by Daniel Reifsnyder
1. Talking Yourself Down
A lot of writers are humble, quiet, and avoid the limelight. Some aren’t very good with people skills or networking (one reason some have become writers in the first place). Worse, we are always our own worst critics – I know that’s true in my case, at least. I used to hand over demos to publishers with some sort of preface: “It may not be what you’re looking for…” or “The vocals aren’t up to par…” or “I know it’s a ballad, but…” I stopped when I realized this was, in essence, an apology. An admission, right out of the gate, that what I was presenting wasn’t good enough (or, at the very least, that I thought it might not be). Not only might this turn off a professional listener, but it begs a bigger question: If you don’t think it’s ready, why are you wasting their time? A little faith in yourself goes a long way. I’m not saying to thrust the demo in their face and insist it’s the next big hit, but at least stop shooting yourself down before you start.
2. Just One More…
Nobody has time to listen to multiple demos, particularly if you’re not one of their staff writers. Expecting them to listen to more than one or two is asking a lot. Plus, it can appear as if you’re throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. This can irritate someone who has a limited amount of time and is basically graciously giving you a few minutes of it. A better tactic is to really research who you’re pitching to and decide if you have one or two songs that really fit them. If so, pitch those, and put the others aside. That way, in the future when you say “I have a song for you…” they’ll (hopefully) take you seriously when you say you have a song worth listening to. That doesn’t mean don’t be prepared with more songs in case they ask – it always looks good to be able to follow up quickly!
3. Not Co-writing/Too Much Co-writing
I’ve seen both ends of this spectrum. Purely solo writing can look odd – with only a small handful of exceptions, everyone in Nashville co-writes. If all you pitch are solo writes, though, a publisher may think you don’t work well with others (a bad sign in a personal business like this one). The upside is, this does give them insight into your specific skills as a writer – and if you wrote the whole song, that can be impressive. The flip side – only pitching co-writes – has the exact opposite effect. If you only pitch co-writes, they might assume you’re a weak writer since you don’t have any solo stuff. Or they simply may not be able to tell what you did or didn’t contribute. Point being, don’t neglect one side of the equation for the other – you need to do both, and you need to produce solid songs from both angles.
4. Bad Demos
Let’s say you’re going to a job interview. You’re feeling good, your resume is excellent, and you’ve got great recommendations–all the makings of a solid interview. After all this time and effort getting your ducks in a row, you decide ‘What the heck; I’ll wear my gym clothes to the interview. They won’t mind. The rest of the package is so good they can look past it.’ Your demo is how your song dresses for the interview.
You can have a great, well-written song, and an awful demo can torpedo the whole thing. Conversely, a great demo can take a song that’s just good and make it much more pitchable. Moreover, not having a great demo can come off as if you are not confident in the song or don’t care enough to put out a quality recording. That can definitely create a negative impression. I’m not saying there aren’t people in town who can’t hear past a rough demo or a worktape–there certainly are. However, do yourself a favor and put forth the best presentation you possibly can. It will create a better first impression.
What are some things you think might torpedo a pitch session?