We live in a world where almost everything that gets created digitally — good or bad — is archived on the internet forever. 72 hours of new content are uploaded to YouTube every minute; providing a rough reference point as to how much other media a given piece of content is competing with. There are a huge number of additional sites that host audio and video content, so one can only imagine the true amount of “media” uploaded to the internet every day.
So how then, is a musician ever able to step forward through the digital ‘noise’ and get his or her music heard by people who might actually care about listening to it?
Despite the vast quantity and diverse quality currently displayed in the world of music journalism and digital music blogs, these online (and offline) outlets are often the key to exposing music to a wider audience. Blogs and online magazines act as filters for the ‘digital noise,’ and when a reader stumbles across a site that generally posts about music he or she likes, the chances that person will return to the same site to find new music are very high.
Likewise, the few media outlets that are still circulated in physical print often carry direct links to a demographic of readers who are eager to hear new music. The “filter” of physical papers and magazines is also usually more intensive than blogs, and as such the consistency of the music the outlet covers is generally higher and more accurately tailored to the reader(s).
How does a musician get his or her music involved in these media outlets?
Most often, music journalists will pick up on music that is sent to them from a label or PR company he or she trusts, or seek out a musician he or she personally likes, but if an aspiring musician hasn’t released anything on one of these labels or doesn’t have a PR company to work with, how is the artist to connect with the media outlet? Obviously, the first step is to focus on the quality of the music the artist wishes to promote, but the next best option is sending out a good press release with the artist’s new music. While it is impossible to guarantee music will be featured in any media outlet, the remainder of this article provides some tips for good practices for music press releases to aid in increasing the chances of a journalist or blogger picking up music he or she has never heard before.
What is a press release?
When it comes to new music, a press release is a one-to-two page document that is emailed to a media outlet with the promotional unreleased music. It includes any important factual information about the release itself, as well as an objective description about the sonic qualities of the musical content.
What factual information should the press release include?
The following points are recommended factual essentials to every music press release:
- the name of the artist(s) with correct spelling
- where the artist(s) are from
- expected release date for the music (very important)
- medium of release (CD, vinyl, digital, etc)
- record label the release is coming out on
- track list
- where the release fits in the artist(s) discography (i.e. is it a debut release, or follow-up to a previous release)
- names of relevant collaborators and his or her roles on the release if applicable
- link to hear a single or small sample of the music instantly (i.e. Soundcloud or YouTube, this helps the reviewer determine whether he or she wants to download the whole release or not)
- a link to download the release
What should be said about the music itself?
An objective description of the music should be included in the press release. This includes any contextual details like collaborators, interesting facts about how the music was recorded or created, or what the artist was trying to convey with the music. The journalist’s job is to offer a critical opinion of the music, not the person writing the press release. Baseless, subjective ‘hyping’ of the music included with the press release is off-putting to reviewers. Accurate, objectively descriptive words paint a better picture of the music’s important features than subjective opinion-based descriptions. That said, unless the artist is trying to get a music video on VEVO or some other marketing-based web service, do not try to hype up the music by including number of YouTube hits or Soundcloud plays the artist has in the press release; it is completely irrelevant to the quality of the music itself.
In what format should the music be sent?
Generally, a link to download 320 kb/s mp3 files from the release is preferred. Streaming links and encrypted downloads are still acceptable, but keep in mind that the easier the press release makes it for the journalist to obtain the music, the more likely the journalist is to actually do so. Complex, highly secure download parameters attempting to combat ‘piracy’ are unnecessary; the more roadblocks a journalist encounters when trying to obtain the mp3 files, the more likely he or she is to move on to the next email and skip the hassle. The majority of music journalists work for free or next to nothing, and it makes their lives easier if they can throw mp3′s onto an iPod and listen to them when traveling or when they do not have access to a computer. CD’s and vinyl are acceptable if there is a physical office for the outlet, though everything is quickly going digital in the press world, as it is much easier and faster to communicate without relying on physical mail.
How long should the press release be?
Generally, one page is plenty. If more pages are needed to explain the project, such as if there was a special context to its creation, this is acceptable as well. Anything over two pages is likely be skimmed or overlooked, as most journalists receive hundreds of press releases every week.
Who should write the press release?
Generally, the press release for a piece of music should be written by the label itself, or the PR agency that represents the artist. In practice, it does not look good for an artist to write a press release about his or her own music. Again, the job of the journalist is to logically and critically offer his or her opinion on the music presented. To best write an objective description about the music, the label who solicited the music in the first place is the most appropriate candidate to write the press release, as the label will write a genuine representation of what the music sounds like.
Where and when should the press release be sent?
When selecting outlets to send the music and release to, be selective. Do the research, and send the music and press release only to blogs and magazines that are likely to actually review it. If you are making indie rock, compile a list of reputable outlets who generally write about indie rock, if you are making ambient music, find out what outlets are chiefly involved in ambient music.
“Journalists, especially editors, get sent so much music so you need to target your pitches. I had 1,000 emails in December and January alone, and that doesn’t include the out and out spam. There’s no point sending me heavy metal or country if I’m the electronic editor. It’s just going to annoy me and waste both of our time,” says Exclaim electronic editor Vincent Pollard.
The ‘spam’ Vince is referring to here also leads into the next piece of advice: do not spam the press release everywhere. It is obvious to the journalist when he or she receives impersonal “spam” emails of music, and that particular journalist will likely never read another email from that address or organization again. Likewise, if there are no music reviews on a site and the label/artist sends that site music to review, it is painstakingly obvious that the label/artist/PR company are spamming the net without doing research. Additionally, if the journalist did not email back, do not send a flurry of follow-up emails; lack of response is clear sign that — for whatever reason — he or she does not care to write about the music.
Additionally, the more time the journalist has to listen to the music before its release date, the better. When thinking about when to send the press release out these outlets, Vince’s advice is to “be ahead of time. Don’t tell me your album is out today; do press at least 1-2 months in advance if you want a review. Help us help you.”
To a degree, yes. The text is the most important feature of the press release; do not send out a press release with spelling mistakes or grammatically incoherent wording. That said, making a press release look professional is relatively important.
“Don’t hand write it. It’s not cute, it’s amateur and irritating,” as Vince puts it bluntly.
Readability is the key feature here; there’s no need to spend hours designing the press release as it will be discarded immediately after being used.
The press release has been sent to selected outlets, what next?
Most journalists will contact the PR company or label if they need any additional information about the release, or if it has been reviewed. However, do not expect any replies from media outlets; they receive thousands of emails every day and many do not reply even if they end up reviewing the release. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else an artist can do other than continuing to focus on making powerful music.
Music is a craft; the more practice an artist puts into it and the more seriously the artist takes it, the better he or she will get. Expecting the media to turn an eye onto a release that was recorded when an artist was 17 years old and still being spammed years later is a waste of time and energy, and detrimental to the artist’s own craft, as it is far more beneficial to move forward and create more and more music than it is to be a sitting duck waiting to be fed with a silver spoon.
The music industry is more saturated than it ever has been before, and if an artist takes a lazy approach to his or her career, the artist cannot expect more than a lazy or non-existent response to the music from the media and general public. Doing the research and properly playing the ‘press game’ — though unappealing to many — helps to build important relationships with people who can aid musicians in obtaining the exposure they deserve.
Vincent Pollard is the electronic editor at Exclaim Magazine, and — in addition to managing StudioFeed.com — Philip James de Vries is a freelance contributor at Exclaim Magazine and Earmilk.com. In summation, they receive thousands of music press emails every month.