How to Get Your Record Reviewed
In an era that has wholeheartedly adopted the phrase, “Any press is good press”, artists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and moms with the cutest baby photos evar recognize the importance of getting one’s name out there in the media landscape. But as everyone also knows, catching and keeping your audience’s attention is difficult, since nothing is operated faster than a scroll button.
While others have written how-tos on this particular topic–and Kim Ruehl’s on this site is by far the best in my opinion–I’d like to share a few tips on scoring a record review, whether you’re a musician, publicist, or manager. I get a lot of requests for reviews, and after dealing with the same problems repeatedly, I thought it might be useful to tell you a few things from my perspective. I welcome others to weigh in on the topic.
I wear many different hats, some of them all in the same day. I switch between writing, editing, teaching, administrative work, booking, promotion, peer-review, cleaning out the litter box, etc. These might seem like related jobs, and they are loosely in that they mostly circle around roots music. Still, going from a three-hour lecture on medieval music to assembling tax packages to editing a 20-page article on Metis fiddling requires a gear-shifting that isn’t always easy to navigate. This is the reality of 21st Century contract work in the arts, something with which many of us on this site are familiar.
The gear-shifting I do means that when I choose to write–and it is a choice, because it’s creative and largely non-paid work–I want to write about something that interests me, and I want to put my best effort into it. So if you ask me for a record review, you are not asking someone who is employed by, say, a daily or weekly publication, who gets handed discs without much say on who is reviewed, or who has a strict word-count limit. You’re asking someone who has the luxury of a bit more time and space to offer you.
So here are my suggestions:
1. If you want the record reviewed around the time of its release, send it early. Digital or physical format is fine, but plan to send at least a couple weeks in advance of the release date. I’m not the type to upload it illegally, so it will stay safe in my hands. It helps to send your request in advance of sending the album, because I may not feel equipped to write about your particular genre or style of writing and delivery, and I will tell you if that’s the case.
2. Please, please, please, send me your bio. Tell me where you’re from, who your influences are, why you got into music, who played on your record, who produced it, where it was recorded, whether it’s your first or eighteenth record, etc. It doesn’t have to be a novel, but I’m not going to write a review if I can’t contextualize you within your contemporaries, predecessors, genre, and region. You see? I take you seriously, and I want to do a good job.
*Please do not say that it is difficult to pigeonhole your music, it’s not; that you do not fit into a genre, you do. Tell me if you’re country, alt-country, folk, rock, etc. When I worked in radio, my job was to go through the sometimes hundreds of albums we received in a week and get them into programmer’s boxes. If the description said “We can’t really categorize our music”, it went into the Wait Until Later box, and sometimes never reached a programmer. Give us every bit of info you can.*
3. If I’m slow, don’t get mad. I got asked to speak from the editor’s perspective on a “how to get published” panel next week, and my working title for the presentation was, “I Promise I Will Answer Your Email … Eventually”. Editors set deadlines months in advance of the actual review, edit, production, and publication process, because we know how long it takes to get from start to finish. Writers freak out, abandon drafts, badger, cry, get angry, and that’s all before the editor has had a chance to open the submission. Similarly, I might be slow with your review because it’s sitting under several other albums that have to be reviewed. Plus, I’m terrible at writing them–they cause me the most anxiety of any writing project I tackle–so they sometimes get shifted down the priority list.
Again, this is why earlier is better than later if you’re time-sensitive.
Please, PLEASE read this next tip, if nothing else.
4. Whether you are a musician or publicist, please tell me if you have sent the same CD to other writers on the publication. Here’s what happens to me all the time: I get a request to review a CD. The CD is sent to me. I put it on my playlist, and listen to it, sometimes for a couple weeks straight. I don’t review albums that I haven’t listened to at least five times, if not more. I finally sit down to write the review and discover that someone else on ND has written one a week earlier. If you send your album to several of us writers, let us know so that we can collaborate and not post redundant reviews. This is a case where saturating your audience won’t help, because it’s unlikely more than one review will be featured and/or reach the whole of the readership.
When this scenario happens, I’m completely deflated because I put a lot of my time in an album and it turns out there is no point in writing a review.
5. Understand that if I accept your review request that I am invested in you and I already like you. I will do my best to give you a considered review, to the best of my knowledge of what you do. The more you can give me–upcoming tour dates, links to photos, high-quality youtube clips, places to purchase your album–the better, and faster, your review will be.
And for the record, in case you’re considering asking, I privilege the following:
-Alberta/Western Canadian artists
-Alternative and traditional country
-Songwriters who tend towards narrative and historical songs
-Singers with unique and interesting voices
Because these are the things I feel a) equipped to write about and b) are deserving of (and often lacking) attention. I tend to shy away from blues, bluegrass, and singer-songwriter folk.
I hope some of these tips help, and I suspect many of the writers here on ND have similar advice to musicians struggling to capture our–and our audience’s–attention. It’s a tough road; the more we can help each other, the better.