Occasionally people will ask me to recommend song pluggers to them and it is a question which fills me with anxiety. The problem is that there is no one size fits all kind of plugger – and each relationship is special. For the uninitiated, a song plugger is the person who “pitches” a songwriter’s material to artists, producers and A & R people for consideration. It is a difficult job – especially in this time when the number of major labels and recording artists has declined. It is also a field with a very low success ratio. For every great story of a song pitch leading to a breakthrough hit single, there are a million stories of the A& R person “just not hearing it …” Finally, it is also a process that largely goes on behind closed doors, so the writer may be unaware of all the things the plugger may or may not be doing to advance the writer and his or her material.
My friend, journalist Tom Wood told me about a lawsuit that’s recently been filed in state court here in Nashville: Donaldson v. Keaton. I don’t know the parties but it is essentially a lawsuit filed by an aggrieved songwriter from Ohio against a Nashville song plugger he had retained to pitch his songs.
The complaint is a model of legal drafting being both informative, educational, fact laden and persuasive. The plaintiff, Donaldson has sued for fraud, promissory fraud, a violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation. Over 207 separate paragraphs, the plaintiff’s attorney carefully lays out a case against the song plugger, Keaton. am keeping a copy of the complaint on file for future reference.
It is hard to know what really happened in this case but one can imagine what might have transpired to lead to this dispute. I will say that the one part of the complaint that was kind of chilling is found in Paragraph 23: Plaintiff started to get suspicious in mid‑2014 about whether Keaton was providing services as agreed to because no results were being obtained after approximately 16 months of paying Keaton for services.
Therein is a hard truth – plugging is an occupation where with even the most talented writer and the most connected and reputable song plugger – it might take more than 16 months to get a tangible result. One might never get the results.
I have been on both sides of this issue and I don’t see any simple solutions but it does bring to mind the old cliché: “You must be present to win”. Most writers (and artists) who achieve any kind of success in Nashville do so by being present in this town – working, networking, keeping their ears to the ground. I think that this kind of long-distance business relationship described in the complaint is fraught with the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding.