Etiquette For Songwriting (and life)


Our pitch to publisher webinar on Thursday reminded me of several points that I think bear bringing up every now and then. Almost everyone involved in the song submitting process behaved professionally. One or two did not.

One of those people e-mailed us after the event claiming that we must not have listened to their songs because they submitted two songs that were better than anything that was played. They went on to say that they would hate to have our jobs because they could not stomach passing over great songs and playing weak songs that were more commercial instead.

Clay and I are pretty forgiving and we have very thick skin, but we want to remind everyone that doing something like that with a publisher or other industry professional will mean the END of your relationship with that person.

I’ve seen it happen. My first publisher was the most kind, generous person. He would spend time with anyone off the street that came in our office. And he would bend over backwards to help them. But, on several occasions, he gave people good honest feedback and they went off on him. “Everyone in my hometown LOVES this song!” “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” “You just don’t want to admit that my song is better than yours!”. And on it went.

Those people were unceremoniously tossed out of the office – some had to be threatened with calling the police to forcibly evict them. Most went cursing into the night, convinced that they had been wronged and their talent overlooked.

The sad truth is that a hall of fame songwriter had just spent 30 minutes with them, even though he didn’t know them. He had given them great advice and told them how to make their songs more cuttable. And they were too arrogant to listen. What a wasted opportunity.

Here are some important things to remember whether you are pitching songs or getting feedback in other ways:

1) People who take the time to listen to your songs are on your team, they are not the enemy.

2) Be gracious and grateful anytime someone is willing to listen or give you feedback. If you want another chance after someone passes on your song, you need to be kind and professional in your response to the rejection.

3) One professional not liking your song could be just a personal preference issue or a reflection of a bad day. 4 industry pros not liking your song probably means that your song needs work. Songs that were submitted to play for John Ozier went through 4 professional writers. If none of them picked your song, don’t take it personally. Don’t take it as a slap in the face. Learn from it and pay attention to what was chosen instead.

4) Someone not liking your song doesn’t mean you aren’t a good (or great writer). Clay and I have our songs passed on every single day. We try to figure out why our songs didn’t get taken and then we try to write better songs. We realize that there are always going to be better songs than ours and that we still have room to improve.

5) Don’t ever argue with someone giving you a critique. Even if you don’t agree. They are taking their time to try and help you. Be nice. Nice people get invited back. People who act ugly don’t.

6) The answer to “Why didn’t my song get chosen?” is ALWAYS “You need to write a better song”. Don’t blame anyone else. Just write a better song. Then, yours might get chosen.

7) At any pitch to publisher event, the whole point of the event is to pitch the publisher commercial songs. Publishers are only looking for commercial songs. Great songs that are not commercial are going to be passed over every time. Publishers feed their family by finding commercial songs that they can get recorded. So, it doesn’t mean that your song about your grandmother’s bursitis is not an AMAZING song if it gets passed over. It just means that it’s not something that will help the publisher feed his or her family.

Clay and I do our best to give each of you great opportunities to connect with industry pros that can truly help you get your songs heard if they are GREAT songs. We would love nothing better than to help ANY of you get a song cut.

We were thrilled last night that John wanted to take three songs back for another listen! And we hope that he can work with those writers to get them cuts. We don’t gain anything from that if they do.

So, remember that any time you get an opportunity, give it your best shot and be grateful for the chance. Don’t ruin your next opportunity by being a toot.

Write on!


Marty Dodson is a multi #1 songwriter and co-founder of

2 thoughts on “Etiquette For Songwriting (and life)

  1. I recently had an opportunity to sit with 3 different publishers, each for one hour, and play each publisher 5 songs. I was prepared to listen to them as my primary intent was to establish relationships and create some open doors for the future. While one publisher kept two songs, I got some great advice how to rewrite a third song, but most importantly each publisher told me I was welcome to send them songs in the future when I thought I had something they might need. For me, this was a huge victory. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Nashville is a 10 year town.

  2. Nicely done Marty….I can’t understand why any songwriter would be that arrogant. Many of us have hundreds of songs that have been passed on multiple times.
    Sometimes the same exact song gets signed or placed without any further re-write, I have one like that….passed on many times with very colorful and unflattering remarks from publishers, but I knew in my heart the song could be placed.
    Sometimes there is nothing wrong with my song…sometimes it is just not right for the project the publisher is looking for. I don’t take it personal because in reality I pitched the wrong song for that project; which means I didn’t do my homework. Every time I get a song passed on, I ask myself ” Did I pitch the right song? If the publisher is gracious enough to give feedback, I just scored, because that information could send me back to the drawing board for a re-write that could possibly turn that song into a hit….!

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