“How do I get my music out there?”
For years, I spent too much time pondering and attempting to answer this broad yet knotty question. Hundreds of answers later, I realized that I always ended these conversations the same way: “There are no rules.” For the most part, I still believe this maxim. Great art finds an audience. If not now, then eventually. No algorithm, co-sign, or viral video needed.
However, I do have some tips that might prove useful to budding musicians lacking the funds or desire to hire a great publicist. (I could write another lengthy post about what to look for in a publicist, so wait until someone worth your merch money calls.) These suggestions may not be as hard and fast (or life-saving) as the Ten Crack Commandments, but the founder of this site has given them his coveted seal of approval.
If you’re a musician who wants to develop relationships with music journalists, if you’re wondering how you can get a premiere, an interview, a profile, or the ears of anyone besides your significant other or DMT dealer—here you go. Read this list closely and in order, as some suggestions build on and refer back to others. And don’t ever ask me again. — Max Bell
Read the Byline
If you read a thoughtful, well-written piece about one of your favorite artists and think, “I wish someone would write about my music with that much care and attention,” find the byline. (It’s either right below the headline, or, in the less gracious publications, at the bottom of the page.) Then, if you’re so inclined, read more of that writer’s work. You might also find and follow that writer on Twitter. That follow alone may spark the writer’s interest in your music. (This is why it’s best to make sure your bio and/or pinned Tweet includes a link to your music.) At the very least, the list of music journalists to whom you might send your music has increased.
Don’t @ Me or Anyone Else
Enjoy my tweets about the individual and collective genius of DJ Quik and Suga Free, but don’t @ me with links to your music. It’s tacky and looks like spam. I hate spam and Spam.
Above all, do not @ multiple music journalists in the same tweet with links to your music. Music journalists, like musicians, believe we are as unique as we are brilliant. No one has ever truly articulated the grandeur and nuance of recorded sound or used the word “atmospheric” like I have. Do not disabuse me of this notion.
Finally, do not reply to my tweet about my latest article with a link to your music. This is the ultimate form of disrespect, the surest way to make sure I never click play. Whether or not you had the best intentions, this act shows me that you do not care about work that I likely spent much time doing. How would you feel if the situation were reversed? “Is that a song you spent days, weeks, or possibly months working on? Check out my essay about how listening to Frank Ocean cured my hemorrhoids.”
Email is generally the best means of communication. An email shows that you approach your music and career with professionalism. You cared enough to both find my email and write words that resemble sentences. As such, I’m more inclined to care about your music.
If you can’t find a writer’s email, you either haven’t looked hard enough, or this particular writer guards their email like Myles Turner does the paint. In the latter case, you may @ the writer to politely ask for their email.
Keep It Short.
If your music isn’t good, no one cares about your life story. Sad but true. To save yourself time and energy, do not send a long email about your artistic ethos and the power of “real hip-hop,” how the mind-expanding power of mushrooms informs your work, or your “struggle.” If you are emailing someone unfamiliar with your music, write a few sentences and no more. If you’d like to endear yourself to the person you’re emailing, sincere flattery goes a long way. We are lonely and self-deprecating lot, and it’s always nice to hear that someone is reading. For those in need of serious hand-holding, here’s a template.
“Hey [insert writer’s name],
I read your piece on [insert artist/topic] in/on [insert publication] and really enjoyed it. I’m a [rapper, singer, producer, etc.] from [insert your city/state] and would appreciate you listening to my [song, EP, album, etc.]. If you enjoy it and see an opportunities for covering my music, I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for your time and words.
Don’t Ask For or Expect Feedback.
By asking for feedback, you are essentially asking for free work. For those of you who don’t know, this music writing game pays very little and rarely on time. So, if I like your music and want to cover or hear more of it, I’ll drop you a line. Do not email me week after week (or, worse yet, day after day) asking for my “thoughts.” I get paid for those… sometimes.
Down with the DM’s.
Do not DM links, music, or information that could’ve been sent via email. Do not DM me to tell me that you sent me an email. Most people who do this professionally check their email incessantly. For future reference, the only people I want in my DM’s are Rosario Dawson, Jada Fire, and the women who appeared in Tyga’s “Taste” video.
Send a stream AND a .ZIP
Whether you have a car or have wrestled the AUX from the clenched hands of the human vape sharing your Uber, you probably play your music in the car, right? It sounds different, possibly better than it does in headphones, yes? Do you want me to feel the bass of your beats from my butthole to my thinning hairline? Do you want the world (and the people on my block) to hear your bars? Then send me a ZIP. I’ll download your album, put it on my phone, and, against my better judgment, play it at full volume. I will listen to your album on my computer if I must, but I’m not going to waste precious cell phone data playing music that might be awful in my car. I’d rather use that data to see whether Blueface and the beat will one day live happily ever after.
Send Working Links
Triple check your links. If I have to email you because Soundcloud or YouTube says your music isn’t available, I probably won’t. I’m going to respond to someone who sent a working link instead.
Label Your Tracks
Few things are more infuriating than uploading your album to my iTunes only to find that your tracks are labeled numerically or have no discernible arrangement. If you care about your album, do not send it until you have named and arranged each song. Otherwise, “Track 1.draft” better hit me so hard it realigns the herniated disc in my back.
Do you want to premiere a new song or video? Ask for a premiere. Tell the writer when and where you’re hoping to premiere that song/video. Ideally, this will be an outlet they write for regularly and have written premieres for in the past.
Know Where the Writer Publishes
If the writer you’re emailing has no Billboard bylines, do not email asking him/her for a Billboard premiere. You are wasting everyone’s time.
Do not email on Monday asking for a premiere on Tuesday. Writers have more pressing things to do (e.g., write paid pieces, eat, maybe get laid) than drop everything to write about your latest single. As a general rule and not-so-firm rule, a week lead time is generally preferable for song/video premieres. If you’re sending an album that you hope someone might review, sending it at least one month before the release will greatly increase your chances of a writer listening to and absorbing your work.
If you don’t hear back from a writer after sending your first song, EP, album, etc., do not get discouraged. Follow up after a reasonable amount of time has passed (at least a week or two), or try them again with your next release. If you’ll forgive the alliteration, polite persistence is powerful.