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6 Tips for Pitching and Placing Your Songs

I was having lunch with Bob Horn and Dave Pensado earlier today, and a musician walked into the cafe. Dave and the musician recognized each other, and after introductions, the musician disclosed that he was off to an important meeting with some A&Rs. He was going in to pitch songs and asked for some advice.

The rest of this article is going to paraphrase some of the advice we gave him — most of which came from Dave. And, actually, before getting into that, I have to mention most of this advice is really coming from Dave — so if you aren’t aware of Pensado’s Place, you’re missing out on a fantastic resource.

Anyway, here are six tips for pitching and placing songs, brought to you courtesy of Davey P, Bob Horn and yours truly.

1. Dress For Confidence

One of the questions that came up was dress code. I decided to field this one.

A meeting with an A&R is not a job interview. It’s not a “you qualify” or “you don’t” kind of thing — the real question is if your music aligns with what the A&R can work with. The question of qualification was answered just by getting the meeting. The A&R is looking for music that is different than their current catalogue, but still within a framework that the particular A&R can market.

I say all that to say this: no one cares about what you’re wearing, they are primarily interested in the music. Your clothes should just be a reflection of who you are, and something you feel comfortable and confident wearing.

2. Play the Best Song Second

Most of the time at one of these meetings, the exec/A&R/manager is going to ask you to audition songs. Dave likened this experience to playing a show. Don’t open with your most popular smash hit. Start with a compelling warm up first. Get your customer interested, and build some expectation for things to come.

The big seller should come second or third. After that, you’re just showing range and catalogue.

3. Keep it Short and Move on. Control Playback.

Dave, Bob and I could not be more in agreement on this one. Pick up the vibe the A&R is giving off — if they’s digging it maximally, maybe let it ride, if they aren’t engaging: move on.

If you aren’t sure, don’t play more than one minute of a song.

I’ve seen people disregard this advice and it’s extremely awkward and embarrassing. Do not under any circumstances play more than the intro, first verse and first chorus. If your customer doesn’t like what you’re selling by then … just. move. on.

You also need to be the person working the laptop while this is happening. Don’t leave it to the assistant.

4. Play to Their Interests

If you’re applying to work as the head chef of an Italian restaurant, don’t show the owner all of your amazing Vietnamese dishes. Even if they’re truly amazing, they don’t sell Vietnamese. Focus on what got this company interested in you to begin with.

If you want to show range — do it after the primary material, within genres the company touches, and ask if they’re even interested. ClubDrop Records is not going to sign you to a publishing deal off your smash Country tune “Whiskey and Diesel Fuel.”

5. Songs with Topline

I’ve been in a lot of sessions with artists of all sorts. Some artists are interested in complete songs with complete toplines for verse, bridge, hook, etc.

Some artists are really only interested in songs with hooks, mainly in the Hip-Hop world. No one is interested in songs without lyrics. If an instrumental is really hot, and the artist totally digs it, they’ll usually ask “Does this have a hook?” And when the answer is “no,” they’ll move on.

The only reason to bring an instrumental at all is so that if the A&R/artist/manager suggests cutting the record on the spot or sending it out immediately. A song is music + lyrics. Music without lyrics does not a song make!

6. Make Friends with the Secretary

Dave is someone known for his very quotable advice, and this conversation was no exception: “the secretaries control the music business.”

This advice is very true. The assistant or secretary is going to determine whether or not you get through when you follow up. These folks work very hard and deal with a lot of BS, so be polite and make a great impression.

Followed up by a Bob Horn classic: don’t forget to buy your rep in Accounts Payable a nice gift basket, cause that’s the person who’s going to determine how readily your check shows up!

Normally this is the part where I drop a line about adding your own advice in the comments. I’d like to mention that this isn’t really the article to drop conjecture. Firsthand experience is absolutely invited, but please no “internet expertise” on this one (and yes, I do see the irony there).

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.


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  • Matthew Justin

    Def an interesting article but it would be good to clarify if you’re talking about label a&r, publisher a&r or all kinds. Publishers are for sure going to be interested in tracks without toplines IF they have topliners to give them to. Less interested than track+hook in some cases, but in my experience still willing to consider it.

    • Matthew Weiss

      That’s a good point! There are certainly companies like Pulse that will connect topliners to composers and/or producers.

      This article is aimed more at label connections than publishing groups. I still would generally advise providing topline and being prepared with an instr version as it is hard to go wrong that way. But some publishers arent looking for topline at all, like library gigs or places that specialize in sync, so, yeah, where applicable.

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