Music Business

5 Things Music Publishers Look For In A Songwriter

by Marty Dodson
Feb 28, 2024

Music Publishers seem to be the “holy grail” for songwriters trying to get that first cut.

Somehow, many people have the idea that if they could just “get a publisher,” all of their problems would be solved and the cuts would start rolling in. While having a great publisher can be very beneficial, “getting a publisher” isn’t the most important piece of the success equation by any means. And, notice that I said having a GREAT publisher can be very beneficial. Having a bad or just mediocre publisher is often worse than not having one at all. So, proceed with caution and do a lot of background checking before agreeing to work with any publisher on an exclusive basis.

Having said all of that, here are 5 things that publishers are looking for in a writer.

Working at becoming all of these things BEFORE you meet with a publisher is going to increase your chances of that publisher wanting a working relationship with you.

1) Consistency over time.

A publisher would rather work with someone that is writing consistently good stuff over time over someone who has one hit and 100 decent songs in their catalog. The attitude is that anybody can get in the right room and get lucky once, but a really talented writer is going to be consistently good.

2) A team player with a great attitude.

Other than the big 3-4 corporate publishers, most publishing houses are small. Many of them have a family type atmosphere. They want to work with people that are going to fit into the family well. If you are cocky or have an attitude, they aren’t going to be interested in you, period. I’ve seen publishers turn down super talented artists because their managers were pushy jerks. The publisher didn’t want to have to deal with someone being difficult all the time. And, many people approach publishers because they perceive their writing to be similar to a writer that is already signed to that publisher. If the publisher already has someone doing what you do, they are not likely to be interested. They are looking to round out the team with people who do things they DON’T have. Be a team player and demonstrate a willingness to work with the publisher as a team. That will go a long way.

3) Reliable adults.

Writers and creative types are notoriously unorganized and hard to pin down. We can take ADD to heights rarely seen in mankind. But, a publisher doesn’t want to have to herd a bunch of cats all of the time. If you demonstrate an ability to keep yourself organized, show up for appointments on time and be reliable, that’s a HUGE weight off their shoulders. I’ve seen people get writing deals over more talented people because the more talented people had trouble adulting. You can rise above lots of other writers if you work hard and are able to be low maintenance.

4) Hard workers.

Over and over, in the music business, I’ve seen the hard workers beat people that are way more talented. It’s pretty much a life principle. Work harder and you increase your chances of success. If you demonstrate to a publisher that you are willing to be their hardest worker, you are going to get their attention.

5) Commercial ears.

At the end of the day, the only way you and the publisher are going to stay in business is if you are writing commercial songs that the publisher can get placed. They don’t care if you are writing AMAZING 6-minute art pieces. Neither of you can feed the family with those. You have to demonstrate that you KNOW what is current in your genre and that you are able to write that kind of song.

There you have it! 5 ways to get a publisher interested. In the process of getting that interest, don’t forget that you have to have GREAT songs. Continue to put most of your effort into making your songs better and better. That will catch a publisher’s interest over time.

Best of luck!

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a multi #1 songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing


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