5 Tips for Approaching Music Journalists
Julia Rogers, our own editor-in-chief is a classically-trained musician, a published author and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects and has written about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients ranging from AOL Small Business to American Express.
Part of being a DIY artist is marketing yourself like an entrepreneur or small business owner: You’re presenting the brand of “You, Inc.,” comprised of all the unique things about your music and you as an artist. And while putting some tracks up on social media or on your own website is an important, part of your larger portfolio of marketing tactics, you can’t just leave it at that and hope that someone will eventually stumble across you.
A very important part of your PR campaign as a DIY artist is presenting yourself well to blogs, podcasts, online music communities, music websites and magazines. It’s a given that if you’re at the stage where you’re ready to approach the press about your music, you should have at least two things: a professional-sounding collection of your songs – whether that is in the form of an LP or a full-length album – that represents you at your best; tangible proof that you are playing whenever and wherever possible, working hard at providing an engaging experience for your fan base – who essentially act as your paying “clients,” buying albums and coming to your shows – and to turn new people onto your music. Assuming you have both those things going for you, what comes next?
Although almost everything you need to know about your brand can live conveniently online, a lot revolves around email. A well-crafted email can land you and your band more free advertising than you could ever afford (which is incredibly important, especially if you really are paving the road of your music career entirely by yourself). However, a bad one will end up in the “Deleted Items” folder, often before even one note of one song hits a single ear.
You don’t necessarily have to be a highly-trained writer or even a great natural marketer to put together an attention-getting email; neither of these skills is typically the #1 strength of most musicians. But if you’re serious about making music your career, you do have to approach the media thoughtfully and professionally and think like a business owner whenever you’re presenting yourself and your music. The following are five tips to think about before (long before!) you hit “send” on that next email.
#1: Have a clear grasp on your story. You love your music and you think people should hear it. But you have to think of yourself like any other company or brand: In order to get people to tune into you, you must have a good handle on your story and mission statement as an artist and be able to persuade potential fans with very short attention spans why they should love your music too. “I’ve been passionate about music ever since I was five and I like to write songs” or “I grew up watching MTV and know my music is better than what I’ve seen on there” isn’t going to cut it; these statements encapsulate an almost immeasurable number of artists or ”musicians’ brands” out there.
Instead, think about which unique qualities sets the story of how you came into music apart from the story of every other person that has ever played music. Perhaps you were raised by circus performers who were hip hop fans, which led you to develop an interest in learning how to play the accordion and writing clown-themed raps (though don’t worry — you probably don’t have to be quite that “different” to stand out!). Even if you are just a guitar-driven indie rock band or a traditional singer/songwriter, think about the personal experiences that have led you to pursue music and how that comes through in what you do. Then write that story out … in no more than three sentences. People with the power to write about and recommend your music to others often get hundreds of emails daily, and they will tune out if you don’t get to the point quickly. If they want to know more, they will ask. After you write down your short story – in the business/entrepreneurial world, they call it your “elevator pitch” – repeat it over and over to yourself, so you can rattle it off when someone asks you and relay it in every email you send to someone you think should be listening to your music, along with a direct link to some songs.
#2: Keep it local. When you’re deciding which media outlets to contact about your music, start with those that write about musicians and events that are located near you. If you’re at the beginning of your career – and especially if you’re at a point where you’re just starting to see a few more people than your four closest friends and your mom regularly at your shows – you need to focus on getting attention in your home city/local area. In the beginning, reaching out to people that can actually come out to see you play, understand where you come from and interact with you personally is an important part of establishing personal relationships with current and future fans. And the closer they feel to you, the more likely they will be to recommend you to friends and the more often all of them will want to stream your music, buy your t-shirts or come to see you perform.
#3: Do focused research. As a DIY artist, there’s nothing that can waste your precious PR time – or suck more time away from your top priority, which is writing and playing great music – more than blindly sending out “listen to my music” emails to every person on the planet who listens to music. Still, a lot of bands do just that, thinking that indiscriminately casting a wide net will increase the odds that someone will respond. Think of it this way – if you didn’t own a house, would you like to get repeated, unsolicited emails about homeowners’ insurance? If you front a country band and you randomly email bloggers that write exclusively about heavy metal bands or someone that runs a steampunk zine begging them to listen to your music, you’re essentially committing the same crime of irrelevancy, and you could even be building a bad reputation for yourself as a thoughtless spammer.
It’s quick and painless to search for the media outlets that regularly talk about the exact type of music you play and to find the people that might even actually be excited to hear from you, which can up the rate of positive response to your emails significantly. Along those same lines, know which type of outlet you’re emailing before you send so you can set realistic expectations about the response you might get. A blog, a newspaper and a magazine all take very different approaches when it comes to writing about and talking to artists. Also, before you start to send emails, make a list of sources. You can add to and subtract from that list as you go along.
#4: Send personalized emails. Once you’ve made a list of media outlets to email – even if that list is long – resist the temptation to send a form letter. Take the time to craft each email separately and include a few personalized details you’ve learned through your research about the person/publication/source in question. If you are sticking to the “short and sweet” rule of emailing, this level of detail shouldn’t take too long to add, and it will show the person on the other end that you’re legitimately interested in their feedback and are serious about your career.
Secondly, the community of journalists and bloggers that write about music tend to know each other, especially if they write for the same publication or about the same types of music. This means they talk to each other about the music – and any communication – they receive from artists. If you send the exact email to ten different people, you risk, at best, depersonalizing the professional relationship you could have had with a journalist or blogger that could’ve potentially helped you connect with a huge number of new fans. At worst, the people you email will spread a negative word about you to those in their network, which will likely decrease your chances of getting written up elsewhere.
#5: Don’t send more than two emails. Along the same lines as “keep it short and sweet,” when you’re trying to get people to write and talk about your music, limit yourself to two emails: an email with links and a follow-up email, sent at a later date. That’s it. Period. As previously mentioned, people writing about music hear from a lot of artists on a daily basis. And the best journalists and bloggers – those that truly care about what they do and have a legitimate love of music – are going to actually take the time to thoughtfully read and listen to almost every email and music link they get. You’re not going to get a “yes” or “no” right away, so you need to be patient. At best you can expect to get a quick “Thanks for sending this! I’ll listen to it within [insert specific time frame here] and get back to you.” If that happens, wait the amount of time the person specified and then send a quick follow-up a few days after that time has expired. If you get no response to your initial email – which, frankly, quite often happens – wait at least a week and then send a follow up. In either case, if you don’t hear back after your second email, end it there and move on.
As you think about the process of sending emails to the press about your unique artist brand, think about the last time you heard a music journalist say, “I love this new band I’ve never heard of. All they had to do was send me a link to a stream of their album, and I was sold!” Likely, you can’t, because that’s probably never happened. The truth is, most bloggers and music journalists have little to no direct interest in helping you and your band reach the next level; they’re looking for good music that their loyal readers will like. In order to get the attention of music journalists and get the word out about your music, you need to provide compelling reasons for music lovers to listen and fall in love with you. And if you can create that magnetic pull to your “creative products” (your music!) through all your marketing tactics, you will continue to add to your roster of “loyal customers” (your fans!).
To learn more about Julia Rogers, you can also follow her on Twitter.