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Stairway to Your First Cut

by Jerry Vandiver and Gracie Hollombe

part two  |  part one

In Part I we explored the first two levels in building the stairway to your first cut. We discussed making a serious commitment to songwriting by disciplining yourself to write and co-write, getting involved in a local songwriting organization and accomplishing daily tasks aimed at thinking like a songwriter. In addition, we began making a connection to the music business by beginning to visit a music center regularly, and pitching and performing your songs there. Now let’s finish building that stairway.

If Levels One and Two are in place, it's time to put in the four bricks of Level Three:


  1. You Live Or Frequently Participate In Music Industry Events In A Major Music Center.
  2. Don't start packing just yet. Frequently participating is the key. This is where relationship building starts to kick in. You need to be there more than once or twice a year.
  3. You Co-Write On A Regular Basis With Someone Who Has Signed A Single-Song Contract.
    If your co-writer has an established relationship with at least one publisher who believes in him, you're writing with someone who takes songwriting as seriously as you do and you're increasing your contact opportunities.
  4. You Have Signed A Single-Song Contract With A Music Center Publisher.
    Now a professional believes in you. This is a big step. You're on your way!
  5. You Co-Write On A Regular Basis With A Writer Who Has An Exclusive Songwriting Agreement With A Music Center Publisher.
    The political connection is obvious. Your co-writer's publisher is willing to part with dollars because he believes in your co-writer and is anxious to work those songs hard. Now he will be working your song hard too.

Climbing higher makes you stronger. You've made the commitment and you're connecting and developing relationships. Let's keep going.

Lucky you. There are only two bricks in Level Four:


  1. You Co-Write With A Major Label Recording Artist.
    Writing with a recording artist eliminates all the people whose job is to say "no" to your songs. (Well, most of the time!)
  2. You've Signed An Exclusive Songwriting Agreement With A Music Center Publisher.
    When you're a staff writer, your publisher believes in you so much that he is committing time, energy and bucks to get your songs recorded, and is going to do everything possible to get his investment returned.

If you're this high up, don't look down--only 3 more bricks. Keep going. Level five is just ahead:


  1. A Publisher Has Dropped Off Or Played Your Song To A Major Label A&R Rep, Producer Or Manager.
    Teamwork is what this is all about. As a member of TAXI, your songs get played to the right ears. That's a great start. It's additionally important to have strong relationships in place (i.e., music publishers) that will continue to work your songs.
  2. An A&R Rep, Artist Manager Or Producer Has Played Your Song To A Major Label Recording Artist.
    TAXI and/or your publisher have done their job. The rest is up to fate and a little luck.
  3. A Publisher Has Played Your Song To A Major Label Recording Artist.
    The A&R Rep, Manager and/or Producer are out of the way. Now your song has its best chance.

Hopefully you've seen how each level builds upon the next and each brick supports the others. Look at where you are and where you need to be. Don't be discouraged. Be determined.

See you on the charts!
Jerry & Gracie

© 2002 Jerry Vandiver and Gracie Hollombe
Jerry Vandiver is a staff writer for Talbot Music in Nashville with songs recorded by Gene Watson, Barbara Mandrell, Phil Vassar, and Tim McGraw, totaling over 12 million records. Gracie Hollombe, former Regional Workshops Director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), is a full-time songwriter living in Nashville. Their book, "Your First Cut, A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting There" (11/22 Publishing, ISBN 0-9717745-0-1), is a 224-page hands-on, goal-oriented workbook designed to put you and keep you on the path to your songwriting dreams. The authors can be reached by visiting www.yourfirstcut.com.