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Another photo from an upcoming Sessions At The Steps performance!

This is the second of two posts written as a follow up to my interview with TuneCore that came out earlier this month. Check out the full article here, and thank you again to TuneCore for having me!

Last week I further articulated some benefits I’ve found to using unsigned or independent artists in projects. Today I address a topic most music supervisors I know could pontificate on for hours and hours: mistakes artists make when pitching their music.

Because I am an unabashed fan of listicles, I kept it to just ten pitfalls to avoid if you are an artist trying to bust into this crazy world. To any fellow music supervisors reading this, I would love for you to add more in the comments!

To begin, here is the question (and my answer) from the original interview:

What are some of the most common mistakes you see independent artists make when they want to approach or pitch to a music supervisor?

That could be a whole other article! First thing I’ll say is you’re always going to be better served having someone else pitch your music with those relationships in place. Focus your energy not on cold calling/email music supervisors and studio executives; focus your energy on researching the right opportunities and people who can get your music where it needs to be. It’s so much more effective to find the right team and partnerships.

It’s not a ‘common mistake,’ but I would say be open to low-budget projects. I know it’s tough because you don’t want to give music away for free (really you shouldn’t have to, again another article) – it’s a personal decision – just make sure to evaluate the big picture. Is that music supervisor working on a lot of projects? Is the long-term relationship worth it? Personally, if I’m dealing with an artist directly, I’ll remember if someone does me a solid, and I’ll call them again.

One mistake is that people get pushy and ask for a lot of feedback or follow up every week. Those are two things that make me cringe. In terms of feedback, I’m listening to it for the most part basing it on what I need at that point, so I don’t have time nor do I feel qualified to provide that. Also, research is appreciated. At least be aware of what a supervisor has worked on. You’re being polite and showing that you’ve done your homework.

In the TuneCore interview I started by advising that artists devote their time to finding a great pitching company to work with, rather than cold emailing music supervisors. To be clear, it’s not a mistake to send cold emails to music supervisors, but I wouldn’t advise spending all your energy on the activity. Some music supervisors won’t take unsolicited submissions from artists, and all music supervisors are so overwhelmed with music every day the only way to get through it is by starting with those they trust. Not only in terms of quality control, but in that the music they are listening to has been legally vetted and can be cleared.

Then again, there are definitely music supervisors I know who will check out submissions directly from artists, so really you never know. The below tips are for independent artists who have chosen to pursue this path of most resistance. A few of these are included in the above response, but most are not.

Mistake #1 – Lack of education.

As an artist, there are two areas to ensure you are well versed in:

First, educate yourself on the clearance and licensing process. Know the definition of and difference between the “master recording” and “publishing.” Know what “one stop” means. Make sure you are registered as a songwriter and publisher with your performing rights organization (even that will put you ahead of most). If a music supervisor feels that you understand what it takes to clear a song, the more likely they are to trust they’ll be able to clear YOUR song should the opportunity arise.

Second, educate yourself on the music supervisor. What are they currently working on? What have they worked on in the past? IMDb is obviously a great tool, but is not always accurate, especially in terms of timeline. Often a project is listed as in “post-production” months after it’s been completed. Use as many tools as you can think of to best assess what might fit their needs at that particular moment, or what might be useful down the line. Which leads me to the second mistake….

Mistake #2 – Generic emails.

Don’t blast the same exact email out to every person, especially not the first time trying to connect. Demonstrate you did the above research. Even if you ask the status of a show that’s already wrapped it’s clear you at least did some Googling.

Mistake #3 – Not being professional.

Some artists seem to think that because we work in an industry of more sneakers than suits, they can say whatever they want, however they want. I’ve gotten emails from people I’ve only met once (or never met) without a Subject Line and only, “Yo I got the beats you need. Hit me up” in the body. Even worse, many take the tone of someone I’ve known for years, full of emojis, slang and/or abbrevs. Some specific cautions:

– Use proper grammar and coherent sentences, otherwise it will seem like you dashed off an email on the run i.e. no real thought went into writing.

– Don’t act as though your music is a gift, saying outright how great it is. Truly great music speaks for itself.

– Don’t declare that a song is “perfect” for a certain need or project. It’s nearly impossible for you to know for sure what those needs are.

– Don’t ask personal questions, or offer up unsolicited personal details about your life. Have you been to my birthday party? If not, it’s likely I don’t want to hear an anecdote about yours (or your kids’).

Treat a cold email to a music supervisor like the cover letter for a job application. Yes, you should show some spark of personality, but more importantly, be clear, cohesive and concise.

Mistake #4 – Generic music submissions.

Use the above research you’ve done to inform what music to include. Does the supervisor mostly work on shows geared to tweens? Do their credits include every urban romantic comedy released in the past two years? Watch some of their films or TV episodes and listen to the style of music used. If you have songs in a similar vein, start with those. Prove you can accommodate what they need.

Of course, not every music supervisor works in the same medium or genre all the time, so it is wise to also include a few of what you would consider your “best” tracks, the ones most representative of you as an artist. Very few people are actually brilliant at every style or genre, so be honest about your sound.

Lastly, include a couple of your newest tunes. Everyone likes the latest and greatest.

Mistake #5 – Sending too much (or too little music).

After reading the above, you may be tempted to send your entire catalog to ensure all potential needs from now until forever are covered. DO NOT DO THIS. If you send hundreds of tracks or folders of music to sift through, the chances are high you will be passed over again and again when a supervisor gets the time to actually listen to music. Provide enough that the listener can get a good sense of your sound, skills and strengths, but try not to overwhelm (keep it under 15 tracks).

Mistake #6 – Incorrect submission format.

Don’t just send a link to your website, streaming only SoundCloud or latest YouTube video. Editors cannot cut YouTube videos to picture, so you have to include audio files as well. That said, never send files as attachments. Always include a link (or links) to stream and download.

SoundCloud, Hightail, WeTransfer and especially Box.com are great tools for this. Personally, I prefer Box since it is easy to both stream and download both individual tracks and in batches. Aim for as few clicks as possible to get your music into a music supervisor’s library, and make sure your links don’t expire.

Mistake #7 – Sloppy or missing metadata.

Metadata is the key to life for both music supervisors and artists (as well as pitching companies, etc.) If we don’t know the name of the track, artist or contact information we have no idea who to reach out to for clearance. If we can’t find you, it’s likely we are moving on to the next option. All of this is stored in iTunes metadata. Make sure your details will neatly populate when files are dragged into iTunes, most music supervisors’ library tool of choice. If it looks sloppy or is missing key information, you look like you don’t have your act together.

Mistake #8 – Asking for feedback.

Music supervisors are busy, and constantly deluged with music. Often the listening process is just a skim of an album, filing into folders or tagging with keywords, then on to the next. And that is when there isn’t a specific search need with an impending deadline.

If you’ve been solicited, pitched for a specific scene and didn’t land the spot, it’s understandable to ask what wasn’t working about the music sent. Be prepared, however, that it often has nothing to do with the song itself; the director/producer just happened to pick a different one.

If you really want feedback on your tracks, try a conference like the Durango Songwriters Expo or the ASCAP I Create Music Expo, both of which have one-on-one (or small group) sessions with music supervisors for artists to play and discuss their music. In my opinion there is more to get out of the conference experience than services where artists just pay a fee for someone to listen and comment on music.

Mistake #9 – Following up too often.

Again, we get SO MUCH MUSIC. Between singles, samplers, albums, etc. music supervisors receive hundreds of tracks every day. It’s absolutely impossible to keep up with it all, even for the avid listener. It can take me a month to get to an album I’m excited about, let alone one from an unknown artist. Patience is key. Give it at least a couple months between follow ups, and be careful how you choose to word your follow up email. This should go without saying, but never, ever take on a pushy or annoyed tone if a music supervisor hasn’t yet listened to your music.

Mistake #10 – Pitching through social media.

I even did a quick poll on Facebook to verify this one. Many consider Facebook personal only, with the exception of collaborating with peers.

LinkedIn is more of a “business” site, however very few music supervisors I am aware of actively use it.

Yes, some do utilize Facebook and Twitter for searches, but they are the exception instead of the rule. If you see someone posting a music need on Facebook then of course it’s fine to respond, however the above advisements still apply (even in 140 characters). See Mistake #1. There is a good chance that with a little digging you can find an email address.

The Bottom Line: The best way to get a music supervisor’s attention is to flash your knowledge of their world, instead of your sassy personality. Research, patience, professionalism and gratitude will go a long way. And of course, great music.

For more pitching tips, check out the article “Tips from a Gatekeeper” which can be read here.

  • Paige and Ahnna Music

    Thank-you for writing this article! We’re two Austin TX Singer Songwriters looking to place our songs and this really helped! Have a wonderful day!

  • CMDess

    This is great, it’s helping me to connect some of the missing elements in terms of least obtrusive methods of asset delivery. Thank you for sharing some inner workings on the process of this sector of the industry, it’s appreciated.