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The Five Key Steps to Songplugging
by Penny Dionne & Troy McConnell

Nashville's Music Row In the Nashville music industry there is one position that is arguably the most crucial to the success of the business as a whole: the songplugger. Most songwriters and publishers depend on the plugger to pitch their songs, and the artists and record labels look to the plugger to bring them the hits they need for their projects. Of the songs not written by the artist, the songplugger is said to be responsible for the majority of the cuts released on commercial country recordings, and that translates into much of the revenue generated for copyright owners. For the artists and labels that depend on hit songs to launch careers and drive sales, the songplugger is undeniably an indispensible ally.

There are two types of songpluggers: the "in-house" plugger who works as an employee of a publishing company, and the "independent" plugger who works on a contractual basis for various clients. And how they go about pitching songs can be broken down into five key steps:

  1. Networking
  2. Finding Great Songs to Pitch
  3. Finding Out Who's Recording
  4. Making the Pitch
  5. Getting paid
If you've ever wondered how the pros do what they do, this is it in a nutshell.

The first step in songplugging is to develop a personal and professional network of contacts. I cover networking first, because if you are an indie plugger, you will need established contacts to attract clients, but in the real world, the first two steps are probably happening simultaneously.

Networking itself can be broken down into two categories: researching contacts and making the connection. When it comes to researching, there are various ways of finding out who the movers and shakers are on Music Row. Two of the most effective are reading the local publications, and attending industry events. As you read articles on artists or other industry insiders, make a note of their names, then use the internet to research as much information as you can about who they are, what positions they hold, company names, and who they work with. As you attend industry events, such as writers nights, showcases and other industry related events and seminars, don't be afraid to introduce yourself. Create a list of people you want to develop a relationship with. Like all social situations the way you handle yourself is extremely important. Everything counts, especially the way you engage the people you meet. In Nashville, there is a basic networking etiquette, and you would do well to learn what is acceptable and what is not. Of all the do's and don'ts on proper behavior, there is one "don't" in particular that you should be mindful of - don't gherm. A "gherm" is someone who latches on to someone of importance with the agenda of promoting their own careers. Instead of coming across as someone on a mission, one of the do's of networking etiquette is... do be genuine. People can tell if you are being sincere. So make every interaction casual, and real.

Finding Great Songs to Pitch:
For an in-house songplugger who works exclusively for a publishing company, it means being familiar with their catalog and meeting with the current writers. For indie pluggers, it usually means finding pro writers and publishers who are looking to outsource or increase their catalog representation.

As an in-house songplugger, you will probably be assigned as the "point person" for a group of writers. These are usually the active songwriters who are not only signed to the publishing company, but are consistently turning in new material. You will find your songs among the CDs they turn in, but you may also need to work the back catalog. A catalog often has songs that were acquired through mergers or acquisitions. One hallmark of an in-house plugger is their exclusivity to a single publisher, and as such, they are limited to pitching only those songs that are in their employer's catalog.

For the independent songplugger, finding great songs to represent can be much more challenging at times, and their ability to do so hinges primarily on their reputation. The less established indie plugger may have trouble convincing potential clients that they have the connections to get the job done, namely, to get their songs cut. So the more connections you have, and the stronger those connections are, the more clients you will be able to attract. Indie pluggers find most of their songs through writers who have an established name and available catalog, or smaller publishers who either don't have the means to hire an in-house plugger, or simply choose to outsource their pitching needs. The up side to being an indie plugger is you aren't exclusive, and can work with several writers and publishers. This way you can represent catalogs that you're excited about and that cover from the very traditional to the very contemporary.

Finding Out Who's Recording:
Once you have songs to represent, you will need to know who is recording and the type of songs they're looking for.

One of the easiest ways to find out who's looking for songs is to subscribe to industry tip sheets. These are weekly or monthly publications that list some basic information on artists and their current projects, including the artist's label, producer, contact person, the type of songs they are looking for and the month or specific date they are set to record. Perhaps the most popular tip sheet known is the Music Row Fax. This is a subscription service that offers a weekly tip sheet via email, and access to an online contact directory. You can find out more about this service at

Another great resource for finding out who's recording is from your personal network. If you've done your homework and made your connections, you have a list of people you can call to get the inside scoop on current projects. It's important to develop your personal references, so it's a good idea to not only keep a record of your contacts, but also be familiar with your contacts' contacts. If you are good friends with a rep from your PRO, you might be surprised to learn that back in college they were roommates with someone who has just started in A&R. It's like MySpace; find out who is in your "extended" network.


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Penny Dionne is the owner of Little Vixen Music Publishing, and she is a high-profile Pro Songplugger currently representing mega hit songwriter, Chris Wallin (Don't Blink/ Kenny Chesney, Something To Be Proud Of/ Montgomery Gentry) and the successful Corlew Music Group with catalog & writers via a co-venture with Windswept/BUG whose successes include: Settling/Sugarland, Some People Change/Montgomery Gentry and many others) Dionne has been profiled in the publisher edition of Music Row magazine's "Row File," co-authored a book with Troy McConnell called "Songplugger: The Cuts and the Bruises," which garnered coverage in Country Weekly Magazine May 2009; and co-wrote & recorded The Successful Songwriter Motivation & Meditation" audio program. She is the the Vice President for the Nashville's Women's Music Business Association (WMBA). For more info on Penny, the book or audio, please visit

Troy McConnell is a 22 year Nashville veteran and has seen success as a songwriter and producer, as well as running a successful multimedia company. As a staff writer, he has written with such luminary Nashville writers as Craig Wiseman, Tommy Lee James and Chuck Cannon. Among Troy's producing credits was an artist development project that landed the young artist a major recording contract.Troy continues to write and produce, but his talents have taken him beyond the country music scene and into the world of multimedia, having written a national jingle for Bridgestone/Firestone tires and winning a video award for his work with the corporation that owns Denny's restaurants with his song; "What Color Am I." McConnell has also co-authored a book with Penny Dionne; "Songplugger: The Cuts and the Bruises," which garnered coverage in Country Weekly Magazine, and also co-wrote and produced "The Successful Songwriter Motivation & Meditation" audio program. Currently he is working on creating a televised Texas Music Awards, and has formed his new company; Texas Music Media Inc. For more info on Troy or the Texas televised Music Awards, please visit

This article was first printed in The Muse's News.

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