What do you want to become?
Alternate Career Titles:
Career Overview: Pitches musical compositions to labels and artists for performance and recording.
Career Salary Range: $20,000 to $64,590+
Become a Professional Manager
Nashville-based Professional Manager/Song Plugger Shane Barrett says, “In general I, as a Song Plugger, identify what I feel are the most commercially viable songs to pitch from my client’s song catalog(s), and then strategize who to get that song to, whether by in-person meeting, CD drop, lunch meeting, [sending] Mp3s, SongLink—whatever is the best way to pitch for that particular situation. I will pitch most often to label and independent A&R folks, Producers, Recording Engineers, Artist Managers, Touring Managers and band personnel, the artists themselves, and others close to the artist camps.
Let me add that my role as Song Plugger falls mainly under the Music Publishing category, but I often get into the areas of Writer, Manager, Producer, or A&R, depending upon the needs of each client I take on. For instance, a Songwriter client whose songs I am pitching may also be an artist, who in turn asks me if I will produce a few of their songs for them as an artist. In the process, I would probably serve as an A&R helping them to figure out which songs to cut, etc. Most of the time, though, the Writers and/or publishing company clients I have hand me a catalog of songs to pitch and I pitch them. And I also help set up co-writes for them as time allows.”
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Professional Managers come from a variety of backgrounds; many start off as Songwriters or artists but most begin as Interns. “The most usual place to start up is in what’s been long known as the tape copy room, even though we are no longer dealing with actual tape!” Barrett says. “It’s the best place to get to know the catalog and to figure out the inner workings of a publishing company—and definitely a good proving ground for potential advancement.”
He adds, “I actually got started as a musician, playing acoustic guitar and singing backup for a touring, major label-signed country artist. That was great experience right after college, but after doing several internships while in school [for business], I wanted to also incorporate the business side of music into my career, as well as the creative side/being a musician.” Advancement for Song Pluggers means working with more well-known Songwriters, artists, Managers, Producers, and other industry professionals, either through getting hired by a more prestigious firm or by pitching a song (or series of songs) that becomes a major hit. A Song Plugger could also advance in his or her career by going into business and starting their own music publishing or songplugging company.
Education & Training
“My education includes a degree in Business, with a Music Business emphasis, from Belmont University here in Nashville,” Barrett says. “I feel at times that my degree has helped me in my career, and at other times I feel that anyone can get into this business, depending upon their circumstances, abilities, and relationships. I would certainly not let having a college degree (or not) hinder your progress in achieving your dream. Especially in the music business, where many have become successful without first earning a degree.”
Experience & Skills
Professional Managers must have a deep knowledge of music, including the important acts within a certain genre, and have a nose for a hit song. Barrett says, “I feel a potentially great and effective Song Plugger should be very personable, tenacious without becoming a bother to people, and very well educated on the music industry, in regards to who the major players are. Back when I was in college (and every year since) I have carried around the annual “In Charge” issue of Music Row Magazine and studied it from front to back so that I know who all the VIPs are on Music Row. And it’s not just about Nashville either. One has to be extremely well-rounded and potentially explore other genres and markets, such as pop, film/TV, and advertising music markets (commercials, etc.) as well.”
What type of person would do well as a Professional Manager? Barrett says, “As I mentioned, having the right social skills is definitely a plus. And yes, it’s all about making friends, but the biggest advice on this I would give is to be yourself. Putting a fake image out there will not only get you nowhere but could take you several steps back. Be yourself, be good to people, make intelligent conversation, ask good questions. And it wouldn’t hurt to know a little something about the people you are about to meet with, etc. Do your research! Everyone loves to talk about themselves—ask them questions about their lives. But always make it a comfortable balance between business and social time. And be a go-getter, a self-starter. Also, learn the rules, but then be prepared to make your own as you go.”
Professional Managers usually work regular office hours — with nights and weekends as needed — although those hours are usually for showcases or networking events. Barrett says, “I currently work out of my home office and make frequent trips to downtown Nashville and Music Row, but I know many others work in offices in various locations all over town. Everything used to revolve around Music Row, but I think that has been changing. Because I have my own company, my hours may not be as strict (9-5 or 9-6) as some more formal companies, but I do try to maintain a daily structure like they do. As far as nights and weekends, it depends on the night or the weekend! There are various events that go on throughout the year here in Nashville, such as Country Radio Seminar, NSAI’s Tin Pan South, CMA Fest, CMA Awards week, where it’s always good for networking. But there are also many potentially beneficial Writer shows, artist showcases, and various other events available to attend throughout the year. Never know who you might meet or re-meet!”
“If someone is in a position to get an internship with one or more of the various publishing companies in town, that could be a great entry into the field,” Barrett says. “That could be the easiest way to begin to get to know the lay of the land and who is who in the publishing and songwriting community. I have also heard of folks getting entry-level positions because of a friend-to-friend referral, mainly from established, trusted industry professionals who happen to know the prospective employee in some form or fashion. Also, it’s important to note that most entry-level staffers at a publishing company will likely not jump right into songplugging,” instead starting out in the tape copy room or as Interns.
“There are a number of different earning configurations for a Song Plugger,” Barrett tells us. “The most likely system at a company involves the Song Plugger earning a monthly salary, with potential bonuses for cuts/placements, and/or other achievements for the company. As an independent Song Plugger, I charge clients a monthly retainer and also have a ‘backend bonus’ scenario in place, whereas I would earn a certain (low) percentage of what my client earns from a cut/placement I am able to secure on their behalf. On the other side, I take none of their publishing, so the client retains 100% publishing ownership of their catalog. If I score them a big cut, everyone wins. Other independent Pluggers may work strictly for publishing ownership. As I said, there are a number of different ways to structure a deal.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
“Overall, there are many music industry associations whose membership can provide a number of benefits for a rising professional,” Barrett suggests. “ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are, of course, performing rights organizations who all have Songwriter and Music Publisher members. NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) is a great organization for Songwriters. Many Publishers belong to AIMP and NMPA. Then there is also NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts And Sciences), who put on the Grammys every year. There is also the CMA (Country Music Association) and ACM (Academy Of Country Music). All are very valuable for what they offer…and there are others. I will also say that a yearly subscription to Music Row Magazine’s RowFax and online and print services is hugely beneficial and extremely informative, literally on a daily basis, with their new updates. RowFax has long been a great source of leads on which artists are currently looking for songs, and there are a number of other ‘tip sheet’ resources out there too.”
- “Begin researching the songplugging profession. Read as many books on music publishing and the music industry in general, but do your homework to make sure this is a profession you really want to get into. It can be rewarding, but songplugging is not glamorous most of the time and involves hard work, dedication and lots of rejection.
- Begin developing relations in music publishing, the songwriting community, and in as many other areas of the industry as you can. Chances are that your work will intersect with many others’ in all facets of the business over time.
- I suggest that you develop a thick skin early on because you will be hearing ‘no’ most of the time if you get a response at all. Sounds pretty glamorous, huh? If you truly love music, though, and believe in the art of matching the right song with the right artist, and are willing to work extremely hard, then this just might be for you.
- Listen to and become a student of music in all genres. It will serve you well to be a general authority in many areas of the commercial music arena. It will certainly help sharpen your ears, inform you of all the current musical trends, and help you develop your ‘hit sense.’”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“To read and re-read this interview—ha!”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Thinking they have learned all there is to know about songplugging or the music industry. After twenty-five years in the business, I still have a lot to learn.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What is the usual success rate for a Song Plugger? Total number of pitches versus number of ‘passes’ (or ‘no-responds’) versus number of cuts/placements?
Answer: I will tell you that the success rate in comparison to total number of pitches is very low. But even a few big cuts can go a long way towards sustaining a long and profitable career. And the more you pitch and the smarter you pitch—success is likely to follow.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“What did you REALLY want to be when you grew up?
Answer: First, a Fireman (age 5), much later a Rock Star…then finally, exactly what I am doing today!”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“If I can use three short words, I will quote the title of Tim McGraw’s latest hit “Humble and Kind.” Thanks very much for interviewing me!”
Shane Barrett is a Professional Manager/Song Plugger and owner of his own firm, Shane Barrett Music. He has pitched and secured compositions recorded by Faith Hill, Kenny Rogers, Luke Bryan, Gretchen Wilson, Jason Aldean and Wynonna Judd.