This week I’m talking with my friend Bobby Rymer who owns the publishing company Writer’s Den Music Group in Nashville. He’s worked his way from the bottom to the top of record labels and publishing companies in the music industry and has a career that has spanned over 35 years. We are discussing the process of working your way up the ladder at publishing companies and record labels, the importance of knowing the history of the music industry, what publishers are looking for when signing new writers and the best venues to play in Nashville to get noticed by industry insiders.
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*I own Writer’s Den Music Group. As a publisher I have a day gig and a night gig.
*During the day I pitch songs and have meetings, etc. At night I go to showcases and meet writers and artists.
*Spend money smartly.
*Look over your options at what you want to accomplish and how.
*You don’t have to have an office anymore if you have a laptop and a phone you can do most of your work that way.
*I was doing social work and realized it was not my passion and I decided to go back to school to get a degree in the music business.
*My friend got a job at Capitol Records in the mail room and called and asked if I would be interested in his old job at a record store. Then 9 months later he called saying he got promoted and asked if I wanted my name put in for the mail room job at Capitol.
*The mail room at a record label is the bottom of the totem pole which is where most people have to start.
*Get in anyway you can and prove your worth.
*Ask yourself “how bad do you want it?”
*Internships and a course called “Copyright Law” are worth their weight in gold.
*You really don’t start to understand how the music industry works until you’re in it working everyday and making relationships and learning how things are done.
*I got to sit in on meetings and learn how you find talent and find songs.
*If you can, try to work out a smaller company because you will stand out more as opposed to a larger company that just churns interns out every semester.
*After about a year and a half an opening came up in A&R and I was able to move up because the label looked within before looking out.
*My main job in A&R was to go out and find songs for the artists on the label by meeting with the publishers in town.
*If you want to consider the music business for a career, you better know your history.
*When looking for songs for artists, I would sit with the label heads after they talked with the artists to know what they were looking for.
*You go out and find songs you’re passionate about and the come back and see if there’s a home for it on the label.
*You have to listen to songs and see if they are checking off the boxes of things you are looking for to fit an artist.
*When you are reaching out to labels or publishers, you better know who they are and the history of people they’ve worked with and what they’ve done and you better know who they are working for now.
*Get Billboard Magazine and make sure you know every artist, label, producer and writer and study the charts so it becomes second nature. That is where you start. You shouldn’t have to pause when someone asks who produced or wrote the latest hit is.
*Before you knock on a door or make a phone call to a company, understand who you are talking to because if you don’t they will quickly realize that you don’t want this bad enough or you haven’t done your homework.
*I was A&R for about 4 years at Capitol, then there was a regime change and lost that job.
*Opportunity is not going to knock on your door, you have to go out and meet it.
*I kept having meetings and eventually bumped into a publisher I knew who used to play me songs and he offered me a job as a tape copier at the music publisher Almo-Irving.
*Even though it was a step back from where I had been, I wanted to stay in the industry and I got the job as the tape copy, which is the ground floor at a publishing company.
*A tape copy made copies of 8-10 songs on a tape and put together lyrics and a label for publishers to take to pitch meetings.
*The tape copy is the best place to start at a publishing company because that’s where you learn the catalog and the songs and writers.
*The writers would come down with new songs and you would put the songs in the system so you get to spend time with the writers and build relationships.
*I was tape copy for about 3 years learning until a vacancy came open and I naturally moved up to song plugger.
*I realized that publishing is all I ever want to do because I get to work creators who make things out of thin air and I get to help find a home for it.
*A song plugger is being aware of the labels in town, the artists in town and your job is to find a home for these songs. sometimes it’s find new writers and bringing them in to the company.
*As a songwriter show up and do the work and always have your antenna up because you never know where a song idea will come from.
*Some songs in a publishing catalog don’t see the light of day after a while because they have a time stamp on them using certain language and melodies from the time it was written and the language and melodies maybe different now than they were then and those things change.
*Maybe the song is there but the demo is dated and will turn someone off even if it’s a great song.
*If the song will take it, I like demos with acoustic instruments. Don’t go crazy with reverb. Maybe do a glorified work tape and the demo has the chance of having a longer shelf life because they aren’t dating it with certain tones and sounds.
*The guitar/piano vocal demo is great because that’s the way I hear it when the writer plays it for me and there is nothing getting in the way of the lyric and the melody.
*If you bring a fully produced demo and the producer knows they aren’t going produce it that way, then they have to sit with the artist and start subtracting what they don’t want and that is hard for artists to hear sometimes because they are hearing it one way and being told they are going to do it a completely different way. If you have a guitar/piano vocal and say I’m going to start adding this, they get it.
*Some producers need to hear the full demo as it would be on the record.
*The song will dictate what it needs as a demo ultimately.
*resumes mean nothing in this business. It’s all relationship based.
*I worked for Almo-Irving for 14 years and eventually ran the Nashville office. It got bought out by Universal Music Group so after a year off I started a publishing company called Writer’s Den Music Group.
*Write what you know. Your story’s already been written. Tell it!
*People say “no” to songs I think are hits because this is an art, not a science and everyone has their own opinion. Find people who have similar tastes to you and send them songs that fit you similar personalities. If people have different tastes than you, find out what they are.
*This business is an educated guessing game.
*You have to be careful to not create demos that are too much like an artist because if they pass on it and you pitch elsewhere, those artists or labels think it sounds like that particular artist and once they find out the previous artist passed on it, they think something is wrong with the song and it will not get cut.
*Don’t pitch what they’ve done, pitch what they might be doing.
*Write what’s familiar to all of us but unique to you.
*It’s the music business, not the music I’ll do whatever I want and hope it works.
*For tv/film sync music you have to stand out and offer something that no one else is.
*We need the first you, not the second anybody else.
*It’s about creating a mood.
*Everything is negotiable.
*Music supervisors only want songs that are pre cleared so they don’t have to wait 3-4 days to to get an answer from a publisher if they want to license a song.
*As a publisher when I want to sign a new writer I’m looking for songs that have a good lyric and melody. If I can whistle it, I’m in.
*I’m not looking the next whoever, I’m looking for the first you.
*Great writers have a thumbprint like great singers do and you know within the first few seconds who wrote the song.
*I’m looking for someone who can write a song told a thousand different times, told from a different angle.
*If someone is reaching out to me wanting to get signed to a publishing deal, the best thing is to meet me at workshops and conferences where we can meet in person. That’s what I’m there for. Most of the time it’s by word of mouth from people I know or at songwriter nights when I go to listen to new writers.
*I close my eyes when I listen to songs because I want to see the movie you’ve created. If I don’t like a song it’s because I’m seeing it and feeling it.
*Maybe I’m not crazy about the song, but there are a couple of lines that are new and fresh and that will make me want to talk to the writer because that might be the tip of the iceberg for something greater.
*I’m looking for potential.
*Hone your craft so that when someone listens to it, there is nothing they can suggest to make it better.
*You can’t control God given talent, but you can control work ethic.
*I prefer to sign writers to long term contracts, not single songs because I want to build a relationship. I like to court a writer for period of time to get to know each other before I sign them.
*I’m looking for a certain amount of talent and a work ethic.
*Find people who will give you a leg up you do the same for others.
*If we don’t see you, if we don’t hear you, you don’t exist.
*Be out and play out. You need to play out 1 night and be out 4 or more.
*You never know who you’re going to be standing next to or see on stage that you can develop a relationship with.
*Play out so people can see you.
*There are venues for tourists and venues for industry people. Play the venues such as The Local, Belcourt Taps, Douglas Corner, 3rd and Lindsley and The Bluebird where the industry people attend.
*If you’re playing at these venues, you’re going to find your “class” of people to rise up with at that is usually at the earlier shows from 5-7pm. You want to be hanging around those people.
*It’s about making smart decisions, hanging out at the right places at the right times, giving yourself opportunities and letting people see you are out and about and proactive. Eventually someone will take notice and you’re going to get invited to the next level.
Bobby Rymer is the owner and general manager of the Nashville based music publishing company Writer’s Den Music Group.
Writer’s Den was originally started in 2007 with Rymer at the helm. Among the cuts secured are multiple songs by Alan Jackson (including the 2013 Grammy nominated song, “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore”), Lindsay Ell, Alabama, Chris Stapleton, Kesha, The Steeldrivers, Lee Ann Womack, Plumb, Ricky Skaggs, Olivia Newton-John, Trace Adkins, Randy Owen and Joe Nichols as well as several cuts by Bonnie Raitt. In addition, the company has landed a number of film/TV placements including numerous songs in the TV show, Nashville. They have also secured cuts in Canada, Europe, South America and Australia.
Currently signed to the roster are Brennen Leigh, Noel McKay and Gordon Kennedy.
Prior to Writer’s Den, Rymer was VP/GM of the Nashville office of Almo/Irving/Rondor Music, a company that was founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M records fame. Some of the writers he was privileged to work with during that time were Bekka Bramlett, Peter Frampton, Patti Griffin, Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Paul Kennerley, Mark Knopfler, Kent Robbins, Annie Roboff, Anthony Smith, Marty Stuart, Gillian Welch and Craig Wiseman.
Before joining the publishing side of the business, Rymer was at Capitol Records/ Nashville from 1985 to 1990. Initially starting in the mailroom and then moving to the A&R Dept., he worked with Garth Brooks, Barbara Mandrell, New Grass Revival, Marie Osmond, Kenny Rogers, Dan Seals and Tanya Tucker among others.
He is an Alumnus of Leadership Music, class of 2002.