Using Your Music Publisher As A Hit Song GPS Navigator

Photo by Nick Seagrave on Unsplash

An exciting idea I’ve experimented with lately, has yielded immediate, great results and momentum. Wanna know what it is? Fact: I’ve been dialoguing a lot more with writers on my roster, regarding the topic of sharing early “songs in development.”

The idea is to be an early soundboard for songs in progress, and lend some thoughts and feedback. These “listening hangs” creatively are way before it’s even time to make the demo or in some cases – even before finishiing that 2nd verse, bridge, etc. Essentially, this is an entire exercise in being an early soundboard and exponentiating the writers’ time and momentum. And I think it could be huge as far as accelerating their careers into 5th gear and beyond (Yes, the Mad Max overblower NOS mode).

Mad Max

Mad Max

For the moment I’m trying this out with whomever on my roster would like to participate (i.e. connecting every 2-3 weeks to listen to some early material in progress). And hey, if this idea feels at all, how should we say, too encroaching within the creative process, look, that’s OK too! But based on the results I’m betting, I’d really recommend trying this on and seeing what happens.

A useful analogy is the following.

The Hit Song GPS Navigator

Let’s say you’re in Los Angeles, but you want to drive to Owls Head, Maine (one of my favorite lobster villages on the East Coast). I love this place – and don’t even get me started about Monhegan Island.


Now – here’s the rub. Let’s pretend that you don’t have a GPS, an iPhone, nor a physical map. But – you do have a general sense of direction. You can tell which way is east by how the sun is rising and setting, etc. And once you do finally get to the east coast … well, you’re probably just going to take a hard left and turn North towards New England.

Also, make no doubt, on your journey you’re definitely not going to see “road signs” and highway markers for the beautiful state of Maine, until probably an hour north of Boston. You see, the closer you get to your destination – the more “road signs” will be present that you’re actually getting close. Really close.

And then finally you might see a mile marker stating Owls Head is “6 miles away” and then – you finally arrive. “Your destination is 1,000 ft ahead on the right.”

The Muppet Movie - We're close

The Muppet Movie

Oh, and make no doubt, Owls Head, ME is not the most popular destination of all time. It’s kind of obscure. So, it’s not like there are going to be a ton of road sign mile markers showing that you’re on the right path. That’s right … even when you hit Barstow, California, you’re absolutely not going to see any road signs for Maine until another 3,000 miles. Hmm – are you starting to have an idea of where I’m going with this?

In a way, it’s quite the same way with songwriting.

Our destination is – what and where? You bet. Our destination is a #1 hit song on the Billboard charts. Or even what I call a perennial song. You know, a modern copyright – one of those amazing songs that just gets continually synched, covered, playlisted, etc.

Signs, Signs – Everywhere There’s Signs

And those “road signs” that you’re getting closer to that type of song will appear as “signals.” These signals and “road signs” will appear to you as your publishers, your writer friends, managers, and other A&R people high fiving you on that rad hit you just wrote, requesting it to be put on hold immediately, a label sending you a $20K+ producer agreement, getting in the studio with the artist, taking the song to radio, etc.

Now, getting back to our journey from Los Angeles to Owls Head, Maine – you know, that huge destination that’s so far away? – Remember, in this example, you don’t have a GPS, Google Maps or a road map. So yeah – you could eventually get there by trial and error.

You might be heading in the right “general” direction … but how much longer is that going to take?

Continuing with the travel analogy here, sometimes, you’ll even get on the wrong off ramp, or you’ll be heading north when you think you’re heading east. And sometimes you’ll get on a street that will just literally be a dead end. And then sometimes, there will be that dreaded road construction. Yes – the 10 Freeway is closed for repairs in Kansas City. Forever. Until Elon comes up with flying cars or that Uber Flying Taxi shows up, you’re never going to get through that one road!

Detour! Change of plans!

Well – wouldn’t it be great if someone could help shortcut your journey?

The analogy here, which I hope you’re picking up on … Is that that person can be (gasp) your music publisher. Yes, your music publisher can help point you in the direction, be your barometer, your GPS, your proverbial finger in the wind (not the middle one)… even before you get in your car and step on the gas!

Enter the Dragon 80/20 Principle

This is a good time to bring up another concept called the 80/20 principle. (And don’t worry, I’ll tie all these concepts together by the end of the post.) The 80/20 principle states that in most business models, 80% of your success and income will usually come from 20% of your effort. Hmm.

That other 80%? Once you can IDENTIFY that 80% of effort that just generated “whatever” level results – well, you can probably just get rid of it. Yeah. You get rid of and abandon the 80% which is only yielding “mild” or “no” results. You then refocus solely on the 20% of efforts that IS bringing you the great returns! Boom. Rinse and repeat, mother f’er!


That’s how you 10X progress and turn $35,000 a year (your small publishing advance) into $350,000 in royalties per year. And then 10X that again in a few years to $3.5 Million per year (HINT: Don’t let your limiting beliefs speak up and say – “that’s not possible!”)

Getting back to the roadmap and destination analogy – this is exactly what I’m offering now more than ever and trying out with the writers and artists on my roster.

What you say? Let me explain the process.

Whenever there’s a handful of new songs in early development, the idea is, as songwriting and publisher, we can get together in person, virtually, etc., and you can play the early works in progress…however ruff they are.

And make no doubt – these are purposefully supposed to be songs in progress and can be presented live, on an iPhone audio memo, sketches to even “this is something 50%-75% of the way there, etc.”

This is all for you. Leonardo Dicaprio

And to be clear, the intention here is NOT for the publisher to be the “gatekeeper” to your creativity. AT ALL! : ) And as I’ll mention throughout the post – it’s actually quite the opposite. The exercise and practice is to help potentially take the “governor” off your speedometer and help you break the speed limit. Faster. Much faster.

Creativity, while music and art will never be black and white, using publishers as “soundboards” or a “what do you think about this” – is simply a process of getting someone’s professional objective opinion, whose interests are aligned with yours. In other words.


Remember too, that publishers (or managers) are the ones out there selling your ideas for you. We know the market conditions, who’s looking for songs or who’s not, the type of songs the radio department wants, what’s working right now in synchronizations, as well as the music business political landscape, whose recording, what’s happening, etc.

For instance, you might be writing a song for “Artist X” but as analogy, just like that 10 Freeway that’s closed for repairs – I might have inside information i.e. “that artist just went to rehab and totally won’t sing that lyric” (true story, that happened) or “that artist just ditched their whole album and not going in that direction anymore.”

MOST IMPORTANTLY – the idea here is that we can help you GET AHEAD and help you FOCUS on your ‘Must Finish” career songs and prioritize that list ahead of everything else, Having some objectivity here can help put the spotlight on your best works – even ones that you had no idea had the biggest potential.

It works the other way too. This includes all those demos that – to be honest, maybe you really don’t need to finish. In fact – let’s CELEBRATE not finishing songs! Yeah, give yourself a high five for leaving some songs unfinished! Why? They may be robbing you of time spent getting to your million dollar song. WHOA. Why make destiny wait?

We're here to help you

The whole concept here is also the idea of making “Hell Yeah” level songs. And speaking of that…

Derek Sivers Says, “Hell Yes”

My friend Derek Sivers (original founder of CD Baby and amazing writer, person and one the best blogs / podcasts at created this “Hell Yeah” epiphany, which really resonated with me. In my opinion, it TOTALLY relates to songs and your job as a professional songwriter / artist. Watch this video, and as an exercise, try applying this mindset to not just the current batch of your songs in progress, but also your upcoming cowrites and where you’re spending time. Are these really in the “Hell Yeah” category?

This idea I think is essential not just for songwriters – but especially for producers!

Wait. Why is that?

As a producer – you and I know how it is! It might take you a week to finish a production. There’s a lot of work that goes into those finished demos (which are really final records at the end of the day, right?) from the vocal comping, mixing, making a cutting edge amazing piece of music, recording instruments … all of that.

What if I were to tell you – out of the 5 pieces you’re working on, that maybe only 1 of them is a 100% priority to finish and a possible hit? And perhaps maybe 1 of the others is worth finishing. And hmm – maybe the other 3 were “just OK.”

If you watched Derek’s video, you would say – well, only 1 of these songs is really worth prioritizing right now. And that’s OK! In fact – that’s amazing!

Why do all of them when you could do one

Also, producers have it a little rough because when they co-write, they are expected to turn in a demo. Sometimes it’s hard for them to say “No” or “You know what – I’m not sure if it’s worth taking a week for me to finish this.” So part of this is also learning to politely say “No” to not finishing song demos that aren’t worth finishing. (Enter the ray of light on your creative soul! And BTW you can always blame me for not getting a demo done, LOL. For example, “My publisher has me working on another priority…Sorry.”).

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On the other hand, as a producer, you can and probably should always deliver “something” to your co-writer. I mean you can always just do a quick reference version and make a bounce for documentation.

On that note…

By working with a publisher and bouncing early ideas off the people who are actually your “sales people” out there hustling for you, we can save you tons of time.

In that above “5 song” example – let’s say only 2 of those 5 songs were really worth finishing. OK – so that’s 3 productions that ideally you don’t have to do or finish! That’s 3-4 weeks of TIME freed up and created for you!!!

And what are you going to do with that time?

You got it!

You’re going to put that time into making sure that that 1 SONG is f’ing amazing! You’re also freeing up the rest of your time (remember that 80% rule – where 80% of your success comes from 20% of your efforts?) towards writing those other “Hell Yeah!” songs.

Take Care of Your Supercomputer

Now, here’s something very important you can and should be doing with that extra time. In fact, it may be counterintuitive and something you wouldn’t even expect me to say. Ready? You can actually (gasp), take the day off and not work. I say this as a fellow workaholic. Take 24-48 hours completely off for the week and go to the beach, take a long weekend, treat yourself like a human (also important) and let the well refill. I guarantee your supercomputer (aka your brain) will be secretly writing your next hit, while you’re enjoying a nice sunset.

And don’t get me wrong – if there are other “A minus” (or B+) songs worth finishing – you probably should finish those LOL – because – look we just never know, which artist is going to be the next Kendrik or Adele.

Damn. Giphy Studios original

Giphy Studios Original

But imagine if we (songwriter and publisher) do this regularly i.e. sitting down with you once a month, once every 2 weeks etc. There could be literally, 6 months of time – saved and more importantly 6 months of time refocused into making smash hits. KABOOM.

Now, this is all assuming you have a great GPS in your back pocket or on your dashboard aka a great publisher : ) Helloooooo!

Lula I'm Not Mad

Lula I’m Not Mad

And that’s what a great publisher should be – which is to be a soundboard, shed the spotlight on what’s great about your song – what could be improved etc … because remember, most of the time it’s your publisher (or your manager) out there hustling the songs for you and they probably have a unique perspective.

(And p.s. you’re paying me a percentage anyway – so you might as well get your money’s worth. LOL).

So, How Did We Do?

I’ve actually started putting this idea into practice. In fact, the last 2 meetings – not only did we get really hyper focused on the priority songs to finish, and which to potentially leave behind, but we actually came up with some new “A” list ideas, new directions, concepts on these “A” list works in development! And this would have never occurred within the “old way” of doing things i.e. just waiting for songs to show up in the inbox.

One analogy here is – no matter how hard you try – your right hand will never be able to touch your right elbow. That’s what objectivity is all about. So, I would welcome you – welcoming objectivity from myself or anyone. I do it myself all the time.

Myself and my team are here to make sure you’re on the right path to getting to your destination (and recouping your advance and ultimately inviting us over for a McAllan Rare Cask drink at your mansion in the hills).

Barely Legal Pawn

Barely Legal Pawn

But wait – there’s more! I have one other analogy.

Secret Treasures (aka Mary Padian, You Still Have My Number)

I love a few weird TV shows: Storage Wars (I actually almost got a date with that lovely nutter, Mary Padian, but that’s another story), and Pawn Stars. Both shows have segments where people bring in their “treasures” to be evaluated. And guess what happens. Sometimes the participants are pleasantly surprised – they have a real treasure!

In other instances,, sometimes, they think they have something great and the person who’s the expert in 18th century Byzantian furniture will say “Mmm…this piece – not so much, bro.”

Storage Wars

Storage Wars

And yet other times, one of the experts will say, “Well, in this current condition, this is worth $10,000. But if you did this and that and this and got some restoration, new paint job, etc. – it could be worth $30,000 +.”

And yet even other times, someone will bring in something they were almost going to throw away…like maybe they thought it was worth $50 bucks – but they actually have a $500,000 treasure! Who knew!

Bottom Line

The bottom line idea is to expand your time spent in your high creativity zone and spending time on your most important creative works by a factor of 10X.

Now – getting back to our road trip to Maine. Yes! I’d love to be your hit song GPS barometer! As a final analogy – if you’re on your cross country trek to Owls Head, and you stop for gas in what you think is Denver, Colorado, but the gas station attendant says: “Umm, You’re in Nebraska, dude!” Well – no problem! You can quickly readjust and get on the right path.

Simply readjust your GPS.

By implementing this concept – we can all get to our destination much faster … and then – you guessed it, we can do our road trips in much nicer cars too : )

Let me know when we can catch up and hang! I know a great lobster shack in Owls Head. It’s right on the wharf and I’m buying. I promise you we’ll have the best lobster roll on the east coast.

road trip

See you there,


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About the Author

The Author of “How Do I Get A Record Deal? Sign Yourself!”

My career in music publishing extends over 25 years, including BMG Music (bought by Universal) and EMI Music Publishing (bought by Sony), as well as the 1st U.S. employee of Kobalt Music Publishing, where he helped build the roster over 10 years as Executive VP of Creative.

Benjamin is currently heading up his own publishing company, Brill Building, as well as label and music filter, We Are: The Guard. Benjamin’s signings range from Ryan Tedder, Kelly Clarkson, The Lumineers, Grimes, Savan Kotecha, OneRepublic, SOPHIE, Ariel Rechtshaid, Greg Kurstin, Tiesto, Kid Cudi, TOKiMONSTA, TR/ST, Cut Copy, Big Freedia, Lindy Robbins, Peaches and yes, even Steel Panther. His specialty in the music business is early artist, writer and writer/producer development.

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