The careers adviser

Can you help me break into songwriting? How do I make those all important contacts?
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The Independent Online

Making sweet music

Q. Could you let me know how to go about trying to place lyrics?

A. The main piece of advice from those in the know is that to market your work successfully, you need to produce a piece that contains both words and music. "If you write only words, you will need to have a melody put to the words before you can market them," says Jim Liddane, the editor of The Songwriter magazine.

If you don't know a musician locally, a small ad in the local newspaper or in an instrument or record shop could work. Or look for ads in papers such as NME and Rolling Stone. "Avoid people offering to write melodies for cash, irrespective of how the offer is framed," Liddane says.

You'll then need a demo on CD, which you send to a music publisher, record label or artist (if it's the latter, you need to contact their manager). Send the demo with a short, typed letter; mention the artist if you have one in mind.

There are some pointers - tipsheets will tell you who is looking for material, and give a contact name (try www.banditnewsletter.com or www.songlink.com). Some of the bigger publishers don't listen to unsolicited material, although this varies over time so the more you scatter your promotion, the better.

Make everything look slick; some publishers get around 200 CDs a week, so yours needs to stand out. Look up www.britishacademy.com for competitions, awards and news of the business (it's the website of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, which you might consider joining).

It's all about who you know

Q. I've read in your column and elsewhere about the importance of networking, but it is very hard when you are starting out as a student. Do you have any hints?

A. Your own contacts - through tutors, friends and parents, or someone at one removed from these - may yield more than you think. And one person leads to the next, particularly if you remember to ask each person: "Who do you think it would be good for me to talk to?" and: "Can I say that you recommended I talk to them?" Professional organisations may have student groups, conferences or events you can attend, or you can do the rounds of trade fairs.

A really good ruse that goes under the lengthy name of "informational interviewing" is also helpful. To do this sort of interviewing, you need to research the organisation you're targeting and find the name of someone who might have time to talk - an assistant to someone senior would be good as a start. Ask if you can spend a few minutes asking some questions - if not right then, when they have time.

Then think about what you really want to find out in order to get a reality check on the business. How often do vacancies arise and where do they appear? Are there any particular types of experience, or any courses, that would help you to get into this area? Are there any opportunities for work shadowing or voluntary or temporary work?

If you catch a helpful person at the right time, they might tell you some quite personal things, including how they got a foot on the ladder. A pleasant manner and quiet persistence can get you surprisingly far.

Careers adviser: Andy Jackson, head of C2, the Careers Group, University of London.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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