This is a question I get asked a LOT! So here is my advice….
Short and sweet
Send 3 songs and no more. People usually send way too many songs. Publishers are swamped by demos, so respect their time and understand that 3 songs is the most they’ll be able to listen to from you. Sending 3 shows that you know this, and respect their busy lives!
Shave the introductions to your songs to the minimum! I’ve heard so many demos that start with 40 seconds of intro, and most publishers will have hit ‘skip’ by that point.
While guitar solos or long instrumental bridges may have a place on a finished record, they don’t in a demo. Present each section of the song once – without repeating the same verse twice. Keep the whole track length short – around 3 minutes or 4 at the absolute most. Remember you are just ‘showcasing’ the song’s skeleton…you aren’t supposed to be presenting it in it’s finished form, and doing so can distract a publisher from the core elements of your song.
Remember to write your name and contact details not just on the CD sleeve, but also on the actual CD itself. Often CDs in publishing offices get separated from the cases/sleeves. So make sure they can figure out who wrote the song! If you are sending songs via MP3/email, make sure the file name of the MP3 has your name on it. It might even be worth recording your spoken name and email/phone number at the end of the audio of the track, just to make sure you can be contacted if the file gets re-saved under a different filename somehow.
Make sure the vocals are great on the demo! If you aren’t an excellent singer, then find someone who is and get them to sing it for you! A bad vocal can really distract people, and they make miss the great song behind the poor singing. Music professionals can hear the over-use of “auto tune” a mile away. So avoid having a poor singer that’s bathed in auto-tune, as that is very distracting to a publisher’s ear!
Include a stamped, addressed envelope
If you want to hear back, then cover every possible base. If you are sending songs by mail, it’s helpful to include a self-addressed envelope with postage on it. That way if the publisher has a few seconds to write you a note, it will be easy for him/her to get it sent to you. This shows that you are keen and that you want to help the process as much as you can. Never expect/ask to get your CD back though. That’s definitely one thing a publishing deptartment would not have time to do, so consider the stuff you send as an investment, and know that you won’t see it again.
If you are really serious about subitting your songs in their best form, I’d recommend getting them recorded professionally at a studio. Not with lots of unnecessary instrumentation/solos/too many backing vocals etc. Just so that the lead vocal and the basic instrumentation on the track sound really great. This should be possible for less money than you’d imagine as in today’s ‘GarageBand’ Apple culture, more and more people are stepping into producing roles and are hungry for work. The cheapest way to record is a simple guitar and vocal track.
Recording your song with just a guitar and vocal can actually be the BEST way to present a song, as all unecessary instrumentation is stripped away, leaving just the voice and lead instrument to show that the song can stand alone without a fancy arrangement. If a song is for Church worship, it’s essential that it can be sung with minimal instrumentation as many churches only have one singer and instrumentalist. Or in a home group, the song needs to work on a single piano or guitar. If you feel you ‘need’ a big band arrangement on the demo, perhaps include two versions of the song – one ‘big’ and one ‘acoustic’ to show the song doesn’t depend on the band to make it work.
Lyrics and chords
Always include a lyric sheet with chords on it. Sheet music is unnecessary to send, unless you are presenting a complex hymn or classical piece for choral worship. Sometimes the words are not as easy to hear as you might think when you record the demo, so make it easy for people to know what you’re saying by giving them the lyrics. Also, on the topic of people hearing your lyrics, make sure your lead vocal is mixed nice and high in the track so that it is VERY easy to hear! I’ve heard a few demos where the lead vocal was so quiet it was drowned out by the electric guitars!
Are you sure it’s ready?
You only get one chance to make a first impression as a songwriter. So be patient, and keep asking yourself and others whether your songs are ready to be sent yet. Have you re-written them until they are the best they can be? Have you shown them to a pastor/theologian to check they are doctrinally ok? Have you tried and tested the songs in your local church and wider? Are these the RIGHT songs to send, or should you wait until you have better ones? Should you wait until you have some extra cash to make better demos? It’s good to ask yourself all of these questions before rushing ahead and sending them in.
What is our motivation?
It’s always good to take a look at ‘why’ we want to send in our songs to, and what we are hoping the end result will be. If the motivation is “I deserve a bigger audience!” then we’re probably not ready to submit songs, as if the feedback is negative, we won’t be able to receieve it humbly…we’ll just be mad! Sending in songs is like giving someone permission to tell you that your ‘baby is ugly’! So you have to be ready for genuinely honest feedback, and wanting to grow and learn. Having an attitude of humility and teachability is essential if you are going to send in your songs. Ego needs to be dealt with first, so that when you mail the CD, you are doing so with the right attitude. Worship should never be about seeking platform or a stage. We write because we know the Church needs great songs to help them meet with God. That alone needs to be the reason for submitting songs. If you aren’t in that place yet, maybe pray with a few friends and ask God to help you get your heart right…the whole journey will be way easier if your heart is in the right place when you start
Publishers are keen to find songs that are already resonating in a local community. They are also keen to partner with writers/worship leaders who are already having an impact locally. So social media is an important way to demonstrate that. Record basic videos of your songs being used live (on something simple like an iPhone camera, or a FLIP Video, or whatever you have available – definitely doesn’t need to be a professional video camera!). Upload them to YouTube so that the Publisher can see the song in action. Create a Facebook or Myspace page for your songs where people can comment on them, and listen to them. It’s good for a publisher to see that others like your music, and this can be seen from Facebook ‘likes’, Myspace ‘listens’ on the player, etc etc. Twitter and blogging are a great way to show that you have a heart to impact others too – and they are a great channel through which you can help others hear your songs. Show that you believe in your songs enough that you are already doing EVERYTHING you can to share the song with as many people as possible online!
Where do I send my demo?
Here are my top recommendations of where to send your demos. (Note – this is for corporate Christian worship songs). I’d recommend sending your songs to both sides of the Pond, as sometimes a song might resonate more in the States or in Europe… don’t feel constricted by which country you live in. Many songwriters are signed to publishing deals in a different country from the one they reside in. If you are mailing stuff abroad, make sure you get the right postage paid and customs forms filled out if needed.
Publishers In North America:
Publishing Department (Song submissions)
1000 Cody Road S,
EMI Christian Music Group,
Publishing Department (Song submissions)
101 Winners Circle,
Publishers In The UK/Europe
A&R Integrity Media,
Integrity Music Europe Ltd.
PO Box 39,
Elevation Music (record label that is part of the Memralife/Spring Harvest Group)
Publishing Department (Song Submissions)
14 Horsted Square
Publishing Department (Song Submissions)
26-28 Lottbridge Drove
What happens if I don’t hear back?
If you don’t hear anything back, follow up after two or three weeks. But be really polite, and never pushy. If you google the addresses above, you’ll be able to find the phone number for each office. So following up with a phone call can be a good thing to do as you can connect with a real person, rather than just writing another letter. Call the switchboard number and ask to speak to someone in the publishing department. If you get them, be sure to thank the publisher for their time and keep the phonecall short (don’t start telling them your life-story!). Approach the conversation as someone eager to learn, not someone trying to sell themselves! Remember that relationships are the most important aspect of music ministry, so treat everyone well from day one!
Hope that this blog post has been helpful.
Used with permission from Vicky Beeching. Check out her blog at vickybeeching.com