A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Posts tagged ‘A&R’

It’s March Already

Wow, time has flown. I’m almost at the end of my first Berklee Music paper which is Music Publishing 101 and have been really enjoying it. I knew from past experience that this means self discipline in getting my readings done and getting assignments in on time, but it is so worth it.

Anyone who has studied subjects they were passionate about at university, knows how much you gain from them, and how they can move your career forward. The only catch now is that I have a list of so many things that I need to do asap, that the course has shown me, that I am wondering how I can start on my next paper and do all of those things at the same time.

Amongst the things I need to do is complete all the administration for my song catalogue and have everything in files so that I can access them on demand. This includes archives of Lyric Sheets, Split Sheets (only one song is a collaboration so far, so that’s not a biggie), copies of each song demo on disk in MP3 and CD format, with liner notes and much more.

One area I didn’t really consider or know how to deal with was TV and Film. New Zealand is obviously very successful in the film industry, but I also learned in my research that publishers such as Mushroom Music NZ has had real success in publishing to local and international TV, so they are on my contact list.

I have decided that I need to re-record every song demo for all songs that are on my A and B lists, before I make contact with people like Mushroom, because I want them to be impressed with my writing and not ruin chances by providing A&R people with hastily recorded demo’s, recorded within minutes of completing writing of songs on my Tascam Digital 8 Track. I have also decided that I should record more of my guitar  music arrangements as they are very good, but I have never considered them as having commercial value.

Of course this is all money and time, but if I want to have a music career as a songwriter and composer, I need to get seriously organized and treat it as a business.

So next steps. I had a meeting with APRA last week, which was very helpful. I was looking for advice, but also to let them know that I am working hard on my craft and music education and looking to go ahead in the industry. I put in an application for a grant to attend the Song Summit in Sydney in June and also inquired about next year’s music grants. Currently I am studying my Bachelor of Songwriting degree online, but I can’t complete the full degree online and the cost to travel from New Zealand to study in Boston MA, with accommodation etc is very high, so I am hoping that when the time gets closer I can get some local support to make the trip.

Another challenge I have is staying in touch with the industry and really getting to know it well, locally and internationally. This means reading magazines that you can’t buy locally. These include Country Music Magazine from Australia and of course Billboard from the USA.  New Zealand is really bad when it comes to accessibility to international music magazines, so this means more money to get subscriptions and of course time to read the magazines. There are of course loads of great websites, including the ones for the magazines I just mentioned, this also means more time for reading and research.

I haven’t done any gigs for a couple of months, because this also takes time for practice and the gigs themselves, but I really need to fit this in as well, not to mention writing new songs!

So loads of work to do, money to find for recording, artists to find to record my songs, because I can’t do them full justice myself. In between I have a full time job, a family, a mortgage and other commitments, but they say if you want something done, give it to someone who is busy.

What I need now is a winning Lotto ticket so that I can focus on my music instead of working 50 hours a week in my day job.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a success in this industry you need to work hard and a little luck would be nice, but most of the time you need to make your own luck, by putting in the effort. I can’t remember who actually said it the first time, but it was along the lines of “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Pitching your songs

As per my previous blog, I have signed up with the Berklee College of Music and start my first paper on Monday. Looking through their website, a DIY orientation visit, I found an excellent blog by Eric Beall about music publishing and marketing, which I found inspiring. I consequently ordered a copy of his book Making Music Make Money from Amazon.

I looked through several papers and decided to take Eric’s paper Music Publishing 101 first. My reasoning was two-fold. First, an area I struggle with the most is getting my music to a publisher or A&R person, which is compounded by being in New Zealand, which is a country where most of the successful industry names still have secondary jobs because the local market is so small.

Second, I am writing songs already and honing them isn’t going to help me get them out there any faster. I felt that constantly working on my songwriting craft was almost a form of procrastination in itself. I need to keep learning, absolutely and I am looking forward to doing papers that will help me with that later in the year.

If you are serious about becoming a professional songwriter, I recommend Eric’s latest series of blogs to you, and especially the latest which struck a chord with me, entitled Thanks for your submission. We regret to inform….

Below is a comment I left to his blog that is waiting for moderation by Eric, but I recommend you read his blog first for the context.

“Selling and writing music are, as you pointed out, very different aspects of the business. Many successful musicians and songwriters I have met absolutely hate the concept of having to pitch their songs or sell themselves off stage.

An interesting thing I have found in my business career is that sales people themselves are often scared of making the cold call. Sales courses are full of material about call reluctance. So if fear of cold calling is a problem for people in the sales profession, it may even more so be a problem for songwriters, who are often shy and introspective people. Sales people are very good at procrastinating and finding good reasons for not picking up the phone or banging on a prospects door.

I belong to a local songwriters group and in the beginning found it difficult to perform my new material for critique from my peers, even though in public, I was always confident performing the same songs to strangers. I overcame the fear and learned to appreciate the positives, accept the critique, whether I was open to it or not and welcome suggestions on how to improve it.

I wonder if the same call reluctance could be more of an issue for songwriters, than allocating the time. We want people to love what we write. Almost everytime we write a new song, we love it, it becomes our favorite. We don’t want someone rejecting it and perhaps it is easier not to submit it.

I found the support and genuine critique of my peers to be empowering, particularly because it was genuine. That would be one of the biggest failings imho of sites like MySpace, where we tell people who have songs that are like listening to someone scraping their fingernails down a blackboard, but we want to build them up, so we tell them they are great. But I digress.


Thanks for another illuminating blog. Persistence is totally important, but first of all you need to take that first step and act. Each step becomes easier. We also need to have a thick skin and sales people have great techniques to deal with that.

For example, if we know that on average it takes 10 calls to make a sale. Instead of being dissapointed with the rejection, we can tell ourselves that we only have 9 calls left to success.”

If you find this interesting, why not bookmark my blog and join me on my continued journey?

DIY Record Album Production lessons

Almost every time I’ve played a live gig, I get asked if I have a CD that people can buy and the sad and sorry answer is no, but here’s my card and you can visit my website at MySpace. Now there is my first error, you really should have your own website, but I haven’t found a CMS yet that is easy for me to use, but I will do soon. Anyway, even if you can’t afford to visit a studio, there are plenty of low cost tools that you can purchase, either software or hardware. I have both.  Now you can create your own CD.

I will also visit Go Daddy one of these days and get my own URL, which you can easily link to your MySpace or other page until you have your own. They only charge $9.99 for a .com domain. If you listen to the great Musicians Cooler Podcast, he has a number of promo codes that will give you a discount off Go Daddy services.

I’ll wait until I use up most of my business cards which have the MySpace address on it.

Anyway, back to the story. I bought myself a Canon iP4500 printer which will print directly on printable CD’s. It was very cheap and did a great job, except it doesn’t print all the way into the hole of the CD, which is a minor dissapointment. I checked the settings and they are set to the closest it will go.

I spent quite a lot of time on the image I wanted on the label and also making sure it was consistent with the insert cover and the theme of the Album which is Greenhouse. I thought I’d be able to find some good templates on Microsoft Publisher but was sorely dissapointed. Fortunately at a sale last week I found a software package called CD Covers and Labels for Dummies, which was as simple and simplistic as you would expect, but awesome value for $5! So I as able to use their templates and my images.

I put the title on the CD label and also in smaller print on the bottom Copyright Luigi Cappel 2009.

I worked out the order of the tracks I wanted, which I listed on the Album insert. I didn’t put in the song times, which I will probably do on the next batch, because if any of these do find their way to a radio station, they will want to know how long the tracks play for.

When I went to burn the CD’s using Sonic Digital Media Plus v7, I found (having wasted 3 CD’s) on testing them that the software had reordered the tracks alphabetically which meant I had to solve this problem because I wanted the tracks in the specific order to keep it relevant and interesting to the listener and I had already printed the inserts including the track listing. To solve this, I used the Rename function and numbered them in front of the song title. Now we were sweet.

Printing the labels was easy, although cutting them to size was a pain. I used fairly heavy paper so that it would look professional and not try to slide out of the case when it was opened. I used a guillotine and found it really hard to get the edges exactly right. Next time I’ll use a straight edge and a craft knife, which will be much easier. Also you need something for the back to fold the little edges which are the titles that you can see from the side.  Detail is important as even though the CD’s are home made I want them to look professional. The only thing missing is the shrinkwrapping, which I will have done later when I create more volume. There are plenty of places that will shrinkwrap for you very cheaply.

So just to go over the presentation. The front cover is consistent with the concept of the album. This album is called The Greenhouse Demo’s, because the songs are demo’s and Greenhouse is the title of Track 4. The cover art is a picture of a big block of Franz Joseph Glacier ice that is melting at a rapid pace. The title is very easily read on both the CD label and the insert.

On the inside of the isert I have a photo of myself (because the listener can’t late to you if they don’t know what you look like and the album is about building a fan base) holding a huge block of glacial ice which has melted and been washed away in the icy river.

On the back I put another picture of myself, this time standing on White Island which is an active ocean volcano and represents the global warming and the yin and yang of hot and cold. The other crucial data I put on the back is my email address and URL so that people can make contact with me, probably one of the most important things of all.

All in all, it was pretty simple. Everyone should have an album available, even if it’s home made, whenever you perform. I’m really pleased with how mine turned out and it looks more professional in my humble opinion than some that I have seen, made by ‘professionals’.

As a footnote, I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts yesterday while I was vacuuming the pool. it is Music Business Radio. The interview was with Meiko, who I strongly recommend as a good listen. I love the song Boys with Girlfriends. Anyway, on the podcast they have a section called Dave’s Demolition Derby where they get their guests to review 3 songs hat listeners have sent in for critique. I can’t remember her Manager’s name but he used to be an A&R man and made the comment that Record Companies and others get loads of unsolicited CD’s in the mail and some of them look really cheap and nasty.  If you hae to pick a few of them for a quick listen, which one do you think will get an airing, the one with a CD which someone has written on, something like My Cool Song, or one that looks like it was purchased of the shelf of your favorite CD store?

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What are A&R People?

I’ve seen a few people find my blog when they are trying to find out about what A & R people do, so I thought I’d blog a little about them, not that I have met many yet. A & R stands for Artists and Repertoire.

Basically they are the talent scounts of the recording industry. Their job is to go out and find future stars that the labels would like to sign up. Not too much different to talent scouts for sports clubs. They look for talent and often are involved in negotiating contracts with the new artists and help them make the transition from independant, to part of the business.

In current days, one of the most famous would be Simon Cowell of American Idol fame and many of the the comments that he makes to would be artists is about their potential as a recording artist.

To get an insite to what A&R people look for, there is a series on the BBC, which you can listen to here.

If you want more information, I found a great site called Getsigned.com. I don’t know anything about their services, but there are some great articles full of excellent information on how to get signed and other aspects of developing your professional career as an artist. Personally, I don’t want to be the artist, I want to write the songs for them.

Here is an interview with Stephan Brower of Vanguard Records

What is the best way to send your demo to someone?

I’m not convinced there is ‘the right way’ it depends a lot on the circumstances. For example, do you know them? Will they listen anyway?

So the first thing is whether it is an artist, a record company, a publisher, a critic, an A&R person, try to talk to them. If you can get their phone number, try to ring them and talk to them. If you do, be polite and friendly, introduce yourself but get to the point quickly.

So there are 4 main ways you can send your demo.

  • You can send it as an attachment to your email. The risk is that their mail server will not allow your email to get through at all, or that it doesn’t accept large files. Don’t do this without their permission. It is an easy solution because they don’t have to do anything to get it.
  • You can use a product like You Send It which allows you to set an FTP site. FTP or File Transfer Protocol is designed is a secure way to send files from one computer to another via a 3rd party and there are several free services. Another one you can use is SendThisFile. Basically the way they work is that you upload your file to their site and they send an email to the person you want to have it, telling them how and where to access it. It means that they can get it when it suits them.
  • Another solution is to direct them to your web site, whether it is your own .com (Don’t have one yet? Check out GoDaddy) or your MySpace or other music site. If you want them to be able to able to download the song, not just stream it, make sure you have enabled the download.
  • The other option is in the mail. If you do that, make sure your presentation is very good, as in artwork, or at least make sure the name of the track is printed on the CD as well as your name and contact details. Often the CD will get separated from the case, so if you don’t have everything on it, they may love it, but not remember where it came from which would be a disaster. You can buy CD pens, or better still get a Lightscribe Drive so that you can etch the details straight onto the CD. It isn’t beautiful but it is much more professional than scribbling with a CD pen.

Of course you also need to send a lyric sheet. I always include chords above the lyric lines. I do this in Word, but there are lots of software packages that do this very nicely. I have a copy of Finale Notepad, but I’ve never actually used it.

So what is the best way? I still don’t know. I think the best way is to ask the person who has approved you sending it to them, what their preference is. Make life easy for them and the act of asking and doing what they asked, will help with recognition when they get it and your demo will then be more likely to be the one they listen to.

Make your Bio text effective

Why do you have a Bio? Is it to make you feel important? Is it written for a purpose? There may be many places where you can use a Bio, for example on a blog, on your music page or to get someone to do something.

I would hope it would be to get someone to do something. Today I am talking about the bio that you send to an A&R person, I record company, a publisher, or someone who you want to have buy or perform your music. In most cases this would be a document you would post, courier or give to that person.

You want the person who reads your bio to act, to listen to your demo, so the first thing you have to do is make them want to read it in the first place.

In advertising and writing news stories, my favourite formula has always been AIDA or AICDA. Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. the C in the second one stands for Conviction. So in simple terms:

Attention. Make them want to read the whole bio, which is I said yesterday, should be 2-4 paragraphs. Start with a line to grab their attention, just like a headline. It might be something compelling about you, or maybe something about the song the Bio accompanies.

Interest. Tell something interesting about yourself.

Interest. What is special or interesting about you, and here is something that I have learned from the media world, make it relevant to the specific reader. If I am sending out press releases, it’s not one size fits all, I modify it for each media or publication to make it relevant.

Desire, make them want to read more, or to become involved with you.

Conviction. Convince them that the time they spend reading your Bio and listening to your songs is going to be well spent and rewarding.

Action. Ask them to listen to your song and point out respectfully what you are asking from them. This is a business document and not just a whiny, please listen to my song cause mum said its really good.

Start with your most recent achievements first and given that you only have 4 paragraphs, make them short and snappy. Don’t use exaggerated praise, don’t say you are the best artist they have ever heard, be humble but confident.

Songs have to have WOW factor for A&R people to get excited

So you want to send your song to an A&R person and see if you can get it picked up by a record company or one of their artists.

Take a step back from the song you wrote and love and think about what their email and snail mail boxes look like. How many submissions do you think they get in a week. I’ll give you an idea. Even the smaller ones will get 100’s of demo’s. Why should they listen to yours?

Is your song REALLY GOOD? Who told you? Here’s an analagy. When you watched American Idol (Come on, I know you watched it at least once!) do you remember Simon or Randy ask “Who told you you could sing?”. So I’m asking you, who told you this is a good song? Your friends and family?

But this is only the first question. The record companies get thousands of really good, well constructed, nice songs every year. The thing is they are not looking for a good song, they are looking for a GREAT SONG. They are looking for something UNIQUE and given that there are always numbe one hits, there are plenty of great songs out there.

It can be on the same subject matter as other songs, but it has to have something special, a great hook, a really catchy melody. If your song is going to be a hit, it has to appeal to millions of people not dozens or hundreds.

When the A&R person listens to the first 60 seconds (because that might be all the hearing your song gets, they need to be saying “WOW, this is the ONE!”

So go back to your good song and see if you think it is great, or is it as Ralph Murphy says, a great song for people to dance to in a club after 10 P.M.

Of course not every song will be a hit, most of the songs of the great song writers aren’t hit songs, but it was usually their first hit that started their professional careers.

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