Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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The Open-Mic Experiment

A couple of years after we got married, Danny and I packed up our hand-me-down couch, dinette set and mattress, and moved from Edison, NJ to Nashville, TN with a notion to eventually make our living as songwriters. We had at least thought ahead enough to have saved some extra money to open a savings account, and had acquired employment to give ourselves a steady income in case the “songwriting thing” didn’t happen right away. Big dreams can take awhile, as you might imagine.

Most nights we’d head out to “writer’s nights”, often to the infamous Bluebird Cafe, to listen to songwriters sing their original songs and tell the stories behind them: “Well, about a year ago my co-writer and I got together and he was telling me about his wife’s grandma and grandpa and how after 60 years of marriage, they’d been separated in a nursing home on different floors. She’d stopped talking until one day they wheeled him into the room and she asked, ‘where have you been’, and we just started writing a song about it.”

Night after night the writers would start strumming their guitars and singing a few bars until the audience realized they were listening to one of their favorite songs recorded by Kathy Mattea or Garth Brooks or Reba McEntire or Tim McGraw or Bonnie Raitt and so on. There would be an audible sigh and an eruption of appreciative applause. There’s really nothing more breathtaking then hearing a hit song sung in its simplest form by the person who wrote it.

It didn’t take long to realize that singing one’s original songs at open-mics and writer’s nights was a right of passage in Nashville…whether or not you were a performer. There were opportunities to “play out” for every level of writer from those who were fresh-off-the-turnip-truck to those who were polished and perfected. As newbies, we’d go out to listen and support the other newcomers, our incoming class, as it were.

The first time some friends asked us to perform at a writer’s night they were hosting, I was TERRIFIED. It took some serious self-talk to step up on that stage. But when it was all over, after I had heard my shaky voice coming back through the monitor and I kept going, after Danny played the last chord on his keyboard and I heard some clapping, after I had not spontaneously imploded, I had my “aha” moment. Great songwriting requires you to be at your most vulnerable and your most courageous at the same time.

Those writer’s nights were a big part of my songwriting education. They forced me to face my fears and time and again push beyond my comfort zone. They allowed me to test out new material and get better at what I was trying to do. Most importantly, playing out gave me the opportunity to interact with my peers in a supportive and constructive way, as well as to meet co-writers and friends who have lasted a life time (Shout out to Carol & Dale, and Nancy & Fett).

On August 14th, we’re inviting our SongU members to take part in this same kind of educational experience with a virtual open-mic experiment, hosted by long-time member, Mitch Townley. Whether we’re experienced or aspiring, whether we’re singers or vocally “challenged”, ready or not, here we come!


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Getting the Demo You Want: A Conversation with Producer, Justin Morgan

My guest today to talk about demo production is the owner of Pearl Snap Studios in Nashville, TN, Justin Morgan. As a singer-songwriter and producer, Justin is a sought-after mentor, teaching his monthly small-group live session: “FDBK 160 Song and Production Feedback.”

Justin, tell me how is your personal journey going in this time of Corona?

Thankfully, my immediate family has been able to avoid getting COVID but we have definitely had close friends and extended family get it which hits close to home. Industry wise, a lot of co-writes got cancelled when COVID entered the scene, which gave me space to slow down and really focus on writing for projects that I had put on the back burner. Now, my co-writes have moved to Zoom, which can be challenging, but it also opens up new opportunities to write with people who can’t be in the same room.  

Songwriting is such a personal and community driven industry and experience that this has definitely been a challenge. BUT it has a silver lining. I think difficult times breed some of the best art. It’s always been this way. I’m trying to use this time to be focused on creating great music! Luckily, technology has made that possible.

How has the pandemic affected your ability to produce demos?

We’re super thankful that our process isn’t terribly interrupted by the pandemic. Myself and my little team of players and producers are able to work remotely and still get great sounding recordings to our clients. We’ve seen an increase in songs being submitted, which I think is largely in part to writers having things they need to say about everything going on in our world.

Speaking of recordings, can you tell us what exactly is a “demo”?

When I was just starting out as an artist and writer, the word “demo” was thrown around a lot, mostly to describe rough recordings that my band would make and try to sell for $5 at our merchandise table. Now, years later I realize that the word “demo” is still a puzzling thing for a lot of writers. It’s actually an abbreviation for the word “demonstration.” A demo is a recording of a song used to demonstrate what the song might sound like if recorded by an artist. Think of it as a prototype. Car companies use prototypes to show off a car before it goes to market. They then take any feedback from trusted sources and various testing to perfect it before it takes its final form (ready to sell). A demo acts in the same capacity. A writer finishes a great song and needs to be able to show it to publishers, A&R executives, artists, or producers, hoping that ultimately an artist will fall in love with the song and record it on their album. In the songwriting world, we call it “getting a cut” when an artist chooses to record your song and put it out on an album.

Can a demo help you get a cut?

Demos can be pivotal in helping land a cut with an artist. I have personally seen songs not get cut because the demo wasn’t right, and then later, the song gets cut after the artist or A&R person hears a new demo of the same song.

Is there a difference between a demo and a master? Can you explain those terms a little bit?

It’s important to note that the artist does not typically use the demo track to record their vocals over.  The record label will use their own musicians, producer, and vocalist to create the final recording. Since demos are not intended to be used as the final recording, they will usually have restrictions from the producer or studio stating that they cannot be released commercially. A recording that is commercially released is considered a “master” and generally will cost quite a bit more to create than a demo. Sometimes a writer will negotiate a fee with the studio or producer in order to release the demo as a master, however permission will need to be granted from the producer, any players, and the vocalist who performed on the recording. 

How much does a demo cost?

Demos vary greatly in price from $150-$2,000 or even more depending on who is creating the demo and how it is being recorded. Sometimes just having an acoustic guitar or a piano along with a killer vocal is all a song needs to shine. Other times, a full production with a string quartet can be needed. It just depends on the song. Talking with your producer and mentors about what the song needs is always a good place to start.

What part does a producer like you play in the demo creation process?

Personally as a producer, I appreciate when a writer lets me have some creative leeway in the production process. I always welcome notes and reference tracks, however, being right in the middle of Music City and creating demos on a daily basis gives me a leg up on knowing what is and what is not working currently. It’s our job as producers to stay current and help your song shine like it should. This is why finding a producer you trust is very important to the process. A demo is an investment in your song and should be treated as such. 

What makes a successful demo?

A demo recording should be interesting and engaging, but should have room in the production to leave the song open to interpretation. I like to caution writers about wanting too much unique character in a demo. Some is needed and can be a great way to catch ears, but too much can pigeon hole a song and make it less recordable by a broad spectrum of artists. Here are some things to consider when you are looking to have a demo made:

  • Does this producer specialize in this style of music? 
  • Does this producer create current sounding recordings that sound similar to what I hear from current artists? 
  • Do I trust this producer’s work?
  • Is my song ready to be demo’ed?
  • Are all the lyrics how I want them?
  • Are all of the melodies dialed in? 
  • Am I financially able to make the investment in this song right now? 

Answering these questions will help you decide if it’s time to look for a great demo for your song!  

Thanks for taking the time to talk about the process of demoing songs, Justin, and for your great work mentoring the songwriters at SongU.com! I should mention that you also graciously offer a special discount to SongU members when they request a demo from Pearl Snap Studios directly from the SongU website portal.


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The Big Reveal! Staff Writer for a Day with WinSongs Music.

Recently, we invited Kirby Smith, Creative Director of WinSongs Music to the SongU virtual campus to get to know our writers. She listened to over 200 songs submitted throughout May and June and chose what she felt were the strongest of the bunch. That group of 22 songs became the list RISING STAR CONTENDERS. One final song rose to the top as the winner of “Staff Writer for the Day”. Congratulations to Kelly McKay with her brilliant song “Kiss the Hell Out of Me.” Kelly will be set up through WinSongs for a co-write session with hit songwriter, Sandy Ramos.

Because the primary goal of SongU is always to inform and educate, this week we had Kirby visit our e-classroom to find out about her work as a Creative Director (particularly in the time of Corona), as well as her listening process and what pros and cons factored into her choices for choosing the contenders, and finally to reveal her choice for Staff Writer for a Day! Thanks to Kirby for being so generous with her time, information and insights into the song selection and pitching process! Without further ado…

CONGRATULATIONS to the Top Contenders who all received the SongU “Rising Star Award”!

*Wes Bullock (4 songs)
*Elvira Cawthon (3 songs)
*Bill Gue (2 songs)
*Brenda Kornblum (2 songs)
*Brad McKinney
*David Nicastro (2 songs)
*Kenneth Riggins
*Becky Smith (2 songs)
*Dempsey Watson
*Rita Weyls

And to Kelly McKay (2 songs) from TN, SongU member since 2013, for winning the top spot of “Staff Writer for a Day” with WinSongs Music.

A round of applause to every one who submitted their songs to this challenge. As the maxim says, you can’t win the game if you’re sitting on the bench. Keep up the great work, everyone!


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GOLD STARS Report: Songs Recently Picked Up (latest update)

On our SongU virtual campus, success is achieved through our focus on education and making each song the strongest it can be BEFORE spending money on a demo. We offer numerous opportunities for songwriters to reach their goals, from one-on-one coaching to live feedback sessions, to peer and mentor co-writes.

CONGRATULATIONS to the following members for having their songs signed or pitched for the following SongU leads during the time period 7/22/2020 – 8/3/2020.

Pitch For Publisher. Christian. VARIOUS CHRISTIAN & POSITIVE COUNTRY ARTISTS. Extended! (“I’m finding some great songs from these SongU writers! Keep them coming.” – D.G.) Street Pitch guest, D.G., veteran music publisher, who has already generated income for SongU members, is looking for songs to pitch to Christian labels Daywind Records /Mountain Fever Records / Red Hen Records – 65/40 Records. Submit the following: Southern Gospel / Bluegrass and Positive Country songs, male …

      • Karen Mitchell “WORTHY” (Date picked up: 7/28/2020)

Pitch For Publisher. Contemporary Country. SEAFORTH. Street Pitch guest and publisher, Bob D., who has already generated income for SongU.com members is looking for songs for is looking for songs for Sony Records artist Seaforth. (Note: This is the same artist but a different pitch guest listening than previous listing #1778). Still looking, no studio date yet. They need GREAT songs to beat what they have done. Nothing dirt-country. Think laid back, a touch of R&B, contemporary pop country. …

   • John Cirillo “LOVE IN MOTION” (Date picked up: 8/1/2020)
    • James Hoppe “SOMETHING’S UP” (Date picked up: 8/1/2020)
    • Lucy Leblanc “PAYING MY DUES” (Date picked up: 8/1/2020)

Pitch For Publisher. Country. REVERIE LANE. Extended! Still current and actively looking. Street Pitch guest, D.G., veteran music publisher, who has already generated income for SongU members, is looking for songs for Dreamlined Entertainment artist Reverie Lane. Female duo consisting of Spencer Bartoletti and Presley Tucker (daughter of Tanya Tucker). Needing hit radio singles, any tempo. Describing themselves as “nouveau traditional country duo.” Raw, honest, edgy lyrics. Think …

      • Hollie Brogunier “A LITTLE BIT O’HONEY GOES A LONG WAY” (Date picked up: 8/3/2020)
    • Wes Bullock “DRAWN TO THE NEON LIGHTS (FEAT. THE RUNNING MATES)” (Date picked up: 7/21/2020)
    • James Hoppe “ARETHA” (Date picked up: 7/21/2020)
    • Kelly Mckay “YOU REWIND ME” (Date picked up: 8/3/2020)
    • Ava Paige “OPEN THAT DOOR “ (Date picked up: 8/3/2020)
    • Jill Smith “STORM CHASER” (Date picked up: 8/3/2020)

Pitch For Publisher. Country. CARTER WINTER. Street Pitch guest and publisher, Bob D., who has already generated income for SongU.com members is looking for songs for Average Joe Records artist Carter Winter. Submit Mids/Uptempo honest heartfelt lyrics ala Garth Brooks and George Strait.
View the following for more info on artist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V04F3P2gCfc
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvazJBJgvA71avc-lfwvYFw
https://www.carterwinter.com/bio

   • Ronald Brown “CRAZY FOR ME” (Date picked up: 7/30/2020)
    • John Condrone “YOUR LOVE’S GOT SOMETHING ON ME” (Date picked up: 7/30/2020)
    • Ben Krahne “THREE MINUTE VACATION “ (Date picked up: 7/30/2020)
    • Ken Wank “MORE THAN THAT” (Date picked up: 7/30/2020)

Pitch For Publisher. Country, Rock. JAY ALLEN. Street Pitch guest and publisher, Bob D., who has already generated income for SongU.com members is looking for songs for Verge Records artist Jay Allen. Looking for real, raw, in your face undeniable SMASH Country hits with meat on the bones! For more on this artist go to https://www.jayallenofficial.com/. Pitch follow-up info: If this guest expresses interest in your song, before pitching it, they will ask for publishing if a major recording …

 • Avrim TopelPRAYERS AND WHISKEY (Date picked up: 7/31/2020)

And a round of applause to those marked ‘Maybe’ too. Keep up the great work, everyone!


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My Coach Rocks!

In addition to our live audio/video feedback courses, SongU members have the opportunity to forge a creative relationship with any of award-winning coaches who offer individual written feedback on songs in progress and sometimes award them with “Best of SongU”! Emphasis is given to constructive comments on lyrics, music, originality, and commercial potential.

Today’s spotlight is on Coach #1683 (aka Lisa Palas)!

“Thank you for the terrific, inspiring feedback. It felt good to hear that coming from you. I will address the tweaks you pointed out and kick it out of the nest. Thanks ever so much again.” -Mark M. IN

“Your advice is just what I what I’m looking for.Thanks so much…I’ll be back!”Grahame M., FL

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Lisa Palas

About: Lisa is an award-winning songwriter with several number one hits to her credit including Alabama’s “You’ve Got the Touch” and “There’s No Way”. Her songs have been recorded by the renowned country stars Alabama, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Kris Kristofferson, Chris LeDoux, Conway Twitty and The Oak Ridge Boys as well as included in the soundtracks of feature films. She has also scored musicals on the stage, most recently “Jack” for Louisville’s Walden Theater. A featured soloist at Unity churches, Lisa recently recorded a CD of original songs included in her performances. As an actress, Lisa has appeared in numerous short films, industrials, TV commercials and episodic television such as the Pax Network’s “It’s a Miracle”, hosted by Richard Thomas. She has also performed in various productions on the Nashville stage including the world premiere of “A Stoop on Orchard Street.”

Coaching Philosophy: “I try to coach you as if you were a staff writer for my company.”

Thank you, Coach, for offering professional advice and songwriting education to literally hundreds of SongU writers since 2006! You rock!


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Why Should I Get Feedback Before Pitching My Songs to Film and TV?

At SongU.com, we offer a variety of of small group feedback sessions that focus on different aspects of songwriting and the music business. Writing songs for synchronization with film, TV, and other media takes unique skills beyond crafting a great song. For example, do your vocals and instrumentation work to the benefit of your production? Is your hook relatable for certain situations? Do you know the specifics of the sync licensing market in order to submit your songs appropriately to music supervisors?

Today we’re shining the spotlight on “FDBK 330 – Song Feedback for Film-TV-Media.” Join us to learn from the pros and your peers.

About: This 1-hour advanced feedback session is geared toward analysis of how your demo recording will compete in Film, TV, and other media-related pitches. Focus is given to your songs’ production as it pertains to pitching successfully for sync licensing opportunities in TV, Film, and Media. Limit 5 participants.

Our Facilitators: Nancy Peacock, CEO and Owner of Washington Street Publishing which focuses on securing placements in Film, TV, and Media; and Creative Director for Washington Street Publishing, Queenie Mullinex.

“Queenie and Nancy are soooo good. They are encouraging and yet candid when they hear things that need improvement. I learn a lot from their feedback on my song and the feedback that they give others. Always very, very helpful.” -Becca B. , SC

Always a joy to learn from them.” –Ricki B. , WI

“Great insight for tailoring your songs for music supervisor pitches.” Shawn F. , NJ


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Special Event Pitch: Staff Writer for a Day!

Between May 1st and June 30th 2020, SongU.com is running a special event: Staff Writer for a Day.  This is an opportunity to pitch your songs for a chance to see what it would be like to be a staff songwriter which includes getting set up by our guest publisher for a CO-WRITE SESSION with a hit songwriter! 

If you aren’t sure what the term Staff Writer means, you’re not aloneWhen I moved to Nashville in the early 1990’s and got serious about my songwriting, many of my peers were hoping to become a full-time paid songwriter for a music publishing company (aka a staff writer). The concept was so strange to me that I had to wonder if I ever had the chance to be a staff writer, would I even like it? At the time, I questioned whether I would really enjoy writing songs on demand, on a timetable, with a quota, being “set up” on blind co-writing dates, writing to make the creative director at my publishing company happy, and asking their permission to demo songs.

After about four years of engrossing myself in the Music Row experience of constant writing, re-writing, networking, co-writing, over-coming performance fears, sheepishly meeting with ASCAP reps and music publishers who would listen to my songs, and politely or not-so-politely tell me that I wasn’t quite “there” yet, I built a strong catalog of songs. By then, the idea of being a professional songwriter had grown on me. One day, miraculously, I was hired by a little music publishing company called Zamalama Music as their first staff writer (cue the Rocky theme song).

It turned out that this job gave me valuable lessons in how to prepare myself mentally every morning to “show up and write” whether I was feeling creative or not. I made sure to arrive at those blind date co-writes with lots of potential titles and ideas to jump start our meetings. I learned to leave my ego at the door and do what was best for the song. Most importantly, I found an inner confidence that only comes when your songs have been rejected so many times, you can laugh and moooove on! Here’s a picture of the bay window of the Zamalama writers room on Music Row where I eventually co-penned a hit song!

Check out the staff writer experience for yourself:

A SPECIAL EVENT PITCH – STAFF WRITER FOR A DAY! This is your opportunity to be selected by Kirby Smith, Creative Director of WinSongs Music Publishing, for a chance to find out what it’s like to be a professional staff songwriter for a day, including a meeting with Kirby and a CO-WRITING SESSION with hit songwriter, Sandy Ramos! Read about our guests.

For details about how to submit your songs between May 1st – June 30th 2020 for a chance to win STAFF WRITER FOR A DAY! Go to the Pitching area of SongU.com.

2000 ASCAP Awards. Connie Bradley, Kacey Jones, Sharon Lane, me, 


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Pitching in the Time of Corona: A Dispatch From our Publishers

With all the transitions and changes going on these days, I asked the music publishers and song pluggers we work with regularly to give us an update on pitching in the time of Corona. Here’s what they said:

“Still pitching strong and I think our decision makers are more at their computers listening to songs than perhaps ever before.”

Jeffrey Nelson, Song Plugger

“Song pitching continues uninterrupted…The dynamics of pitching have, of course, changed recently in that social distancing has made in person pitch meetings, at least for the moment, not possible. I do however, continue to maintain communication with industry decision makers and continue to pitch them songs via links and mp3’s, much of which I already did anyway.”

Additionally worth noting, “This is the time of the year that acts who are going to record Christmas records are beginning to look for songs.”

Dallas Gregory, Publisher, Song Rocket Music

“There will be no personal one-on-one meetings but the selected songs will be sent to my contacts and they will be considered. Recording dates etc have been altered and moved to unspecified dates due to the coronavirus. Keep writing great songs and keep the faith.”

Bob Dellaposta, Publisher, My 3 Kids Music

“There has been a definite halt in some of the film / TV show productions. The music supervisors are emailing and saying that we have a couple weeks to send in songs rather than 24-48 hours. But there are lots of TV shows already in post production so we are continuing to get requests for songs. The ad agencies work a long time on a client’s branding so we are getting requests for those also.”

Nancy Peacock, Licensing Agent, Washington Street Music Publishing

Thanks to all these sincerely dedicated music professionals for keeping our songs out there and getting us placements and cuts!


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Your Kind Words are Music to Our Ears!

“Hello, This is a VERY competitive business as you know but it is encouraging to know that a song I wrote “Southern Life” is a ” Maybe” to get pitched for a major artist! Thank you SongU Team!! I know you are busy but wanted to let you know that I have several people pitching my Songs and YOU are by far the most Professional, Kind, efficient group that ALWAYS responds and clearly has a CRAZY work ethic! You know as well as I do that that is what inevitably leads to success! I LOVE IT!”

–Roger Brantley (LA) on 3/13/20

“I was a first time user of the e-classroom and enjoyed being able to participate in the course.”

— Alina V. (FL) on 3/18/20
For Diona DeVincenzi, FDBK 225-Indie, Film-TV, Production Feedback

“Many thanks for filling in, Sara, and also for the great feedback. Listened to the full transcript today and enjoyed it. Nice to see more Scots in Songu. I hope Lisa is OK.”

–Alex H. (Scotland) on 3/20/20
For Sara Light, FDBK 210-Song Feedback

“I’m enjoying getting ideas, feedback and inspiration as with the virus escalating now my co writers and I can’t meet to work on our new stuff so online is definitely a way forward and I’ve had some good food for thought from the coaching reviews and the two on line classes I’ve attended on the songs particularly the ones that need some work. I’ll look forward to another class soon. Kindest regards and stay safe.”

–Jane H. (U.K.) on 3/23/20

“Bob always brings his ‘A’ game. He has a very honest and passionate approach to helping. You can really tell he loves what he does. Even if I don’t agree with him on every point. I can still understand where he is coming from.”

–Shawn F. (NJ) on 3/25/20
For Bob Dellaposta, FDBK 315 Publisher Song Feedback

“Marcia has been one of my “go-tos” for a long time now. Really appreciate her take. I count her as a friend besides. Benn is always there to keep us straight. Sara, Danny, and Martin, the whole SongU community is an avid, major part of my writing track. Thanks so very much guys!!”

–Brad Y. (NY) on 3/26/20
For Marcia Ramirez, FDBK 140 Song Feedback

“Always awesome!”

–Ricki B. (WI) on 3/27/20
Nancy Peacock & Queenie Mullinex, FDBK 330 Sync Licensing Production Feedback

“I wanted to share with you a copy of the note I recently sent to the UK Songwriting Contest: A big ‘thank you’ to the UKSC for the wonderful prize of a free trial membership to songu.com. Not only have I learned A LOT by participating in a variety of their online courses and seminars, but I have taken advantage of their pitching opportunities as well… and good news!… one of my songs was recently picked up by a publisher! Needless to say, I’m thrilled!”

–Elizabeth Roberts (U.K.) on 3/28/20


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Dear SongU, Can We Talk About Pitch Submission Deadlines?

I’d like to share a SongU member inquiry that recently landed in my inbox: “Dear Songu, can we talk about extensions for deadlines on pitch submissions on songu? How do they occur? What kind of relationships do you have, that ever cause to allow this? What actually happens? Thank you kindly.” – J. (Vancouver, B.C. Canada)

Dear J.,

What a great question! Let me explain the process we use at SongU.com. To get the leads and submission deadlines for our Street Pitches, I communicate directly with several song pluggers, music publishers and licensing agents that are out there “on the street” making appointments with the artists, record labels, and such to find out who is looking for songs, what kinds of songs they want or need, and when they will be in the studio recording.

After you’ve been working in the industry for a while, you learn that most artists search for songs over a period of time from a couple of months to even a year or more. It is often a moving target as the artists  find songs they like, target songs they hope to find to fill out the album, or “change direction” from what they thought they originally wanted.

Based on the information our pitch guests relay to me each month, I post the Street pitch leads and submission deadlines. Then, a few days before the deadlines (which generally fall either mid-month or end of month), I send out an email asking if they want to extend any listings or send new ones. Here is an example of an email I received this week:

Good Morning Sara!

Sorry I’m just getting back to you.  Let’s keep Mark Wills and Chris Golden active through the end of May if that’s o.k. as they continue to be very engaged in receiving and listening to songs.  We can pull Hannah Dasher on the 15th, but I may re-list Hannah in a few weeks IF she is still looking for songs.  They’re assessing what they have at this time.  I’ll get with you later today with fresh pitch opps.

Have a wonderful day 🙂

DG

Thanks for taking the time to check in with us and find out more. I hope this explanation helps clarify.

Best wishes,
Sara
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Sara Light, Co-Founder & President
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