It’s in the interest of professional songwriters to get their songs recorded by the most successful and popular artists they can find. But record labels and big-name artists don’t accept unsolicited musical submissions as a rule, creating a quandary for songwriters: How can they profit from their songs if they can’t reach their best customers? That’s where song pluggers come in. Working for clients such as independent songwriters and small music-publishing companies, song pluggers utilize their knowledge of, and reputation within, the music industry to get songs in the same room with suitable recording artists and record label teams. They may also pitch songs to music supervisors for use in television shows and movies, write detailed monthly pitch reports for their clients, and negotiate contracts and licenses once a match has been made.
Song pluggers are music industry experts, constantly aware of which songs are doing well and which artists are looking for new material.
While some song pluggers focus on pitching songs as described above, others style themselves as one-stop-shops for unsigned songwriters, offering managerial or A&R services to their clients. These services may include helping the songwriter record polished demos, connecting the songwriter with recording engineers and producers, or making suggestions regarding which tracks or lines the songwriter should cut or revise.
The best song pluggers are trusted matchmakers, capable of ascertaining with a single listen whether a song can make it as a hit, and who would be best to sing it. The worst, however, are con artists, song pluggers in name only, who scam naive and inexperienced songwriters out of their money while never finding matches for the catalog. This makes it doubly important for legitimate song pluggers to develop a strong track record and reputation—not only to increase their own business, but also to distinguish themselves from predatory schemers. Song pluggers who patiently maintain their relationships and grow their reputation may find themselves in the position of representing truly exceptional songwriters and brokering industry-shaking collaborations.
At a Glance
Song pluggers need many years of experience in the music business and strong industry connections to be successful. Many start as employees at record labels, music publishing companies, or radio stations, or as musicians or songwriters themselves. By working in and around their specific chapter of the music industry for many years, these individuals gradually learn the business and become well-known within the industry before beginning to work as song pluggers. Song pluggers who manage to achieve a spotless reputation for bringing good songs to the table are rewarded with a constant flow of work. Successful independent song pluggers sometimes create their own artist management companies.
In order to find work, song pluggers need to be located in a musical economy where freelance songwriters are creating and providing compositions for separate recording artists—otherwise, there are no songs to plug. At this point, there are only two of these "songwriter economies" in the country: Los Angeles, where most contemporary pop hits are manufactured, and Nashville, where most country hits are. Aspiring song pluggers should move to one of these two cities and do whatever they can to accrue industry connections, especially within record label A&R departments. It is these very connections that ambitious and independent-thinking businesspeople leverage to become song pluggers.
- Copyright law
- Music publishing
Song pluggers are music industry experts, constantly aware of things like which songs are doing well and which artists are looking for new material. They must be patient, thick-skinned, and discerning, waiting for the right song and the right moment. A single, game-changing song sometimes comes after weeks of weaker options, and pitching these weaker songs could compromise the song plugger's reputation. Finally, song pluggers are friendly, communicative, respectful, and funny—the kind of people who can be tenacious without being perceived as pushy. Their job depends on their ability to maintain professional connections with people while still aggressively pursuing their own interests.
Most song pluggers are freelancers who work out of home offices or even studios. Their schedules are irregular, as song pluggers do most of their work in meetings, and meetings happen at any time of day—morning, noon, and night. In-house song pluggers have more typical hours, but are still likely to spend many late nights and weekends on networking events—showcases, festivals, concerts, awards shows, or simply social calls to maintain relationships. Song pluggers are usually paid on a contractual basis—per song—but if a song ends up being picked up for recording and passes a certain benchmark in royalties, they may receive an additional predetermined or percentage-based bonus.