The Way to the 'Deal'

As people start their journeys in the music business, they always want to know about the people at the top of the pyramid, and “how did they get there?” Or “How did that song get on the radio?” Usually those are about as interesting stories as the songs or people themselves. I have kind of a general outline of how these things work. Not always true, but more often than not they are.

We call Nashville a “Ten Year Town.” Mostly, because that is the average for most people. That doesn’t mean that some people don’t get there faster, there are tons of examples of people that just screw up and fall into luck like lottery winners, and the twenty and thirty year overnight successes, and of course those that seem to have done very thing right and never “make it.” And of course, everything in between.
I call Nashville High School and College. FRESHMAN, SOPHOMORE, JUNIOR AND SENIOR all over again. Except this time, they ALL last about three years.
It takes about three years to learn what NOT TO DO, realize how unprepared you are, to make your mistakes and start all the relationships you are going to need in the future. At the end of that, the most common comment most people have is “I CAN’T BELIEVE I ACTUALLY THOUGHT THESE SONGS WERE WORTH A CRAP AND I ACTUALLY PLAYED THESE FOR ANYONE!” Embarrassment is the most common trait here.
OF the people who move here every day, or week, about 70% are gone by this point.
Starting to realize how futile most of this is, most people have long quit by this time. Those remaining have started writing some pretty decent songs, starting to get their reputation out there. Have gotten not only a more realistic view of things, but borderline depression setting in. There are a few single song deals at this time. But no real tangible results aside from some independent cuts here and there. Most definitely no money. By this point, 85% gone.
Actually a “Someone just shoot me NOW” feeling permeates everything. But they now have a pattern down. They have enough people they write with, get demos done, do writers nights, are featured on most of them. They have generally signed several single song deals. Now, this is where publishers tend to take a little more interest. Often go from the “open door” policy, to the “come to this party, let me introduce you to this writer, go check out that artist” type of things. By this point 98% gone.
Now very realistic, the reputation is cemented, usually have had one or two full deals (for the really good ones) or at least gotten a good deal of attention. They are spoken about as credible people, they are on a good role. And inside, they no longer care for the “big deal.” They just appreciate what they have and have settled down to a more realistic role.

Most publishers started out as writers or artists. Along their journey, they get into publishing, often by default. They might be a writer who has had a hit or more, who has gone through two or three deals, and then they get on the other side of the desk. They work for other publishers, or get outside investors.
Usually a minimum of 10-15 years. AS their success grows, most of the time they are also “piecing” out their companies to other people, larger companies, outside investors in other forums, such as motion picture companies. So while they have a larger presence, they might not be making more money since they have to part it out.

Most usually start out building fan base in their areas. They come to Nashville a little at a time, or jump out right after high school or college. They usually come into contact with these publishers, producers, hit writers along this way if they are worth their salt. Most get attention fast and then drop off the face of the earth as they give up, financial problems or relationships take over and move them away from music.

In each case, it is the people AHEAD of them in line, that invites them to the next level. One gig builds to another, which builds to another and so forth. Same with songs, relationships, recordings, raising money, building and maintaining connections. It is all related.

The down side is that in almost all cases, the deals are over before they even really get going. It is why you have to be very careful in expectations of any deal. Expect little, be constantly moving forward, never put all eggs in one basket. Good luck.

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