How to sell your songs – music publishing expert J.-M. Wegener spills the beans

Jens-Markus Wegener is our first expert in indieberlin’s current series Ask The Expert.

The MD of Imagem Music, the world’s leading independent music publisher with offices in Berlin, London and the US very nicely agreed to answer five questions from indieberlin readers.

Here are the results

If you’re just starting out in the music publishing world, is there a particular sector/niche or style of music that you would say is a particularly good one to concentrate on?

With songwriters it seems that there is a tendency towards good melodies again. If you can find a talented writer who’s able to come up with wonderful melodies with great top lines, that’s something that’s very much in demand. There are a lot of people who have the facilities to do good sound recordings but you can’t substitute a feel for great melodies.

“YOU CAN’T SUBSTITUTE A FEEL FOR GREAT MELODIES”

It’s a gift. It makes sense to look for people like that. And self-contained artists, bands, always look at the personality of people. It’s people who are willing to work very hard and are never satisfied with what they’ve done are the people who will make it, it’s not so much the style, they’re changing all the time. There’s a tendency towards strong personalities again.

As a songwriter trying to write for other artists, I’ve often been advised that I need to record the songs in a professional studio with a band – as close to a finished product as possible. Is that true, or is the song in a raw version – for example a single instrument – piano or guitar – and voice enough before you send it to a publisher?

To be honest it depends on the style that you’re writing in. If it’s pop oriented music you should have a good sound recording quality but if you have an apple computer with a good little setup and software that’s fine.

No one accepts it anymore if it’s just you and your guitar with a very low budget mic. It’s true that a good song is a good song no matter how it’s recorded but you need a fairly high level.

It doesn’t have to have a really polished production but it should already carry the typical sounds that it would have, how it would work if it was put out as a record, because even if you have a publisher who’s very experienced and does find the quality of the song, you still need to have that quality to place it with record labels.

“YOU HAVE TO USE PROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS”

You don’t find A&R people at labels who accept music which isn’t on a fairly high sound level. It should sound quite close to a record.

And if you have a song that you think should have acoustic instruments in it, you have to use professional musicians. Nobody will accept a recording where you can hear all the mistakes. And that makes it expensive, either you have some friends who are professional musicians or else you have to hire them.

I prefer to tell people, well, invest your first money in an Apple computer, Logic Audio, all that, then try to set up some basic studio equipment, good speakers and a big screen, which makes it a lot easier to work.

Nicky Slater: I’d really like to sell my songs for other bands to use, but I have no idea where to start. What do you recommend for a good but unknown songwriter to get his songs heard by a publisher?

I do really believe in trying to get cuts through a publisher, because that’s what we’re meant to do, and instead of trying to reach out for the record company, unless you really know people there, if you don’t know anybody at the label and you’re unknown, I wouldn’t do it.

The chance to be heard there is very very low, and not just because people there don’t listen to the stuff.

“IF YOU DON’T KNOW PEOPLE AT THE RECORD COMPANY…THE CHANCE TO BE HEARD  THERE IS VERY LOW”

Most of the A&R try to listen to everything, even the unknown stuff, but they get so much music, it’s good to use someone who has a good reputation with the record company, and publishers nowadays have a good connection to the A&R people at record companies, so there is some kind of a theatre already.

“I HATE TO RECIEVE MESSAGES LIKE ‘HEY I’M JIM, I’M A SONGWRITER”

You need someone who will give you advice on which songs and which don’t. And so we’re talking about sending stuff to publishers, and funnily enough I experience this every day with my own account. I hate to receive messages like “Hi, I’m Jim, I’m a songwriter and here are three songs that I would like you to listen to, what do you think.”

Firstly, you should be polite. Give your full name and address. You should give a little description about hwat you’ve been doing, playing with local bands, whatever. If someone writes to you and gives you absolutely no clue, it could be an eight year old boy or an 80 year old grandfather. You want to have some kind of feel of who you’re talking to.

Also give an indication of why you want to send this to me. If it looks like a mass mail that you’ve sent to a thousand people I really don’t feel that interested, but if somebody says I found out that your company is working for Daft Punk and I have something that is electronic or something like that, I think, oh, this person has already thought about it and thought, Jens could be the right person to talk to.

“GIVE AN INDICATION OF WHY YOU WANT TO SEND THIS TO ME”

So make a personal approach, give some information about yourself, keep the descriptions of the songs brief – the first is a dub song, the second is a rock ballad – that’s great so that you get an indication. But don’t forget that the songs you’re sending out are the first ever heard by the person you’re approaching.

Something like “I have a lot of even better songs” is bad, then I think, why don’t you send me the better ones? You have to be very clear, be sure what you’re looking for, even approaching a publisher you should understand what publishing is about. On Google you can find a number of articles about publishing, don’t ask too many stupid questions.

ib: Is it okay to send a mail, or should you send your songs by post, or…?

Email is fine and the best way of presenting the music is a link. If you send an mp3 there may be filters in the inbox. A link to soundcloud for example is very good.

“IT SHOULD BE AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE”

I hate it when there’s a password, it should be as simple as possible. Something that can be checked by mobile phone, sometimes people like me have time sitting somewhere with a mobile phone and I should be able to listen to it.

Whenever I find out it’s too complicated to listen to something from someone I don’t know I cut it.

Paul G: How do you think the technological advancements and developments have changed the business? Do you have to work in a different way, think in a different way?

Everybody’s talking about that. If you come up with real quality you always have a chance to get it played.

Work on your own talent first, your own production skills, work on everything which you can, to make your music better, and don’t blame everyone else if you’re not successful, technological changes and all that shit.

It’s true that you don’t make so much money on Spotify anymore, that’s right. But internet also makes it possible to have access to people that you didn’t have before.

“DO FACEBOOK AND TWITTER – HAVE LINKS TO YOUR MUSIC”

I would also say, make sure that you’re marketing yourself. Do Facebook, do Twitter, all that stuff, it’s funny to say that so many people have their account on Facebook and they refer to it but you go there and there’s nothing there.

People like me want to read a bit like a bio…who have you been working with, what kind of collaborations, always leading to the music. Also with twitter, always have a link included that leads to your music. You should always think, how can people find my music?

“IT’S NOT IMPORTANT IF YOU  DON’T HAVE A RECORD OR PUBLISHING DEAL YET, IT’S ALL PROMOTION”

It’s not important if you don’t have a record deal or a publishing deal yet, it’s all promotion, just make sure that people start to find you, make sure that it’s spread out, and if you start to have serious professional negotiations then you can tell people where you’ve got your music and so on.

Great thanks to Jens-Markus Wegener for answering our questions! Want to ask our next industry experts a question? Watch this space!

Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a 'recovering musician', he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.

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