Why aren’t all my hard efforts paying off is the dilemma most indie artist battle. The music industry is a tough shell to crack and quite honestly one of the most competitive industries to cross over into success. This article below suggest some good tools we can use to hold ourselves accountable for the results of our independent actions.
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We’re gonna tell you a lot of things that you might not want to hear (especially if you’re doing or NOT doing some of these items). A lot of mags and industry professionals (mostly those who want your money) don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they patronize you and talk to you like children when it comes to these things. I’ve seen some God-awful, condescending nonsense in print when it comes to career advice for musicians.
We respect you more than that. We think you’re adults (for the most part) who can handle a dose of reality every now and again if it means making some positive changes in how you conduct your business. And if your band isn’t a business, maybe you should re-think seeking out press in the first place.
A healthy majority of these list items come from discussions we’ve had with editors and journalists from around the country, and some of them are our own pet peeves. Take everything with a grain of salt, if you must. We’re just telling it like it is, giving you a peek behind the curtain.
OK, no more preamble, no sugarcoating, no bullshit. Here (in no particular order) are about two-dozen plus reasons why your band isn’t getting anywhere with press. So, if you’re ready for some harsh truths, read on. We start with…
1. You look, sound or act like the ass-clowns in Brokencyde. See Exhibit A below.
2. You include purchase links in your outreach. Sorry, editors and writers aren’t gonna buy your music on iTunes or Amazon if you want them to review it. Resign yourself to the fact that press gets your music for free.
3. You’re still using MySpace. Seriously. Come on, guys.
4. You’re waaaay too boastful or braggy in your messaging. “We’re the next Beatles!” Unless that’s a quote you’ve received from some press outlet, don’t bother. You come across really arrogant. Plus, let’s face it; you’re probably not the next Beatles. Sorry, it’s a turn-off to a lot of industry folks.
5. You use the same old, tired clichéd language that every other band in the world uses to describe your sound. “We’re a cross between Artist X and Artist Y” or the other all-time favorite, “We’re like if Artist X and Artist Y had a baby…” You’re better than that. It’s cool to describe what you sound like in terms of other artists or genres – make no mistake about that (more on that later) – in fact we typically like it when it’s clear to us what you sound like. But try a little harder than the “baby-making” clichés.
6. You have no gigs, or you only play the same three dumpy bars in your local town. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being from somewhere. We all start somewhere. But a lot of times, editors may easily pass you over if it doesn’t look like you’re serious about your career and you’re not getting out there in the world – it shows a lack of ambition. And gigging once a month at the same three lousy venues in a non-major market makes it look like you don’t care that you’ll forever be a “local band.” Now, we get that there are artists who don’t tour or perform live. That’s totally cool if you’re upfront about it. A lot of the electronic music we get comes to us from artists who simply record music only. No prob there.
7. Which also leads to this: Don’t be a local band. Just be a band. Get out of that mentality, you’ll be much better off for it. Being so committed to your local “scene” can often obscure the bigger picture and keep you stuck amongst people who don’t want you to break out and move on to bigger and better things. Love your hometown, sure, but realize that it doesn’t have to be the final plateau of your career.
8. You spam a magazine or blog’s Facebook and Twitter relentlessly. Stop it. That’s where we go to promote OUR shit, not where we want to be bombarded with yours. That’s why we have submission guidelines.
9. Speaking of which, PLEASE follow our submission guidelines. They’re there for a reason, because we have a process in place for listening to new music that works for us. A “one-size fits all” approach to reaching out to press is not only lazy, it’s insulting, especially when you do pretty much everything you’re told NOT to do in a press outlet’s submission guidelines. (Hint: don’t send us attachments). Yeah, it’s gonna take more time to go through each mag or blog’s guidelines and reach out to them in the way they prefer. Tough shit. Do it. If you’re too lazy to adhere to simple submission policies, then a lot of editors and bloggers will simply trash your email. Why should they bother spending the time on you if you didn’t bother spending the time on them? Show some respect for people’s workflows; it’s truly not that hard.
10. Your stuff is too damn old. Guys, it’s 2014. Stop seeking press for the record you put out in 2011. It’s done. We’re on the lookout for new music, so clogging our inbox desperately trying to get noticed for something you did three years ago comes off as pathetic. Makes editors wonder why you didn’t get any traction in 2011, and thus, they opt for the delete key in their Inbox.
11. You show up to a magazine’s office uninvited. What makes you think this is a good idea? Offices are places of business, where people have meetings, deadlines, and you know…work to do. Don’t do this, it’s so beyond unprofessional that I can’t even put it into words. Send your CD in the mail, please. Don’t arrive on our doorstep.
12. On the same note, you call the office with no real purpose. Or worse, you hit the trifecta: “Did you get our CD? Did you listen to it? Did you like it?” Most mags and blogs get hundreds of CDs a month. It’s hard to remember each individual one (we do a good job because we organize everything in a database, other mags and blogs are much more scattered when it comes to this stuff), unless it truly stands out, in which case you’ll likely be hearing from us. If you have no purpose to your phone call other than to find out if we got your CD, you’re not doing yourself any favors. The postal system works really well – if you mail it, we’ll get it. It’s just not productive “follow up,” I wish it was. It’s kind of annoying and really awkward, especially if we don’t happen to remember your CD. Trust us, if we are pursuing coverage, you’ll be the first to know.
13. Your band name is stupid. I know it’s petty, but I also know a lot of editors who chuck stuff in the bin because a band name is so inanely stupid that they don’t want to give your stuff a listen. We here at Performer listen to everything that shows up in our mailbox or Inbox, but other mags don’t. If your name is the juvenile kind of thing that makes 12-year-olds chuckle, it might not be helping you outside of the schoolyard.
14. You have an off-putting sense of entitlement. Don’t barrage press with all the reasons we’d be stupid not to cover your amazing band. Look, if we dig it, we’ll try to cover it. It’s really that simple, gang. But being told that you’re God’s gift to music, and that all the awards you’ve won ENTITLE you to coverage is super douchey. Knock it off.
15. You’re pitching to the wrong person. Here are the people at magazines who can likely make decisions on coverage: editors and (to a lesser extent) writers. If you know a writer on staff, cool. Send them your stuff if you’ve got a relationship. Otherwise, try to grab an editor’s attention. The publisher is usually the moneyman (or woman), and can oftentimes not be involved in the actual content of the mag as intimately as the editor and their staff. They also might be running several publications and shouldn’t have their time wasted by bands seeking editorial coverage. Also, if you email the art director, you’re an idiot.
16. You won’t cough up two bucks to mail us a CD. Seriously? We’re gonna potentially spend thousands of dollars publishing, printing and shipping mags across the country, but you can’t be bothered to drop a measly two bucks on postage to get a CD to us if we request one? We’re likely gonna spend more on promoting your band than a small label would, and somehow this is an affront to your sensibilities? Get over it. Drop the nonsense and put a friggin’ CD in the mail. Yeah, I get that it’s 2014 and everything’s digital, but sometimes a CD is just handier for a variety of reasons. Stop being a cheapskate. Your band should be a business if you’re at all serious about making a career out of this. And just like OUR business has overhead and expenses, so do you. That includes postage.
17. You CC two hundred press addresses on your email. Hear that? It’s the sound of two hundred editors, writers and bloggers hitting “delete.” It’s super unprofessional. Learn how to BCC people or better yet, invest in a list management service. They’re not expensive and they keep your email lists organized and segment-able. Have separate lists for press and fans. Seriously. S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E LISTS.
18. While we’re on the subject of email lists, don’t email every press outlet in the country any time you have a random gig. Especially if your gig is in not in a major metro area and it’s unlikely anyone from a mag located in aforementioned metro areas is willing to send one of their writers to your show. You’re smarter than that. If it’s a local gig, reach out to local press. If it’s part of a tour, alert the media in that town WELL in advance of you rolling in to town. Hint: two days notice is not WELL in advance, especially for alt-weeklies and other print outlets. Even blogs need more of a heads-up than that.
19. You mail a CD with no contact info. Or you’re so metal that your name is completely unreadable (yet awesomely adorned with criss-crossed webs and blood-dripping letters) that we have no clue who you are or how to get in touch. I’d like to imagine you’re smarter than that. Think about it…
20. You repeatedly pitch the same thing, over and over…and over, and over. We got it; you have a new CD coming out. But if you have no additional or supplementary info to provide, one pitch and maybe a follow up is sufficient. Other than that, you’re just annoying and alienating editors.
21. Don’t have your fans seek us out and pitch on your behalf. I know you think it’s a good idea if mags and blogs hear a buzz about you, but here’s the rub: they probably don’t want to hear from your fans. Sounds elitist right? Yup, we think so too. But that’s the way it is. Your fans’ campaign is usually not doing you any favors, especially if it’s blatantly obvious you’re the one who put them up to it.
22. Your long-ass bio is long. Tell me a short interesting story about your project, hit some key bullet points, make sure you spell everyone’s name right, and call it a day. I’ve received bios that are literally 10 pages before. They end up in the garbage most of the time. We need the pertinent facts, not a diary of what you ate for lunch in the 8th grade. Here’s another sad fact most editors won’t tell you – they don’t read your bio anyway, even if it IS short. They skim the bullet points, jump to the “RIYL” section and that’s about it. RIYL means Recommended If You Like. Basically you tell us if we dig this list of bands, we might dig you, too. If you’re not totally offended by comparing yourself to other artists, this can be extremely handy for mag staffs. Especially if an editor knows a particular staffer digs some of the bands on your list, it makes it much easier to say, “Hey Betty, I know you dig ‘So and So.’ Please listen to this and tell me what you think.” You’re not giving up any artistic cred by saying people might dig your stuff if they dig this other stuff too.
23. YOUR PHOTOS SUCK. Yup, we listen to everything, but not all mags are like us. If your pictures suck, you run the very real risk of ending up in the trash. Go spend some dough on a professional shoot or hire a good live photographer to get kick-ass shots of one of your shows. It’s worth it. Plus, you can then use those pics for when you do end up getting press, and you save the mag the trouble (and cost) of setting up a new shoot for you. Bonus! Make an editor’s job easier, and you’ll quickly become their new best friend. Read that last sentence like nine more times and commit it to memory.
24. Your long-ass emails are long. Now I know this is ironic considering the length of this tome, but keep your emails short and to the point. Let us know the pertinent deets about why you’re contacting us, and throw your contact info in a signature. See how short that sounds? It’s because it is. We’re not going to sift through eight paragraphs to figure out why you’re contacting us.
25. Your long-ass emails contain a long-ass list of links. Focus on one key link if you can (example: YouTube link if you’re pimping a new video, or Bandcamp link if you’ve got a new single/LP you want us to dig). Having to sift through a hundred links to get to one pertinent one is a waste of everyone’s time. Again, your job is to make an editor’s life easier, and your odyssey of links is a shortcut to the rubbish bin.
26. You sound like every other indie band on the market. We’re looking for greatness, not sameness. Has everyone told you that you sound like “ArtistX”? Then it’s gonna be really tough to break through and get a lot of press when we’ve heard your band a thousand times before.
27. Your band is actually pretty good. Yep, believe it or not, you’re likely to get passed over for coverage if your band is good. Why? Again, mags and blogs need GREAT, and while that’s subjective to taste, something with an indefinable “something extra” doesn’t just come from writing competent songs and playing them well in the studio. There’s gotta be an element of that extra oomph to make you great. With recording costs and disc manufacturing costs so damn cheap (or non-existent in the realm of digital-only releases), too many “good” bands now have access to great recording options, which means our inboxes are flooding with music that’s actually not bad sounding, but unfortunately takes time to dig through to find “great.” I know it sounds backwards, but your good band might be the reason no one cares. There’s simply too much good in the world.
28. Conversely, your music sucks. Obviously, your shitty band deserves no coverage if you’re shitty. Unless you’re the Shitty Beatles from Wayne’s World, in which case you get an automatic pass.
29. Your publicist sucks. Go to their site – are you even on it? Can editors quickly and easily get what they need from your publicist? Are there hi-res photos (with proper photographer credits) available for use? Is your current bio and member list there (and spelled right)? Is your current release info…current? Have you even bothered to see what sorts of emails this person you’ve hired is sending out? Are you tracking your campaign’s progress and getting regular updates on placements and outreach? Be smart out there, and don’t just hire the cheapest publicist you can for your next release. Talk with them and see if they are committing any of the egregious buffooneries contained on this list. Get a complete history of who they’ve worked with and see if you can get testimonials from other bands before you drop bank on a person (or firm) to run your next campaign. Better yet, email me for a list of publicists we think do an excellent job for their clients. Remember, your publicist needs to build RELATIONSHIPS with press; it’s not good enough for them to just have a contact list. You can build one of those on your own.
30. You have no damn pitch. Please realize that “We have a new record coming out” is not a pitch. There’s no story there. You have a new record coming out? You don’t say! So don’t a hundred thousand other bands. Here’s the most crucial question every writer and editor asks themselves, and you need to ANSWER it when you pitch press on your band: “What’s in it for me?” Simple, huh? Can you answer it? If I get a package on my desk, that’s immediately what I’m trying to answer, even if I don’t literally speak those words aloud. “What’s in it for me?” Why should I give a shit about this band? Will my readers care? Are they offering up any story angle that’s gonna make people visit our site or pick up the mag? What’s in it for me to cover your band? Think long and hard about it. ANSWER it before the editor or writer has a chance to ask it themselves, and you’re a HUGE step ahead of most bands jostling for ink.
31. BONUS: you send crap with your packages. You’re not running for student council. Skip the pins, stickers, and various other sundries that no doubt cost you money. Sell them to fans, because press folk will likely chuck them as soon as they drop out of the envelope. Glitter is the worst; we hate vacuuming.
So, what the hell DO you do to get press? Easy. Answer the question posed in #30 above, have amazing songs, and…well, there’s always an element of luck involved. Sorry, wish I had a better, foolproof formula for you to follow. Really, truly great songs will reach people. Not just good recordings or a schticky stage show. The songs have to resonate with people, and unfortunately I can’t teach you how to do that. You’ve either got it or you don’t, and if you do, there are LOTS of things (see above) that can get in the way of you and the press, hindering your ability to make any headway regardless of how amazing your music is.
Think we’re a bunch of elitist pricks who’ve got it all wrong? Sound off in the comments section below.