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Friday, October 26, 2007 

Inside the Head of a Music Reviewer

By Suzanne Glass

Madalyn's Note: Before diving into this article I want to mention that Suzanne Glass was my guest on this month's music biz teleseminar. We talked about how to get reviews and she mentioned this great interview she conducted with her reviewers. It gives some great insight into the head of a music reviewer. I guarantee you this will help. So read on and have a GREAT weekend!

What to send? When to follow up? What to say? Should you keep bugging a writer to review your material? What makes writers chose one CD over another to review? And most of all, can you increase your chances of getting a published review when you submit a CD? Answer: Absolutely! By understanding a writer's mind, and following a few simple guidelines, you will substantially increase the likelihood your music will be chosen for a review or feature.

Indie-Music.com recently asked our writers a series of questions designed to let musicians see inside writers' heads, and get a unique look at how the behind-the-scenes process works. After the Q&A, we give a quick checklist for getting your music reviewed successfully.

What impresses you about an artist/musician/band?

ERIK DECKERS: First, the music. A very close second is their professionalism and follow through.

HEIDI DROCKELMAN: Number one, the biggest impression is always the music, and the talent (however sometimes hidden it is) of songwriting. The versatility of all the members is important, and having an appreciation for good songwriting, no matter the genre, will always shine through in someone's work. Sure, clean production always sounds nice and makes a big impression when you're only listening to something a few times for review.... but I've been doing this [reviewing] for a long time now, and if the material is there (even in raw form), the first thing I forgive is production quality. When your songs stand out, even if you've recorded on the worst machine you can possibly find, then that's what counts. Even the worst material can't surpass a production snowjob.

JENNIFER LAYTON: There's no one thing. I've been impressed by so many different things. I'm impressed when I hear a musician doing something new that I've never heard before. I'm impressed when I hear a poetic folk song that expresses something so true, I feel it tugging at my heart. No matter what the press kits look like or how fancy the web site is, none of it matters if I'm not touched by the music in some way.

LES REYNOLDS: Real talent in at least one area (vocal, instrumental, lyrical) and especially when all those elements come together. Also, if they've got their s*** together -- correspond in timely manner, not pushy about reviews, answer questions coherently and communicate well (even if this is through an agent, having the right agent who can do those things is crucial).

What impresses you in a promo pack submission?

ERIK DECKERS: Is the press kit complete? Does it have a bio and head shot or group photo? Are there other articles from other reviewers? If the answer is YES to these questions, then I am impressed.

If the press kit contains a three line bio, or vague and airy generalities discussing the metaphysics of the universe in relation to their music, I am decidedly unimpressed.

HEIDI DROCKELMAN: Oh, this is a completely relative thing. What I mean is, truthfully, for me, I look at this part of the packaging after I've already listened to the music. But the key to a promo pack submission is understanding that all the elements of this packet are crucial, down the line, to bands being "marketable", if getting signed by a label is your goal. Obviously, I'd much rather receive bio materials, a dated letter (folks, it's really hard to separate the volume of mail that some of us receive, so including a dated letter from a band representative is a nice touch), a simple photo that expresses the personality of an artist or band, and on occasion, I enjoy a good piece of gag swag. Taking that extra step, especially if it fits with your image, and coming up with a creative piece of swag can push a pack to the top of the pile. However, please refrain from the offensive, even if it's meant in jest.

JENNIFER LAYTON: I take a different route with promo packs. I know those materials are expensive, and I have a small office and can't hang on to all the press materials I get each month. Which means that if I don't absolutely love the artist, the promo pack winds up in the trash after I write the review. I feel really guilty about that. So when an artist contacts me about submitting material, I tell them they don't have to bother with headshots or elaborate press kits -- just a simple bio sheet that includes the web site address and tells me whatever they want me to know about them. What I'm really interested in is the music.

LES REYNOLDS: It looks like the artist/band took time and care in preparing it and it "fits" with the image and overall music style. Quality photos, if included, also get my attention. While I won't use the pix (except to decorate my pod at work!), it says something about the artist -- I can get a "vibe" or feel off that. I am also just impressed with quality photography since I used to be a photographer.

How can bands get your attention?

ERIK DECKERS: Write a personalized note to me, not a generalized form letter.

HEIDI DROCKELMAN: Bands can get my attention fairly easily, but holding it can be another story altogether. I am all about helping out quality bands and artists, and will take extra steps to make sure that I am doing all I can without showing blatant favoritism (although I AM known for that as well), so some of the ways to do this are:

Be courteous: I should clarify because I despise kiss asses just as much as the repeat offender rudeness. I'm not asking for special treatment, just a bit of humanity.

Remember that you're not the only band in the world and perhaps you are the last person in a long string of artists who are contacting reviewers daily.

Don't be overly-pushy. I don't mind the follow-up to check in on the status of a review, but DO NOT expect to get a review every time you send in material. Some pushiness is good, but all you really need to do is to use common sense to know where the line has been drawn.

You get attention when you make an effort to show others that you are serious and learning the craft, as well as being a musical risk-taker (sometimes those risks come with the cost of being misunderstood, but remember that you don't like everything you hear either, and perhaps that will give you some perspective)

JENNIFER LAYTON: Having said what I said above about promo packs, I have to say I get a huge kick out of some of the creative promotional items bands send me. I still can't get over the band that sent me a thong with their logo on the crotch. Creativity and humor always gets my attention.

LES REYNOLDS: Contact me directly. Keep the lines of communication open and do not tell me to just go to your mp3 site. I hate that! It's become the universal cop-out (besides -- what if the computer is malfunctioning or the internet is down?) Also: if they can describe their music accurately in a sentence -- that shows they know who they are and have read my Indie-Music.com bio blurb.

What do bands do which wastes their money when they send submissions?

ERIK DECKERS: Send crappy press kits. If I don't have much background information on the band, I can't write a good review. If I can't write a good review, then it doesn't help the band much.

HEIDI DROCKELMAN: If they're unsolicited, it's a huge waste of money in general. Don't just blindly send your discs out to everyone you think has an inkling of interest in your work. Make sure that you contact someone and at least use the proper procedure. I'm sure this may sound lame to you, but the procedure we use is built to enhance our reviews, not to bring you down.

On another note, photos, postcards, stickers, bio write-ups, and discs are not a waste of money. Just plan your priorities and work up to the full packet.

JENNIFER LAYTON: Like I said earlier, I hate to see bands spend money by sending me glossy head shots and other expensive materials. While I'm impressed by their professionalism, I'm not a label rep or someone who will have a major influence on their career -- I'm just an indie writer. Also, I tell artists not to waste money by sending their submissions by Federal Express. Regular old mail will do fine, especially since I'm out of the office a lot and not here to sign for things.

LES REYNOLDS: Sending tons of press clippings - one sheet is enough. Sending all sorts of odd-shaped stickers and things that, by themselves -- once away from the package -- mean nothing. Most press kits are guilty of overkill.

Continue reading this article here!


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    Madalyn Sklar is a music business coach & consultant, blogger, social networks expert and author. She has spent over 15 years helping independent musicians and music business professionals achieve greater success. Her motto is: working smarter not harder. She also founded GoGirlsMusic.com, the oldest + largest online community of indie women musicians.

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