Songwriters! How To Get a Publishing Deal

So you’ve got your Youtube channel, you’re getting some buzz on social media and you’re starting to gig – but how do you get that illustrious record deal? And do you need one? Shouldn’t you just head down to an Xfactor audition?

One less well know route is through publishing. This means you’re signing on as a songwriter rather than just a performer. Getting a good publishing deal can be way more lucrative than a simple artist’s record deal because it opens the doors up for collaboration and therefore a huge new audience and potential sales.  Ask anyone in music these days and they’ll tell you the money’s in publishing.

LIving The Dream
Living The Dream

Ever heard of Singer/Songwriter The Dream? Well he earned a cool $15 Million in publishing royalties for writing the song “Umbrella” for Rihanna. And Fiona Bevan? Writing ‘Little Things’ for One Direction (with Ed Sheeran) has set her up for life, “after Little Things, it all just happened. I got my publishing deal and overnight I was a full-time singer-songwriter and I suddenly had the time, space and money to make my own album.”

Getting a publishing deal is also great news if you’ve got stage fright like  Amelie, the heroine of This Beats Perfect.

So let’s learn some more. Flash is one of the major Music Publishing A&R guys in the UK. After over a decade at Sony Music he’s now the A&R consultant at Bucks Music Group. I was utterly thrilled when he agreed to answer some questions for me.

So what is A&R?
A&R stands for Artist and Repertoire. Essentially an A&R person is charged with the role of sourcing, signing and working with great new musical talent.  For a Record Label A&R this predominately means working alongside the artists, sourcing producers and a myriad of others to get recordings out in to the greater world.

My role in A&R differs slightly in the fact that I am a Music Publisher.  What this means is that I source and sign great songwriters. These Songwriters could be artists themselves or they could primarily be interested in working and writing with other artists to create great songs which will hopefully be “Cut”. This means to be commercial released.

What’s the process of selecting an artist?
My process starts where it always should and that is with the Music. If I should hear a compelling piece of music that excites me I will track down the Artist/Writer to meet with him of her. Sometimes this is directly via social media, sometimes it is through their manager if they have one. If we get on and have a shared focus and vision for their work then this could lead to an offer being made for their publishing rights – this will hopefully lead to me signing them.

How’s the job changed over the last decade? Did it go from attending open mic nights to just trolling through Youtube?
Man, the job has changed so much since when I first started. I’ve been doing this since the early to mid 2000s. That’s right – before youtube. Hell, I was doing it before Myspace. I used to have to source CDs of demos which meant having a very large contacts book that would be added to daily. Nowadays, pretty much all the sourcing is done online using platforms like Youtube, Soundcloud, Blogs etc. However I still love seeing live music. I’d be reticent to sign an artist who was not a strong performer or at least didn’t show the potential of becoming a strong performer. Also, that contacts book/iPhone is still mightily important.

Tell us about a typical day/night at work for you now.
That’s the great thing about my job. No two days are alike. I could find myself in a studio on a Monday. Doing a day of meetings with writers, managers, lawyers on a Tuesday. Hanging with bloggers on a Wednesday. Spending a day with one of my writers going through active projects on a Thursday. And spending Friday at record labels. All the while glued to my Blackberry sorting sessions, getting finished songs etc. Maybe a show or two in the evenings. Lets just say I’m never asleep by midnight.

Do you still get excited when you find someone new?
I love discovering a new artist that blows your hair back. Its the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.

Who was the last artist that got you really excited?
I couldn’t possibly say. Not yet anyway:)

James Morrison - Singer & Songwriter
James Morrison – Singer & Songwriter

Who are the biggest artists you’ve worked with over the years?
Ive been extremely lucky to have worked with a large array of writer/artists over the years. James Morrison, the Ting Tings, The Naked and Famous. Cherry Ghost is an interesting one as when I worked with him he was an artist. However he now works with other artists like Avicci and Sam Smith co writing for their projects.

How often do you get it wrong?
Thats a tricky question to answer. I personally think if you work with great talent you can’t go wrong. Any number of opportunities can come along if everybody stays focussed and works hard. However, I have passed on bands that have become huge but that’s an occupational hazard.

What do you look for?
Difference, excellence, self belief but not arrogance, focus, determination, artistry, musicality. Basically the potential to change the world.

Have you ever created a band – like, put one together, or do you only work with artists who have their own visions?
I’ve never created a band so to speak but I have help to develop bands and writers from early beginnings to success.

Would you recommend competing on talent shows like xfactor?
I really have no bearing on these sort of shows to find artists. I do stay abreast for my writers though. It would be brilliant to have one of my peeps get a cut on something like a One Direction record:)

However, would I recommend someone to go on a televised talent contest? You know i don’t think it’s really my place to say and If somebody really wanted to I don’t think I could or would try to dissuade them. In the same token I would never persuade anybody to go on one. I will say though – There Are No Shortcuts!!!!

Is it true scouts are looking for social media presence/existing audience as much as anything else?
Sure. If an artist has had the get up and go to build an online presence and can sell tickets to a gig without traditional music industry help, you’d pay attention right? Great artists wait for nobody to make an impact.

Does an artist even need a demo these days?
Yes. I sign writers of music.

What is the ONE thing an artist needs to have to catch your eye above anything else?
There really is no one thing. However for me it starts with a great music.

If you had ONE piece of practical advice for an aspiring artist, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

When is it time to give up?
When and only when you don’t love music anymore. There are artist that I love in their 50s, 60s and 70s that still make records which I consider great and which most people will never discover. Their motivation is not solely based on financial reward.

Your Favourite Record
A question I could never answer. However, to name just a fraction, I adore Prince, Roberta Flack, Pixies, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Kanye, Kendrick, Run The Jewels, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, – Basically any artist that has made classics and/or continues to surprise.

A couple of your Online Bookmarks
I really should start book marking stuff.

Headline Glastonbury or win a Grammy?
Headlining the Grammy’s

Last thing you searched for on Google?
Mariachi Costumes believe it or not.