Thank you to all of you who wrote to me at DrDaveBlogFeedback@gmail.com. I am glad to hear that so many of you found my tips on getting reviewed helpful. Since so many people asked about what to include with a submission I thought I would answer you all here.
The good news is that you don’t need a professional publicist to get your music out into the world in a pro format. In fact, some of the best material I’ve received over the years has come from individuals, while some of the worst has no doubt cost the artists a fair amount of cash. Here’s what you need to know:
CD or Download?
Most reviewers want a CD. This is a more expensive option than having them download your music, but many reviewers and critics will refuse to download. Some people are still technologically challenged, while others are so busy that they feel they don’t have time to download. I’ll often give an album a first listen in the car, and for those albums I download I’ll maybe have to convert to MP3 and put them into iTunes and on to my iPod, so if I’m pressed for time I’m most likely to just grab a CD from the pile and listen to it. But there is a big exception, for me at least: if an artist sends me a link to one song that they feel is representative, I’ll usually listen to it as soon as I can, and if I like it I’ll download the album. But that’s me, and others tell me they won’t do that – they need a CD.
Most CD’s are accompanied by a single sheet. Laser printing is fine, but use colour if you can. The title should be the name of the CD and the artist. The label, recording studio, producer, etc. can all be mentioned later, but you want the title and your name (or your band’s name) to be the focus and stick in the reviewer’s mind. Finally, display your web site’s URL prominently.
The trick with the data sheet is to give enough information to hook the reader, but still keep them wondering “Who is this artist? How can I find out more?” You want to give an idea of the musical style, the makeup of the group or style of soloist, if the music is original or covers or a mix, and maybe a little about where you are coming from musically.
Try to find a starting sentence that will grab the attention of someone who will like what you’ve done. Remember that you can’t please everybody, so try to hook the reviewer or critic who is going to be favorably inclined.
Talk a little about the music but don’t explain each song. Give a capsule overview of the music and what you were trying to achieve.
Give a one or two (at most) paragraph musical biography of yourself. It should tell something about what made you the artist that you are at this point, and how it led to the music on the album.
No Glossy Photos Please
At least once a month I’ll get a glossy photo of an artist with a CD, and it always saddens me to think of the pointless expense. These are very rarely used, and it is much better to include a number of digital shots in your online Press Kit.
Online Press Kit
It is expensive enough to send out a CD and single data sheet without sending an entire press kit to every potential reviewer. Set up a “Press” section on your web site, and include the basic components of a press kit there. Have shots of album covers in different sizes and resolutions, artist photos, gig shots if you have them, and any other graphic PR material that might interest a fan or other reader. This is the place to include previous reviews, testimonials, and fan comments, as well as tour schedules and upcoming events. A full biography of every member of the group and other info such as gear endorsements should be here as well. Think of this as the one stop a reviewer or critic will make and give them as much information as they could possibly want, clearly labelled.
OK, so here are the things that you should not do.
DON’T exaggerate claims wildly. Saying that everyone will love your music will only determine some critics to contradict you, often very unkindly.
DON’T give your life story. Give the musical essentials and let the reviewer check your web site for more, if they want it.
DON’T cite testimonials unless they are from major sources. Even the most glowing quote is meaningless if the source is unknown (let’s hope you have at least one friend who likes what you do!).
DON’T include your CV. One page is enough, and some won’t even read that.
DON’T cite your parents as your “greatest fans.” Do I have to tell you why? Don’t laugh though. I’ve had two of these in the past month.
DON’T think that “formal” language will sound impressive. Let the reader know who you are by speaking naturally. Use good grammar and spelling but your own words. “I thought to myself I’m gonna make the best damn album I could!” is better than “I took upon myself the consideration that I should produce a product the most praiseworthy that one in my situation might conceivably produce, given of course the constraints.”
DON’T be afraid to follow up. Give the reviewer a few weeks to receive the CD and to listen to it. Remember that most of us get one or more a day, and often this is not our main job, so it might take a while to get around to your work. Remember to be polite; you don’t want an angry reviewer taking their first listen.
… and …
DON’T get angry and attack someone who decides not to review your work. I’ve occasionally listened to a rejected CD and decided that my initial impression was wrong and given it a good review. But I’m only human, and a really angry email back would probably make me want to just toss the CD in the trash. (Fortunately this has not happened to me, but I have heard from critics that it does happen.)
I will talk about press releases because I still get them from some press agents and publicists, as well as some artists who seem to have taken business courses or seminars. Except for the major media, these are largely unnecessary. A good data sheet is all most people really need. So unless you think your CD may sell more than 100,000 copies this might be a waste of time.
Even when I write for a magazine, I have to smile at the start of almost every press release: “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE!” Realize that most magazines have a lead time of 3 or more months and you will see what I mean. A major artist may stoke interest by pre-announcing an upcoming album, but few reviewers or critics will write much until they hear the music. And those who will are usually well aware of what is in the pipeline well before a press release arrives.
If you do decide you need to send out a press release for whatever reason, even to the local newspaper, follow some simple guidelines. Use the “For immediate release” as the starter. Remember to indicate the date and city of origin. Order your paragraphs in decreasing order of interest, remembering that most small papers will start at the top and cut when they get to their maximum word count. Give the essentials of the album, and then of the artist. Then details of the recording and artist. Think “If they only publish up to here, will they know what they need to know?”
In this case you DO want to fill at least a full page in case they decide to publish the whole thing. Who knows? Maybe you will hit a slow news day, or maybe they are looking for a local music story, or maybe someone there saw you last week and liked what you played. But try to make it all interesting to a potential new fan.
Finally, be sure to include all contact information. This means web sites for the music as well as the artist (if they are different) so that fans can learn more and buy the music. Include also contact information for the media outlet in case they want clarification or maybe even an interview.
Write the release with the expectation that the music will be a big success and the media will publish the entire thing, but for your own sanity be realistic. Be confident but not over-bearing. It’s the killer combination.
Written by “Dr. Dave” Walker
Dr. Dave Walker is a writer for blog.davewalkermusic.com and for Just Jazz Guitar. A former computer science professor, he has since come to his senses and now teaches music.