Who You Gonna Call? by Steve Rapson

 Dear Soloperformer:

 I’ve been reading your site for some time. I own the PA and SR copyrights on my CD’s.  I’ve played for years around the country, networking to cities that are in reach. The one thing no one has ever told me is to whom I might send my music that would give it a serious listen and perhaps promote it.  There are plenty of guides on what to do, but not on whom to ask.

 Thanks for any advice you might have.



Dear Jim:

It is a myth or at least a misapprehension among new authors, songwriters, and poets that there are people in the music and publishing business whose job it is to listen to or read their work with an eye to picking the best and packaging it for sale.

There is no one like that. The music business does have systems in place for sourcing new songs and singers and writers. Those systems are constructed to prevent the great unwashed from ever getting in the door. If you want to be heard, if you want a shot at a fair consideration of your work, then you must enter the system and play by its rules. The rules are the same for any business:

 1. Know your product.

 2. Know your customer.

 3. See a lot of people and ask all to buy.

 I do not mean to be glib. I mean to be accurate and brief.

Consider Proctor and Gamble, the world’s largest maker of soap. They are always developing new soap brands and they have an R&D department that occasionally finds a new wrinkle in soap. From time to time an outside inventor believes he has a new idea about soap and will contact P&G to ask who he should present his new soap idea to. P&G’s response goes something like this:

Dear Soap Inventor:

My secretary/assistant has informed me that you have sent an idea about a new soap. We appreciate your interest, however I cannot consider or even read your letter. Our R&D department has many products and new formulations that may or may not be similar to yours. Therefore, to avoid patent infringement issues, we must return your letter unread.

Thank you for your interest.

I worked for Gillette/P&G for many years and I wrote several of these letters.

Selling music is not much different than selling soap. The consumer of these products may see a qualitative difference, but the business end does not. The analogy breaks down only in that there are very few people with a burning desire to bring a new soap to market, but there are millions with a new song ready to be heard.

A crowded supply side makes for a system that builds walls around itself just to keep the hordes at bay in order to do day to day business. If you want to sell your songs you must know what you are selling, to whom you are selling it, and why they might find it of value. To get a chance to pitch you need to have contacts, a network, that you have built over time that allows you entrance into the system.

You are right in that how-to books have little to say on who to send material to–there is no one as explained above–however, here are some resources that might help you get your songs heard:


www.performingsongwriter.com  www.taxi.com  www.ascap.com   www.bmi.com  www.sesac.com  www.musesmuse.comwww.broadjam.comwww.musicu.comwww.janisian.com


  The Songwriters Market — which actually does purport to tell you who to send your songs to. 

  Caveat Emptor! 

Here is what one unhappy reviewer said:

…Save your money, buy a ticket to Nashville, make appointments with real people. I will never waste  money and false hopes on this junk again.”


 Jason Blume’s, 6 Steps to Songwriting Success


 Mr. Blume knows whereof he speaks.

I have met and worked on my songwriting with Jason Blume.

I recommend his book and his website.

  And of course once you get heard, you’ll want to deliver your best performance, so I recommend my book:

  The Art of the Soloperformer: A Field Guide To Stage & Podium


  Here I will quote my friend Sam Bayer about my book, “Rapson, I agree with everything in your book… I just don’t want to do all that work”

If it was easy, even more people would be doing this. I guess we should be thankful it is not too easy.

Because there are so many of us wishing to be heard, legitimate businesses have cropped up that will take our money in exchange for that opportunity. In the old days, these people were called song-sharks. They were not concerned with actually delivering on the promise of making you or your song a star. They charged hundreds or even thousands of dollars with the empty promise of doing that. Their pitch was believable because it did indeed cost a lot of money to get a demo made, and time and connections it to the right people.

But now it is easy and cheap to make a demo. And contact to the world is an email away. So the song-shark business model has become a bit more honorable, if still little better than a lottery ticket. For a few hundred dollars you can join Taxi.com, or Broadjam.com for example, and submit your material for review.  These people act as middlemen to the music, advertising and movie industry who are always looking for artists and songs. It is still a crap shoot. But at least it’s on the up and up. Similarly, song writing and singing contests abound. They are in business to make money from all of us. It’s a game, and it doesn’t cost much to play. But it is not the real music business where artists are found and developed. Even though, now and then, a few are.

For every rule there is an exception, someone who steps outside the system and finds a way in that is contrary to the way business is normally done. These are the stories that are fun to tell and thus are the ones we often hear. A few are; Donna Summer singing in the toilets as a cleaning women and being heard by a producer who makes her a star. Teen-aged Diane Warren getting a job as a clerk in a music company in order to slip her tapes to anyone important who walked in the door. I slipped Johnny Cash’s limo driver a tape during a snow storm in Boston. He ignored me at first until I said, “Look at me, I’m old, I don’t have much more time!” He laughed and rolled down his window and took the tape, assuring me he would hand it to Mr. Cash that night. I followed up with the Cash organization but nothing came of it. The song is still a good one and perhaps I should do more limo stalking.

Good luck in finding your way through the music business maze.


Steve Rapson is the author of The Art of the Soloperformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium. He is a songwriter and concert guitarist with several CD’s in release. www.steverapson.com

Pain, Irony, & Humility by Steve Rapson

I fell off a roof last month. I didn’t want to fall off the roof. I tried hard not to. I clutched the roof with all my might as I slid from peak to eaves. I clutched so hard the ends of three fingers were torn off. And, in spite of all the clutching, I fell anyway.

I was painting the ridge board, backing along the peak and stood up as I neared the far edge so as not to fall off. I stood, turned, and stepped, saw my paint rag under my descending foot and thought, Don’t step on that rag, you’ll slip.

After I stepped on the rag and slipped, the fall happened quickly, but time slowed. This allowed for a thoughtful descent.

First thought, Damn, the paint spilled.
Second thought, Whoops, better hold on, I don’t want fall off this roof.
Third thought, Shit, I can’t believe I’m going to fall off this roof.

Then, the void…

I have fallen out of trees, off galloping horses, into sand pits, off ladders and fences, out of second story windows, and from other roofs I have known.

I have fallen out of moving cars and off speeding motorcycles. While drunk in the former, sober in the latter. One of my favorite ways to fall is to have a car door flung open in front of my bicycle. In martial arts class the sensei used me as demonstration throwing dummy.

One could say that I have earned a PhD in falling.

After thought three, (Shit, I can’t believe I am going to fall off this roof) I went into fall mode, which, at its core is, Oh, well, relax and go with it.

I hit the ground falling backwards. I tucked my chin to my chest and rolled, doing a complete somersault. Momentum carried me back to my feet, facing the building. I came to a halt with my arms in the air, like a gymnast landing a vault. Two inches to my right was a stack of concrete blocks. Had I fallen on them, this story might be delayed for weeks, or longer. I wiggled around, amazed that all parts were in place and operational. In my right hand I still gripped the paintbrush. Don’t know why I didn’t let go of it. But it saved the right hand fingers.

On the other hand…

Blood, lots of blood, obscured what was the matter. I shook the hand to see the damage. This was a mistake. First because up till then there was no pain, second, I totally saturated my pant legs with sheets of spattered blood. I looked like a scene from CSI. I became light headed, and dropped to one knee.

I am not usually squeamish; the sight of blood doesn’t bother me. I now understand that what doesn’t bother me is the sight of someone else’s blood.

Ditto with pain.

Speaking of pain, let’s. First, the happy news: significant trauma is not initially painful. Later, it is. Still, it is hard for me to remember just how much it hurt, even during the initial washing, and the repositioning of the torn off tips–though still hanging by the most tenuous of threads–or the wadding of a paper towel, which I held in a bloody, oozing fist. I vaguely remember driving myself to the hospital eight miles away.

I fell about 12 feet. Not that big a deal. But the emergency room personnel ignored my bleeding all over the place and took me in for X-rays. It seems that if you fall twice your height, the odds are good for back or neck injury. This was their concern and not my painful fingers. I kept pointing them out, they kept ignoring them.

They did ask about my pain, “On a scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Rapson, with one being no pain and ten being the most pain, how much pain are you having right now?”

“My pain goes to eleven,” They were all young and didn’t get the Spinal Tap gag.

The doctor said I was lucky to retain the fingertips as they usually are torn away or need to be snipped off, making for a lengthy healing process. She said she’d try to save them by stitching them back on.

It’s hard for me to remember what it felt like when the doctor injected anesthetic right into the open wound of each finger prior to stitching. Rather than scream, I laughed out loud and told the doctor that this was the most pain I had ever felt.

“I know,” she said, “the finger tips have so many nerve endings. One more to go; do you want to take a break?”

“Please get it over with,” I whimpered bravely, enduring another needle of doom and then 27 stitches.

So it is only the memory of what happened during the pain that I can report. The actual feeling of the pain I cannot quite recall or adequately describe. This is why women can have more than one child. If they remembered childbirth pain, all they’d be saying is, “Get away from me with that thing.”

The poetic irony of my injury is that I had been preparing for six months to compete in The Walnut Valley International Fingerpicking Contest. I had practiced the same four songs* for two hours a day right up to the day before I left, which was when I injured myself. Everything was paid for, and Rosemary said I could go if I demonstrated that I could change my bandages by myself. Which I did.

Walnut Valley Guitar Showcase in Winfield Kansas

So I flew to Winfield, Kansas and camped for ten days with 15,000 other guitarists, mandolinists, banjoists, fiddlers, dulcimerists, and dobroists. Perhaps God knocked me off that roof so I would just listen to all those marvelous players. I found it truly beneficial and a personal growth experience. For the future, dear Lord, a burning bush will do.

I pray for humility every night. In Winfield my prayers were answered with great players showing me what I don’t know.

Further humbling me was Garry, a fellow camper, who helped me change my bandages every day. He didn’t ask if I wanted help, he just sat down and said, “Let me help you with that.”

It is hard to accept help, but doing so allowed me to plumb the depths of humility. I was so humble there wasn’t any left for my fellow campers. My quest for true humility is cursed, however. Because, should I ever think I had attained perfect humility, I would surely be proud of my achievement.

And finally, to show you the power of positive thinking, when I saw the damage to my fingers, my first thought was, I could always play the Dobro.

Post Script: I went back to Winfield the next year and competed in the finger picking contest. I applied all the techniques I know to play my best, and thus did. I didn’t win, but it felt like I did.
My next blog will be about the Walnut Valley Festival, the various contests, and the scene.

Steve Rapson lives in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage and Podium. A guitarist and recording artist he has seven CD’s in release. His web site is http://sologuitar.com