Staff deals are an endangered species. Some writers are still heading to Nashville, the last true hope for being heard as a writer and a few still land a publishing deal. It just may look different than they imagined. A tip that will serve you well: If you make the trip, be prepared for finding an alternate source of income while you wait. Your job? Find the bad puns in the last sentence.
Your real job, especially if you live outside a music center, is to find a way to get your songs heard. I coach writers and artists from as far away as Melbourne, London, Indianapolis and even a client in Warsaw, Poland which got me thinking about this topic yesterday. A new friend and client has begun developing a young artist and we spent a Skype session talking about the benefits and pitfalls but I want to focus on what artist development means to a songwriter.
If you’re a performing artist/writer you’ve upped the odds of someone hearing you and your songs. Many successful writers have risen from the ashes after the artist path crashed and burned.. but ..let’s suppose you’re not a artist/performer.
Find one. Hitch your wagon to a rising star.
You can find them in any town in the world. Look for one that will grow along with you. Find one you like as well as believe in. Co-write with them even if they don’t see themselves as a writer. Always more attractive to a listener (and one of the 3 major labels we’re down to) to know an artist has something to say. In past years I would be invited to write with a new signing and the first thing I would do is talk with them. Sometimes for days. What are they interested in? Listen to their language. What motivates them to go for it? Sometimes it may just be a good line that comes out, sometimes a story or a rough idea that you get to help craft. It’s worth the time and investment for you both.
How? At the very least the artist is out there showcasing and people are hearing songs you’re a part of. At the very best, someone views you as an integral part of the artist’s future. Maybe you end up producing the songs you co-write and nothing will get you closer to getting your songs on a project than helping create it. The artist becomes successful and you become successful and… in demand. You’re asked to work with more budding artists and bring “that thing you do.”
Maybe you don’t have production skills. Then find someone who does and build a team.
Lastly I would recommend a development contract. Sometimes in life you have to bring in the law. Get a good entertainment attorney to help craft a fair deal for you and the artist. If you find you’re doing the heavy lifting, creating tracks, hiring players maybe even using your contacts, make sure you stand to be compensated if not rewarded. Make it fair for the artist as well. No one sided deals, you hope to have a relationship so I would even plan for the fact that maybe you don’t get there and they’ll need to move on. Make it a fair amount of time for you to give it everything you’ve got but allow the artist to still pursue their career if you’re not the right fit. If they move on without you, provide for being reimbursed. All about trust, just like all of the relationships you’ll have as a writer, co-writer, publisher, producer or “head of development”.