Because of this blog’s thirteen-year existence, I get a number of email solicitations a week from people I don’t know (or know only slightly) who would like me to listen to their new CD, fall in love with it, and publicize it. I do not write this to mock them: it is difficult to be an independent artist in any century, and this shifting landscape has not made it easier. Artists pay thousands of dollars to create and promote their own work, and the publicity that actual record companies, record stores, and mass-market journalism once provided has gone away. So I sympathize.
What follows might be what my mother called “talking to the wall,” but perhaps someone will take this unsolicited advice and use it to be better marketers of their work. After all, “art” and “product” have become superimposed. When your CD “drops,” you want to “move” “units.” And that’s historically valid and respectable. In 1932, the Moten band hoped their Victor records would sell. Nothing shameful there.
But many artists — peculiarly, members of the most technologically-astute generation in human history — go about this blindly. I presume they Google “music blog,” and send out several hundred form-letters, in hope. It makes me envision someone opening a bag of grass seed on the roof, dumping it over the side, saying gleefully, “NOW I’ll have my very own meadow!” The birds enjoy the all-you-can-peck snacks, but very little grows.
A series of suggestions.
Be emotionally astute rather than eagerly self-absorbed. Understandably, you love your work. The new CD is your wondrous creation. It took time, money, thought, emotion, so many steps . . . ! But your reader, your “target,” has never heard it. How can you make them intrigued enough to want to? How can you make them not instantly click on the wastepaper-basket icon?
Assume you are writing to an adult rather than a teenager, and take deep breaths. Prose has conventions that aren’t texting, and the more polished — I don’t mean Photoshopped — your email is, the better it will be received. The cliche, “You have only one chance to make a first impression,” is true.
If writing is not your strongest talent, get someone in your family or circle of friends who can write to look at what you send out before you send it out. Maybe you believe no one cares that you scatter apostrophes and commas as if you were salting your eggs, but many people do. If you are writing in a language not your own, have someone look at it for sure: Google Translate is not trustworthy.
Be plain and friendly and clear. Possibly your reader is already weary of press-release hyperbole: speak as one person to another, although “Hey” is still for horses and “Yo” is for people you are addressing very informally. And perhaps especially in pandemic-times, expressing hopes that a stranger is “doing well in these _________ days” often sounds stale.
Find out the name of the person you want to reach and use it, deferentially, but use it. Should it be “Mr. Steinman” or “Michael”? Have we ever met? Do we have friends in common? How would you say hello to me if we were introduced in person? You can always come down from the formal; the other ascent is tricky.
Know who you’re sending it to. Crucial. Know your market. That means: be willing to do five minutes of research on each prospective blog or site or person. If you are sending out your version of the Jones-Collins Astoria Hot Eight to someone whose preferred music is alt-Christian-metal, it’s likely you are not going to get a hearing. And the reverse.
A few hours ago, I got a very cordial email from a young man who — articulate and friendly — wanted me to listen to and publicize his new song. It was very sweet pop music of the kind (and, yes, I know I am out of touch) I would expect to hear on the restaurant or mall sound system. I wrote back to him and, our of curiosity, asked if he knew the music I promoted on the blog. He said he didn’t, that he’d gotten my name from a new music distribution list or some such; he very graciously apologized for wasting my time. I wrote back and said he hadn’t, and I wished him well. He did me no harm; in fact, he provided me with a relevant anecdote for this post. But he did waste his energy.
Research is not only finding out that there might be a connection, but using the hope of that connection as a way of getting in the door. Showing your reader that you know what (s)he likes sends two messages: “I know your work and have taken the time to admire it,” and “We might be a good fit for these reasons.” I know that too much of this might veer into false adoration, but if I get an email that says, “Here’s my new CD, and you’ll love it,” or one that says, “Dear Mr. Steinman, I’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES for years, and I see that you admire melodic guitarists like X and Y. They are my heroes, too, and I wonder if you would be willing to listen to a track from my new CD . . . . ” you know which one will get my attention. Being candid, you don’t have to have been a life-long subscriber, but a little saucer of attentive fakery based on research will win friends.
After you’ve suggested — gently — why you believe your music would be appealing to them and their audience, make it easy for them to hear it, to read the liner notes, to see the covers. We readers have other things pulling at our sleeve, just as you do. Be aware that a review or an interview is not the same thing as a one-sentence blurb, and if someone like myself commits to writing about your disc, there is an expenditure of energy on my part as there is and was on yours.
If you’ve carefully done your research, and your music is aimed at the right person’s ears, perhaps you’ll get an enthusiastic email back. Or a polite refusal. Don’t be a pest, but do persevere. I don’t mind being reminded of something pleasing that I might have neglected the first time around.
Be gracious. This applies to both sides of the conversation. The reviewer who writes back, “Your band sucks,” deserves to be ostracized. If the listener hates the music or finds it boring, silence is the best response. And the reviewer should not take the opportunity to lecture the artists on their shortcomings. That you disliked the solo tenor saxophone solo on the subject of Chernobyl, others might not.
And to the artist . . . if you are tempted to write smart sharp rejoinders to a refusal, go make some tea or take a walk. Graciousness is remembered forever, and rudeness even longer. Remember that the world of musicians and publicists and bloggers is a small and gossipy one. “Do you know _______?” is the start of many lethal conversations that no one knows about but that go on all the time. If I seem to over-emphasize graciousness, it’s because it is in short supply, and some people who pride themselves on truth-telling do so with a hatchet. For my part, I will always remember the two bandleaders who were — as the Irish say — narky to me, along the lines of, “Well, my wonderful band doesn’t need your little blog at all.”
I can’t guarantee that these suggestions will insure that you will ship boxes of CDs or digital units, but they won’t hurt. If you’ve been told, “If you send out a thousand emails, you have a better chance of being heard than if you send out ten,” that logic is debatable. Think of the restaurant menu-flyers you’ve gotten: how many of them have encouraged you to buy an actual meal?
If those ten emails are to the right people, you will get pleasing results. You have a better chance of your words being read, your music being listened to. And that’s what ALL of us want: I want to hear a CD by someone I didn’t know existed, twenty minutes ago, and I want to be enthralled. You want me to be enthralled. Deal?
Pass this one around. I spent decades teaching, and I guess the didactic impulse hasn’t left me, but I want to help people on both sides of the exchange to be happier, and I want the art I love to continue, unbruised and flourishing.
For those who like such things, here’s a test. I received this email today. I’ve omitted identifying details. See if you can “read” the many reasons the sender has it all wrong:
Hey It’s XXXXXXX, Pop- Rock artist and entertainer. I released my latest song “———–” yesterday and think it would be a great fit for your audience. “———–” available on all platforms now is a form of art depicting [details and the opening lines of the song omitted.] The video is well over 5k streams in its first day, and would appreciate the feature/review.
It continues on, but I hope you get the idea. The artist and entertainer might be a wonderful person, but (s)he hasn’t a clue about how to operate in the larger world.
May your happiness increase!