What Kind Of Song Should You Play For A Publisher?

Ask Your SWP

If you get the chance to play a song for a publisher, what kind of song should you play?  What kind of demo?  Should you play a cowritten song?

I’m excited to host another Play For A Publisher event in December, and I’ve received several questions from writers like you. I thought I’d answer a few of them here on the blog since the answers apply to more than just the Play For A Publisher event.

Question: What kind of song should I play?  A country song?  I song I think fits the market or radio?  Or just something I think is cool?

Chris Oglesby of BMG Chrysalis dropped some great advice on us at our last Play For A Publisher event.  Here’s what he had to say on the subject:

“Play songs for publishers that YOU love.  Don’t just play what you THINK the publisher will love.  After all, you probably don’t really know the publisher personally, so you don’t really know what they’ll like.  But songs that YOU love will tell the publisher a lot about YOU, and that’s valuable.”

I agree with Chris.  And that’s because publishers are usually looking for more than just a great song.  They’re looking for a great songwriter.  And so they want to get to know YOU.  Yes, they want to work with a writer that can write radio hits and make a ton money.  But what’s the special sauce that will make YOUR songs different, and tasty?  Well, that’s the “YOU” ingredient that only YOU can provide.  And the publisher can get the best taste of YOU when you play songs that you love- because they will have the most YOU in them.

After all, over the long haul, the real you is going to shine through in your songs- for better or worse.  So the earlier a publisher can find the real you, the earlier he can figure out if the two of you are a good match, musically, personally, and professionally.

As for me (since I’m doing the screening for the Play For A Publisher event), I’m just looking for something that knocks my socks off.  Something I think is really cool.  Not everything we played at the last event was a radio hit type of song.  But each of them were really cool in their own way.

Question: Can I ONLY play demos?  I don’t have full-band recordings of my songs…

You want to make the best first impression possible.  So, if you have two songs that are both really good, but one is demoed and the other isn’t, I’m always going to play the demoed song.  It’s more professional, and it’s just easier for the publisher to hear and “get” the full expression of your song.  But a work tape or guitar/vocal of a great song beats a full demo of a good song.

Good song people know great songs- even if they aren’t fully produced.  A good guitar/vocal should be enough.  Or even a clean, well-performed work tape.  But even the best song person might miss a great song if the work tape is really bad.

(Side note: I don’t want to work with a publisher who can’t hear a great song in a decent work tape.  After all, they’ll be listening to work tapes to help me figure out which songs to demo!)

For the Play For A Publisher event, you can send a demo, a simple stripped-down recording, or a work tape.  It’s all welcome.

Question:  Can I play cowritten songs for a publisher?  Or do I have to write the songs all by myself?

It doesn’t matter if your song is a solo write or a cowrite.  A publisher just wants a great song.  Granted, it’s more impressive if you can write a killer song on your own.  This is for two reasons: 1) it’s rare that great songs are written, much less by one person and 2) the publisher doesn’t have to wonder if you were responsible for the cool stuff in the song or not- they know it’s ALL you.

So, a great solo written song is an added bonus, but having a cowriter (or cowriters) on your song won’t make a publisher like it any less.

For the Play For A Publisher event, both solo and cowrites are welcome.  I screen them without any idea if it’s a solo or cowrite- I’m just listening for really cool songs.

Question: Ready to play YOUR song for a publisher?

Time is running out for our next Play For Publisher event!  The event itself is Tuesday, December 6, 2016, but the deadline to submit a song is Saturday, November 19.  After the 19th, it’s too late- so don’t wait.  Get your spot today!

Our special guest will be Tim Hunze of Parallel Music Publishing.   Tim works with a staff of pro songwriters including Lance Carpenter (“Love Me Like You Mean It” – #1 for Kelsea Ballerina), Jon Mabe (“The Climb” – #1 for Miley Cyrus), Jenn Schott (“Two Lanes Of Freedom” – Tim McGraw) and more!  Tim is a real pro, and he has a lot of wisdom to share from his years in the music business.  And, I’ll be honest- he’s a heck of a nice guy, too!



Last question:  Is this event worth my time?

Well, let’s hear from a couple of the last event’s participants…

“The combination of Brent’s talent as a songwriting teacher with some of the best ears among Music Row’s publishers makes this an indispensable event for any aspiring writer.” – Joe Slyzelia “Vinyl Afternoon”

“I just took part in Brent Baxter’s Play For A Publisher event with Chris Oglesby of BMG. This was a great opportunity for me to get one of my songs in front of Chris and also to meet him personally. Chris listened to my song (and everyone else’s) start to finish and gave very useful and specific feedback regarding each. Chris and Brent took a lot of time throughout the night to answer everyones’ questions. This was very educational, helped me get my face and name in front of a prominent figure in the Nashville music industry, and honestly was a lot of fun. Thanks Brent and Chris for a great experience!” – David Hill “Are You Awake”

Play For Pub

God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,


Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.


7 thoughts on “What Kind Of Song Should You Play For A Publisher?”

  1. Hi Brent!
    Sounds like a great opportunity to connect with the Pros in Nashville! I’m wondering if it is possible to skype in to the event if my song is being pitched, Calgary is a bit of a commute!!

    1. Nobody is meeting in person- we’ll all be videoconferencing on the Fuze platform. On our last one, we had folks join in from the US, Australia, and yes… Canada!

  2. Hi, Brent. I’ve written a few Christian songs that I believe God put on my heart for such a time as this. I would like to submit two of them.

    Are you accepting Christian songs?

    1. Yes. I know Tim, our guest publisher, is active in church. So am I. So we both “get” Christian songs. Like any other genre, it just needs to be really really good!

  3. If I could add a suggestion: when possible, know who you are pitching to/for. I’ve pitched a punk rock song to a publisher that was strictly country because I was too excited to pass the opportunity up. I also pitched a very bubbly pop song to Travie McCoy because the example the publisher had was a song by Bruno Mars/Travie, which sounded similar to my song. Had I slowed down, I would have known that Travie is the more rap type, which wasn’t my song at all.

  4. If you have a killer ballad, then a guitar or piano vocal is fine. If it’s not a ballad you had better have a full blown professional sounding demo. That’s just how it is. And I’ll add one other thing. Get the best demo singer you can afford.

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