Cracking the Publishing Puzzle Part 2: How to Get Discovered

Tuesday, 08 Nov 2016

For aspiring songwriters, it’s no easy feat catching the eye of publishers. Apart from being inundated with material from all corners of the sonic universe, publishers are often busy in a diverse range of roles on behalf of their signed writers. Luckily though, scouting for talent remains an essential part of the trade, with publishers just as keen to unearth that next diamond in the rough.

Here are some invaluable tips proffered by our resident publishing gurus. 

1. Use digital platforms to gain exposure

With so many options to choose from, Marianna Annas, Head of ABC Music Publishing (Tim Rogers/You Am I, Ruby Boots, William Crighton), cites her preferred digital platforms for gauging songwriting potential. 

“Platforms such as SoundCloud, Spotify and triple J Unearthed – Soundcloud is an accepted sharing format, Spotify due to its accessibility and Unearthed as it’s so highly populated with new talent.”

And less is more, as it turns out.

“If you are an emerging songwriter sending songs to a publisher, choose your three to five best. There is no need to send your whole back catalogue (unless it’s full of hits) as publishers can’t really work with old material in a market which is focused on the new.”

2. Networking is key

Marianna also alludes to the power of ‘word of mouth’ when discovering talent.

“Managers, booking agents and music lawyers can be great sources as they are often the first port of call for emerging talent,” she says.

“In this sense personal networks are important – a manager or booking agent may approach a publisher on an artist’s behalf if they have a professional relationship and are across the kind of songwriting potential which may be of interest.”

Karen Hamilton, General Manager of 120 Publishing (Bombs Away, Sam La More, Joel Fletcher, SCNDL), adopts a similar approach with signings.

“We do get a lot of ‘hot tips’ from (sister company) Ministry of Sound Australia which has a number of labels, booking agencies, promoters, and a huge marketing team under its umbrella,” she says. “But at the same time, our staff are heavily involved in the dance music scene here and around the world, so a lot of our signings come from direct personal relationships.”

In order to build and cultivate these relationships, networking is key, according to Damian Trotter, Managing Director of Sony/ATV Music Publishing Australia (Tame Impala, Sia, Paul Kelly, Delta Goodrem).

“APRA AMCOS itself runs SongHubs events which are good places to start but there’s also the Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition and conferences which will give you an opportunity to meet face-to-face with industry and form valuable relationships.”

Australia hosts various music conferences such as BIGSOUND, Face the Music, WAMFest, iNTune, Turn Up, Australian Music Week and the Electronic Music Conference which also showcase emerging talent. 

“These are the best ways to get in front of the right person and get your work heard,” says Karen. 

3. Be professional

Professionalism is a trait that publishers value. In particular, Marianna cautions against a few common practices.

“Group emails, wordy cover messages, messy spelling and comparisons to legendary songwriters are not only unprofessional, they also provide insights to an artist’s character, uniqueness and work ethic,” she warns.

4. Do your homework

While great material and being on great records can draw the right attention, Karen notes that there are simple steps that can be taken by songwriters.

“Looking at the label copy (songwriter and publisher information) of who looks after your favourite topliners and submitting a short playlist for consideration to them is the next best thing,” she says.

Damian agrees and recalls how one of their hottest topliners was uncovered after she had sent an email with just one song and “that was enough to convince our A&R team that we had to sign her.”

He also suggests songwriters can leverage the power of YouTube.

“You could reach out to popular YouTube singers who are doing covers that could be looking to release original material. It’s your job to convince them you have a song that will suit them.”

5. Get the timing right

Generally, the decision to approach a publisher is a personal one and varies on a case-by-case scenario, as Marianna shares.

“Artists who are primarily focused on songwriting are more likely to seek a publisher early on because a publisher’s support across the various creative and commercial channels of songwriting is their priority.

“Other songwriters may be content with a manager and/or a label and may choose to put publishing on the back burner,” she says.

In both cases, Karen believes it is vital that the songwriter has taken their career as far as they can and merely requires the publisher’s help to propel them to the next level.

“This could mean many things. For a DJ/producer, it could be when you are starting to get a lot of interest in your independent releases, are getting some placements (film, TV, etc) and have some momentum going. Or it could be that you need someone to help with the finer details of sorting writer splits and release agreements and reaching out past your own network for more placements.”

Regardless, a strong story and commitment to furthering a career in songwriting are highly valued by publishers.  

“Publishers love proactive writers who aren’t going to just sit around and wait for someone else to make it all happen for them,” says Karen.


This article is part of a series on music publishing by APRA AMCOS. Read the first article on the role of the publisher here.

For more info on music publishing, head to the Australasian Music Publishers' Association Limited (AMPAL)'s site: www.ampal.com.au.


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