At Fresh On The Net we like to champion the best of the new music that comes our way and to help where we can with advice for artists and bands in how to get ahead. There are many other sites out there who like to do the same and from time to time we like to feature them in a post. Tom Hazledine is no stranger to FOTN – his band Eaten By Monsters where featured on Tom’s BBC Introducing Mixtape back in February but he also has a music blog. Here is what he has to say about submitting music to his own blog…
It’s a tough business, getting your music in front of reviewers. I know, I’ve tried it myself and had both good and bad responses and, inevitably, far more cases of no-response-at-all than either of the former. Now I live on the other side of the fence, as a music reviewer, and facing an inbox full of press releases every morning has given me a different perspective on the process. Because my blog hasn’t been a total failure I now get sent far more music than I can ever possibly hope to listen to, and I have to be fairly decisive when skimming through the mass of press-releases. From my point of view this is fantastic, as it means I get to cherry-pick only the best-of-the-best to write about (and a steady stream of emails asking for my opinion is a welcome ego boost), but for those of you who want me to write about your music, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out from the crowd.
There’s been plenty written on FOTN about submitting your music to radio and the traditional press – all of it sound and useful advice – but with music blogs like mine becoming an increasingly reputable starting point for new bands seeking reviews, it’s time to outline some of the things you need to account for if you want a blog to review your music. Every blogger is different, but following this advice will give you a much better chance of getting through my filters, and I imagine it will also be useful to keep in mind when sending your stuff to other blogs, too. Ultimately the music is the only real deciding factor in whether you get written about or not, but there are a few things you can do to improve the chances of getting past the massive pile of unread emails.
“Eaten by Monsters’ draconian and highly arbitrary submission guidelines”
#1: Read my blog.
It’s pretty easy to tell if a writer’s tastes are in line with yours, so read a couple of my reviews. I like to think that I have eclectic, catholic tastes, encompassing the length and breadth of musical experience, but if you’re sending me your latest EDM track that’s been dropping phat beats on the club scene then it’s going straight in my trash folder. I suppose ‘alt. rock’ is my milieu of choice, but I try to be open to anything if it’s good enough; I’ll often feature post-rock, contemporary-classical, jazz, folk (I do have a soft spot for acoustic guitars, accordions and cellos…), but I rarely give any time to hip-hop or grime or dubstep. Very few blogs actually cover every style music, so take the time to check you’re sending your music to a reviewer who’s not going to throw your record straight out the window.
#2: If your band is completely unknown then I’d recommend the personal touch.
There are a few PR companies representing smaller acts who send generic email updates, and in that case it’s a question of trust – if I know the company has a good track record I’ll dig deeper even if I’ve never heard of the band in question. And of course bands and labels I’m familiar with can get away with an impersonal mass mail out too, and here it’s a question of authority – I want to hear their music far more than they want me to hear it. Where I like to think I can be really useful is in getting smaller bands in touch with new audiences, and for that kind of band I like to think I’m worth a bit more of their time. I’m not expecting crazy stalking and payola or anything, but knowing my name and having a vague idea of the kind of music I normally write about helps a lot. I’m a vain fool, and if you’ve taken the time to write me a personal email then I’m much more likely to listen to your record.
#3: Tell me about yourself, but don’t go crazy.
I like to have details of the full band line-up and a brief biog., as well as producer, engineer and mixer credits. I love little indie labels, so if you’re on one, or represent one, then any info on the label as a whole is also welcome. I always use the record’s artwork as the image for a review post, so sending me that’s essential, but feel free to throw in some promo pics too, if you like. The key here is concision; give the facts, skip the hyperbole. Wild exclamations about how great a band is just sound like lies, and the emails get deleted. I’ll be the judge of whether you’re the next Beatles or not (and for the record, I hate the Beatles).
#4: Use Soundcloud.
Other streaming services are available, but this one is by far the easiest to use. If there’s no other alternatives then I’ll host a file myself, but embedding a Soundcloud link is much quicker and looks much better. Bandcamp is a great service, and I’ll include ‘buy it’ links to a Bandcamp page wherever there’s one available, but their embeddable player is not the best, and I tend to save myself the hassle and avoid it all together. The point here is to make it as easy as possible for a blogger to write about you. Others may prefer different formats, and that’s something you’ll pick up if you followed tip #1.
#5: Know what you’re giving away.
If I’m reviewing an album I usually include two tracks off it to stream and for download. This is something I’ve been doing less of lately, as the beauty of Soundcloud embeds is that the band themselves can decide whether it’s available for download. As legal digital music services get better and easier, there are fewer and fewer reasons to include ‘illegal downloads’ with a review. However, the whole point of an mp3 blog is that people can hear and keep your music, but if you’d rather I didn’t include a download then say so straight away. Most bloggers completely understand bands who want to preserve the value of their songs, and we won’t think less of you if you don’t want to make a download available, but most acts are eager for the added exposure a download brings. For EPs I generally include two songs to stream but just one to download, and for singles I stream the A-side and put up the B-side for download. Again, check what the blog you’re submitting to usually does, and adapt your submission accordingly, but be aware that including music in the post is generally part of the deal.
#6: Send vinyl.
There are precious few new bands that can afford to press their own vinyl, and even fewer who can afford to give that vinyl away, so this will probably not apply to many of you. However, there is no better way to get to the top of my listening pile than to send me vinyl. It still won’t guarantee you a review – if I don’t like it I probably won’t write about it, no matter how much you’ve spent on posting me your quadruple gatefold box-set from the Antarctic – but it will increase your chances of getting listened to in the first place.
#7: Have a thick skin.
It’s something I try to avoid doing, but I really am a master of the backhanded compliment. Unless I’m going on a vitriolic rant (which I only do once in a blue moon) I’ll only write about a record if there’s some kernel of worth within it. What I won’t do, however, is skirt around aspects of the music that I don’t like. I’ll be constructive when I can be, but I’ll never say a record’s better than I actually think it is. Remember, I’m rating records against every other record ever released. I’ve had the pleasure of discovering a great many new bands who’s music is better than Zeppelin, The Clash, The Specials et al, but the honest truth is that very little music is that good. There’s no shame in not being as talented as Jimmy Page. Very few of us are. If I’ve written about you at all it’s because I think you’re better than 90% of the music that’s ever been made (there’s a lot of rubbish out there!), and a rating of four-point-three out of ten may sound stingy, but is in fact very good. Honestly.
Be aware, however, that if your music is bloody awful then I will say so publicly. People’s dislikes are just as important as their likes, so I think it’s important to write about bad music from time to time. I try not to be nasty, and if your stuff isn’t great, but is just a bit under-rehearsed or badly-recorded then I won’t go out of my way to say bad things. Every band has to start somewhere, and I’m not interested in picking on people just because they’re not quite ready yet. But if a record’s truly awful and I’ve taken time out of my day to listen to it, then I’ll need to blow off some steam
#8: Stay Positive.
None of this guarantees I’ll listen to your record, but sadly that’s just the nature of the music industry at large at the moment; now, more than ever, it’s a buyers market. Just using common sense will get you farther than anything else, and at the end of the day I do this because I like hearing new music, and if your stuff’s good then I’ll be glad to hear it. I often write about ‘big’ releases – it provides a more universal point of reference, and helps bed the rest of the reviews in the contemporary musical firmament – but what really gets me up in the morning, and has ultimately kept me writing my blog for no money for all these years, is finding great music that is so new hardly anyone’s heard of it. It often takes me weeks to absorb a record enough to review it, but being one of the first people to give a leg-up to a new young band with oodles of potential is a great feeling.
If all of this still hasn’t put you off, then I salute you! And I look forward to hearing your record.
An early draft of this post appears as the ‘submission guidelines’ page on the Eaten by Monsters Music Blog. http://eatenbymonsters.com