How not to get a music reviewer’s attention

Over my 30 or so years of playing and reviewing other people's music, I've had a lot of approaches from artists and labels to promote their stuff. I could tell you some stories. Today I'll stick to just one, plus offer a few tips to increase your chances of getting heard.

First let me say that I encourage submissions and pitches. I've discovered some epic music this way, got to know some brilliant people, and it's helped me stay across what's happening in the very broad and porous universe I call ambient, chillout and downtempo.

Oh, and free music. Yes, that's nice too.

The majority of artists and labels who email and message me are both polite and realistic. If you add up all the music I buy, borrow or receive in any given month, you'll understand it's impossible for me to listen to it all.

A smaller number of people who contact me use the ancient and well-worn tools of pressure, hype and exaggeration so beloved of publicity and PR agents - because most of those people are publicity agents. This I mostly forgive and never take personally. After all, in my other life I earn a living in the marketing and communications business. Who am I to point the finger?

The email pitch from hell

But just occasionally I get an email that's dripping with such hilarious insincerity that it beggars belief anyone would think it was a good idea. Perhaps in this Age Of Spam the theory holds that if you bullshit enough people, you will always find a few gullible souls.

Below is a certain type of email that I've received from at least three different sources in the past 12 months. While the exact wording and details differ a little, it's essentially the same gob-smacking pitch for my love and attention. Amazingly, the similarity between them suggests some kind of template or how-to guide is being used. God help us all.

It starts with something like:

I'm a massive fan of your blog

Thanks. Except it's not a blog. It's a large website with a small blog component. I know some folks don't make a distinction between the two, so at this point I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

I really love what you do.

Yet strangely, nowhere in the email do you even hint at a single example of why my work is the object of such deep affection. I wonder why that would be?

I listen to your song recommendations each time I get the chance to check your latest posts.

Wait, what? I almost never recommend songs. I recommend albums and ep's. I also release mixes and do radio shows. Which anyone would know if they actually browsed my site for 5 seconds.

I use your suggestions as inspiration whenever I create my own music.

So your music is derivative? Fail.

I don't usually reach out to people about my own music.

Double fail. One: bullshitting that I've been specially selected for your attention. Two: using the phrase "reach out", the Worst Corporate Buzzword Ever. In matters of business, no one "reaches out". Reaching out is an intimate and private thing, a compassionate gesture, a deeply human connection usually in times of grief or pain or crisis. It has zilch to do with commerce, marketing or customer service. Using this phase in such a context gives people the creeps because it devalues our humanity. Enough already.

I have a new release out, etc.

That's perfectly fine, and I may well have been interested if you had cut to the chase instead of using flattery that revealed you made zero effort to learn about my site.

I know you're super busy managing your channel - i understand how tough it is as I myself struggle with the same problem with my website.

What channel? And how would you know I'm busy and doing it tough? The attempt at empathy is so generic you could just as well be talking about the problem of rising damp or naughty children.

If you review my album/whatever you'll first one to write about it, kind of an exclusive partnership and I'll promote it for you on social media.

Sigh. I kind of admire the chutzpah of such a bald-faced request for me to sell out. Perhaps this is the new normal thanks to the legions of astroturfers, fake reviewers, shills disguised as bloggers and paid "influencers" that we now find online.

On that gloomy note, rant over.

Some tips to get a reviewer's or DJ's attention

Entertaining as it is, the above example is an extreme and fairly rare example of a promotional fail. Most email pitches I get aren't insincere. Some are sharp and brief. Some are dull, hard to read, or are simply wrongly targeted.

My tips for artists and labels on making written pitches to reviewers and DJ's:

  • Don't use templates, obviously. Most people will see through it.
  • Be real and avoid hype - though I know some publicity hacks just can't help it. Bless.
  • Don't be familiar and pretend you are someone's best friend, unless you already know the person.
  • Be brief - less is more. If there's bio material, put it at the bottom or link to it.
  • Talk about the music and what it actually sounds like, rather than the labyrinthine details about what the band/artist has been up to and where they've been and who they've worked with and all their other recent history.
  • Don't dwell on what inspired the music - surely an artist doesn't need to explain.
  • Follow submission guidelines and submit music in the format that is asked for. It's one less barrier to getting heard.
  • Use pithy quotes from good reviews, if you have them. Don't even think about faking reviews because the internetz sees all.
  • Finally, know what genre/s your music fits into. This mistake is most commonly made by publicity agents doing email blasts. Result: delete.
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