What Is a Plugger in the Music Industry?
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It wasn’t too long ago that artists or songwriters need to jump through several hoops to get their music picked up by a label or radio station to get their music heard. Or they would just sell their tapes or CDs out of the back of their car before and after shows.
Enter the plugger. Song pluggers work to get their client’s music in front of record executives or other managers to get their music made on a large scale. They could also be looking to sell the music for other recording artists to play if they aren’t writing their own music.
When YouTube exploded on the scene, it became much easier to market your songs. With Spotify, SoundCloud, Vimeo, and even a personal website, sharing music with anyone who wants to hear it is a snap. You may even be able to make a buck or two. Still, pluggers streamline the process and play an important part in the music business today.
What Does a Plugger in the Music Industry Do?
Even with the proliferation of “self-publishing” sites for songwriters or artists, song plugging still plays a valuable role in the music industry. They say the best way to get traction in the biz is by who you know, not what you know. It’s a plugger’s job to know as many people possible, to take care of networking for their clients.
There are a few different types of pluggers, working independently, with music publishing houses, or even record labels. Pluggers play matchmaker between sellers (the artist or songwriter) and buyers (publishers, record labels, and even other artists). It involves a lot of legwork, a lot of meetings, and a lot of relationship building.
Let’s take a look at a radio plugger, who pitch songs for their client’s music via radio play as well as music streaming services. They stay in touch with radio DJs (traditional and internet), music supervisors, and playlist curators to get their client’s music in the rotation.
Radio pluggers do this through constant development of their contact list and staying in touch with those that are responsible for playing music. Getting their music played on the radio, securing artists for festivals, or even alerting those in the media that can preview up and coming artists or announce new music.
Pluggers don’t take no for an answer and must have a thick skin because they’ll hear it a lot. They need to develop a persuasive pitch for their clients, tailored for different audiences. They aren’t pushy, but they aren’t pushovers, either. Good pluggers can parlay their success or experience into public relations or marketing manager positions.
History of Pluggers in the Music Industry
The earliest appearances of song pluggers were in department and music stores nearly a century ago. Quality recordings of new music, and a way to distribute those songs, just weren’t available at the time, so pluggers, also known as song demonstrators, were paid to play new music as a way to sell sheet music.
That’s how music was enjoyed 100 years ago: Friends or family members would play the music at home or you’d go to a concert hall to listen to the newest tunes. By playing the music in the middle of a busy store, customers could hear the song before buying the sheet music to play for themselves.
Tin Pan Alley, a location in New York City as well as a collection of songwriters and publishers, played a big part in getting music into the public consciousness. Whether selling music to passing vaudevillians or familiarizing audiences to new music, many who worked at Tin Pan Alley originally had backgrounds in sales.
Around the middle of the 20th century, radio play and records became more readily available. Song pluggers began to work directly with record companies, music publishing companies, and radio stations to buy or use the records put out by their publishing houses. Being a song plugger in this respect became quite a lucrative career.
When translated to today’s dollars, they made more than $300,000 a year, had unlimited expense accounts, and even had a union to protect their interests. Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Lil Hardin Armstrong were all song pluggers at one point.