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I take the business of pitching songs very seriously and have to be pretty organized about it. I have a back-catalog of several hundred songs and several hundred instrumental tunes that I am gradually getting into clean demo form and into artists' hands. It takes me some time to put a demo tape together. I'm a musician with a large extended family of musician friends; I have made all my song placements (so far) through direct connection to the artists themselves. They often ask me to send a lot of material, saying they're happy to sift through it. I know they mean well but I also know they're very busy and get lots of tapes. So I choose what I send very carefully. I listen to the singer's voice, and try to hear the spirit behind their choice of songs and their interpretation. Then I try to pick out songs that are worth their time to listen to.

I also try not to put people in stylistic boxes. I learned this from Laurie Lewis, a wonderful songwriter herself who picked a song of mine, "When the Nightbird Sings", that I would never have thought of pitching to a "bluegrass" artist. I like to write all kinds of songs, some mainstream in form and some definitely on the outside, drawing often on my exposure to more obscure traditional musics. So I may send people less commercial material, a song I think might stretch their repertoire in interesting ways, or just something they might like that I'd appreciate their reaction to. I like to send some songs that challenge the singer, speak to their growing edge, whether technically, stylistically, or emotionally. And that they believe will challenge their audience as well.

I've been honored that so many singers that have covered my songs are great writers themselves, so their feedback on my work is really important to me. That's equally true for singers who don't write (much or yet), because singers are ultimately the ones who have to put a song across and they know the most about what works and what doesn't.

Because I write a lot and perform hardly at all, it's difficult for me to really "age" a song before I demo it. I used to sit on things for a long time trying to work the kinks out. But kinks are revealed in the fine points of singing and the energy you feel when you perform the song. Ideally I'd have enough chances to perform that I would play in every song a few times. But many of the songs I write are songs for which I'm not the best performer. For those songs there are songwriter circles. But I've found that songwriters listen to other songwriters' songs in a completely different way than singers or the ultimate listeners. You can get yourself tied up a bit in knots at these groups if you're not careful. Overall, I have found them useful.

So I don't always fuss over songs endlessly before sending them out. For that very reason I'm very open to constructive criticism and suggestions, providing I feel they enhance the spirit of the song and don't try to remake it into something else. For me, therefore, the "pitching" process is all about learning. I present a new set of facets of my writing to the artist. I'm always interested in how someone responds to a song, even if it may not sound very flattering to them to say it. That's how I learn and get better at writing songs and knowing myself.

 

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