songwriter. She is an award winning singer songwriter who has chalked up a respectable list of independent cuts and major label holds. With a style that is best described as Americana heart and southern soul, she is compared to Mary Chapin-Carpenter, James Taylor, Carole King and Linda Ronstadt. Karen is a consummate performer who can command any audience. On the heels of her successful CD, Read The Book, she released Paper Castles which has been met with critical acclaim and is receiving airplay nationwide and abroad.

Karen is also the creator, host and program director of Writer’s Block, a radio program showcasing independent artists and broadcast worldwide for 16 years.

“An Americana singer songwriter in the realm of creativity as Cheryl Wheeler, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, James Taylor and Carole King.”- Metro Pulse Magazine 

Learn more at www.reverbnation.com/karenereynolds,
www.karenereynolds.com , www.twitter.com/karenereynolds, and  www.facebook.com/karenereynoldsmusic

More about songwriting here.

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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1 Response to I’ve written a great song, how do I sell it?

  1. Jack says:

    Reblogged this on Wyrdwend.

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