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Music Review Basics

Updated on April 23, 2015

How It All Started

In 1996, my friend and I got the bright idea to start a record label. We were both passionate about music and were really committed to a local band called, Jify Trip.

I had a 2-year run as a College Marketing Rep for Interscope Records and was eager to incorporate some of the strategies I had learned into what we were doing.

Collectively, we all thought that if we got the music out, people would buy it and come to our shows. Young and naiive, we started chasing the dream at the time - getting Jify Trip signed to a bigger label.

This article is going to explore the logic, ideology and pitfalls that happen to just about every local band in America. This might have happened in the mid-90s, but it still happens to this day.

(All Images Appear Courtesy Of Yawn Records & Used With Permission)

You have a better chance of getting your music reviewed if you have a scheduled album release show or important live gig in that town.

Basic Tips And Resources

Understanding The Landscape

An important thing to realize that in this day and age, it is easier and cheaper to release your music than ever before. The hard part is to get other people to critique your music or put their thoughts down in print.

The advent of the internet and music blogs have created an enormous number of outlets for bands to get much needed exposure. The problem is that the number of bands have multiplied, as well.

Landing music reviews is not that difficult. Quality music reviews read by hundreds of people is the tricky part. If you truly care about your craft, you're going to need to scrape a few bucks together to get yourself some source books. If money is tight, get a friend or two to chip in and either make photocopies of the info they want or timeshare the books.

Resource Books Create Opportunities

I cannot stress this enough. Every local, unsigned, independent band and record label should have a copy of the Indie Bible.

The thickness and enormity of this book is epic as there are tens of thousands of listings both in the United States and elsewhere.

This book continues to grow, as they update it each year. Some listings get deleted, but as the word-of-mouth spreads, more bloggers, magazines, venues, newspapers submit their info to be included in this list. The information is dissected by genre, state and country of origin for easy searches and has a brief paragraph about what they are looking for or what their zine is about.

A lot of the listings are for music fans who wanted to write about their favorite styles of music or people who really enjoy art. Either way, it's important for you to understand that they are getting hundreds of solicitations each week for someone to review a band's music. Once you are in the queue. How do you stand out? How do you get noticed?

Keep your e-mails or letters brief. Tell them that you saw their listing in Indie Bible. This helps them know whether the listing is working for them or not. Take a few minutes to go to that targets website. Get to know their style. If you are in a jazz band, you don't want to ask a metal publication to review your music.

Understand who you are e-mailing and what their publication is about. Do they review your music? What is their submission policy? Do they want a physical CD or do they accept MP3s?

(Photo Credit : Indie Bible)

Touring Is Equally As Important

Musician's Atlas - The Musicians Atlas is now available online. It was once released annually and to be honest, I'm not certain it is still being printed or sold in bookstores. The Musician's Guide To Touring & Promotion was a smaller version of the Atlas. This publication is now online and I highly recommend it for bands that tour often.

Billboard's Musicians Guide To Touring & Promotion - This publication is distributed to major bookstores several times per year. Information is chopped up by state and then by city. There's lots of ways to disseminate and organize this information and these folks do a great job of organizing it for your band's touring convenience.

(Photo Credit : Musician's Atlas)

If you are on tour, you want to send your music and one-sheet out at least 4 weeks in advance, which allows for follow up and an opportunity for dialogue.

CDs vs MP3s vs Vinyl

Welcome To The Digital Age

Now that you have these source books, it's time to think about your pitch. If your target does not accept mp3s and you really would like to see a review of your band in their publication, you'll need to send them a CD in the mail.

The easiest way to do this is to create a one-sheet. A one-sheet is going to give the editor, blogger or music critic information about you. This is your opportunity to tell them what you want to know. Name of the band, style of music, your website info, social media contacts, e-mail and phone number are crucial.

Most of the people you send your music to are volunteers and do their job because they absolutely love it. You want to make sure that you do everything from your end to make sure they have what they need. Make sure you either write with a sharpie or put a label on your CD case/sleeve AND the CD itself. Things happen and sometimes the artwork or promotional material gets lost or separated from your one sheet. Make sure they know who you are at all times.

(Image Credit : Amazon)

One-Sheets And Free Swag

Non-Music Ways To Show Your Creativity

On the one sheet, you want some talking points. If you had any musicians appear on your album that were not in your band, list them and why they are on it. Are they in other known bands? Put that in parenthesis. It's name-dropping, but it gives the reader perspective on why they matter.

Is your producer known for producing any other artists that might be bigger than you, at the moment? Drop those in parenthesis. It lets the reader know what work that producer has crafted, in case they have no idea who they are.

List some of the venues you've played at because this will help the reviewer form an opinion about where you are in your career and give them more information to consider. If you have any cool buttons, stickers or other propaganda (affectionately referred to as 'swag'), drop that in the package with the CD and the One-Sheet. Volunteers love free goodies. These are actual people who listen to your music and write words to promote you, let them know you care or appreciate what they do.

(Image Credit : Know Your Meme)

Don't Get Discouraged

Be prepared to get no answer or rejected outright. This business is full of people telling you "no". Have a thick skin and keep plugging away. You'll meet some great people along the way that will either become fans of your band or will give you great advice. It's not about whether you get knocked down, it's about if you wipe the dust off, get back up and go again.

Good luck on your quest for publicity and let me know how it turns out! The next few lenses will be about different organizations I've met through the Indie Bible and give you some places to submit who will take care of you.







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