Before You Sign A Publishing or Songplugger Contract

Steve Bloch gives insight on what he thinks songwriters should know before they sign a publishing or song plugger contract.


Nashville consultant, publisher and songplugger Steve Bloch has been listening to music in this town for over two decades and is known for having a great and honest ear. He is the founder of Southern Cow Music, and Writer Zone Music, LLC, and currently consults for Demolition Music Publishing. He also listens for Doug Johnson, creative head of Black River Entertainment, whose artists include Kelsea Ballerini, Craig Morgan, Jacob Davis, and Abby Anderson, among others. Steve is a frequent guest of many songwriter festivals, workshops, and publisher nights, including the West Coast Songwriters Association, the Durango Songwriters Expo, the Arizona Songwriters Association, TAXI, and various NSAI, and SGA events.

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Welcome to our cartne video titled Before You Sign a publishing or song plugging contract. Our guest today is Steve Bloch.

Hello I’m Steve Bloch. I’m an independent music publisher, song plugger and consultant here in Nashville. I’ve been here 25 years.

Steve, how does a songwriter get hurt when signing a bad song contract?

The victim would be the songwriter that assigns their rights to the song away to either someone who is not capable of advancing the life of the song commercially or, you know, who has no track record or a signing of the rights for an extended period of time. Well, one, it could be there’s no reversion. A reversion clause is important in today’s climate.

It means that after X amount of time, the song reverts, the ownership of the song reverts back to the songwriter. That’s really an important thing to have in any contract that you sign in this climate. And that reversion could be probably the most standard number is two years. It could be three. If I’m doing a Christmas song, I’m going to ask for five.

And the reason for that is, because you know, that window is a very short one each year to get a Christmas song cut on. You want to try next year. It could be a year. And I’ve done things for as little as six months. It’s important, you know. The one advantage if you have a songwriter, if I take a song for six months or an independent plugger does or a publisher, they have a huge incentive knowing the song’s going to go back to the writer in six months to to really hit the streets hard with that song.

But look out for the people who are most at prayer People who haven’t vetted the song plugger. There are actually some surprise, surprise, disingenuous song pluggers who are happy to take your money, maybe a monthly stipend of $500, even supply a pitch log that may or may not be truthful. And they’ve got your song. They’re making money until you get to fire them.

Or the song reverts, but they don’t give the money back and you don’t know what their motivation was. So you have to go into it ultimately trusting your song plugger. But you sure better do your homework in advance. Talk to all the songwriters you know, who know that person, talk to other song pluggers, talk to, you know, find trusted, purposeful, well-intentioned listeners and ask, ask, ask and listen, listen, listen.

How would you recognize a bad apple? Would you just want it? You see an ad for it?

I think that that might be the most obvious way that trusting songwriters without a lot of experience might be, you know, might be recruited to an unscrupulous song plugger. I would steer away from that. I’m totally first of all, it’s really hard to get a cut and it’s an even hit. Songwriters will tell you it’s hard to get a cut.

So you know, your songs as an outside songwriter have got to be so great. They’ve got to be better than what you’re hearing on country radio. No matter what’s on country radio, they’ve got to be better. We can always have the songs that we have in this community. We don’t need you so how are you going to break in?

You’re going to break in with a song that is so undeniable that it’s going to say to the artist, to the producer, to management and to the record label. This song is so good. We’re going to put aside our short term greed by finding our songs or being a part of our songs, you know, with our own publishing or whatnot, that it’s going to sustain, maintain and elevate the artist’s career.

That’s how good the song has to be. So I don’t know that the I don’t know that somebody who’s advertising and getting songs from everywhere around the country and receiving money with and by trade for promises that they’ll get those songs cut is telling the truth. I, I would stay away. I would steer, steer clear from that.

Are there publishers, not song pluggers, but publishers who rip people off?

I know some public, some publishers, you know, may I’ve heard of this where they, you know, will take song ideas and give it to other writers, maybe bigger writers in the company or or if you’re if you’re approaching them with songs and you’re not one of their writers where where ideas can get, you know, lifted titles can get lifted I’ve seen that happen.

Well, the reputable publishers charge you to publish your song.

No, that’s a red flag.

What if a publisher wants to take a piece of the writer’s share?

That would be a huge red flag. And I have and I have seen it. I have not done it yet.

What about publishers who take all of the writer’s songs? Is that a red flag?

Well, the publisher, if they have a have they if they’ve signed the songwriter, they can take all songs that the writer writes during the term of the contract. And often most often the publisher will also require that the song, the songwriter bring in maybe eight, eight, 15 songs in a what’s called a schedule so that they’ll have ownership of of songs written before the term and then they can least go with with songs from day one and try to, you know, pitch them and make something positive happen for the sake of the of the writer and the publishing company.

Is it a red flag if a publisher contacts a writer rather than the other way around?

There may be somebody from a publishing company, maybe that, you know, the owner of the publisher or some plug in staff or someone in the company maybe, you know, goes out to different writers nights. And here are some things that are very interesting and or there might be a buzz about a particular writer that gets them to, you know, to go out.

They may take appointments if somebody can run interference for the writer to the publisher and say, hey, you, you really should hear this guy. You know, you might want to meet with him and you meet with that person. And usually what happens is the process is a bit of a dance that the publisher, you know, will listen to a few things and like some things, not like some other things may ask the writer to play some more, do you have more songs or anything else?

And if there’s an interest, then the publisher may set up that writer with one of his staff writers, his or her staff writers, to co-write and to learn a lot about the writer. You can learn, you know, what their contribution is to the song. Are they more melodic or are they more, you know, lyric driven?

Are they, you know, easy to work with in a songwriting room? And they’ll check back with their songwriter to get an evaluation of how it was with this other person. Will that, you know, with a new writer be a good fit for the team? Does the new writer bring things in as a writer that that fills a gap or a hole in the you know within the team of writers that the at that publishing house where your manners are going to matter a lot your demeanor you know you’ve got to be able to I always look for this in a writer I look for a writer who can accept feedback and I look for a writer who’s willing to, you know, listen and improve. I look for writers who always ask other writers who write with a writer that I’m vetting. Will you write with that writer again? That’s where commitment happens, where you know, the songwriter says, yeah, I’d write with that person again. That tells me that they assess that their experience with that writer was a positive one, that that matters.

So it’s really all about building relationships.

In this town. And this is a very general statement. There are always going to be exceptions to what I say, but this town, it’s not only like who you know, but more more precisely, I think it’s who knows, you and there are opportunities for writers. I’m hearing about a couple of new companies that are emerging where they’re setting things up online, where, you know, someone can peruse up you know, songs from gifts from unknown writers and reach out and contact them if they, you know, if they’re inclined to do that.

You know, at least technology is aiding and maybe bridging a certain gap.

Any final thoughts for writers?

You know, keep writing. And if it’s something you’re passionate about, you’ll do it no matter what. And I guess I would say don’t chase the market, try to create the market by the time your song gets heard, even if it gets cut, by the time, you know, it goes through all its steps, the market will have changed. So, you know, right from your heart, don’t sacrifice hard for cleverness and bring your authenticity to the process.

We’re not you know, we’re not looking for the next Shane McAnally or Craig Wiseman. We’re looking for the next few.

That concludes our video titled Before you sign a publishing or song plugger contract, we want to thank our guest, Steve Bloch, for sharing his invaluable expertise with us.

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