In many ways - thanks to the partial democratization of music - the internet offers us getting your music reviewed or played somewhere is easier than ever. But there are still a number of challenges...
The 3 list strategy
First I think it’s useful to have 3 lists and approach them differently:
Mainstream = Publications everyone knows
Priority = Indie places YOU want a featured on
Nurture = the ones you know less about but could be good
I treat the Mainstream as essentially lazy and I give them absolutely everything to make things easier for them. Whilst keeping the cover email personalised I give these guys a full EPK, artwork / promo photos, links to music and videos obviously, anything else I think is useful and weave a short narrative in to make it as appealing as possible.
Submission guidelines are often hard to come by so the easiest rule to follow is 600 words or less, link to music not attachments, and include all your social channels.
I’d include submitting to Spotify and Bandcamp editorials in here as well. The idea is to get your name in front of enough key people in your part of the industry that you might get lucky. But honestly it is mostly luck due to volume and paid plugs (a form of bribery?)
For me Priority is my sweet spot. If mainstream pick you up that’s great but it’s unlikely on your own. Priority however are looking for you as much as you are them. All of the above is useful but I take the time to read and follow their specific submission guidelines, make it personal, and be a real person - not a PR person.
I will usually follow these guys on social media, listen to their shows or read their blogs, and try to build a genuine connection based on why I like what they do and of course why I think they'll like what I do. This isn't about sucking up or faking it, you have to genuinely care. These indie media outlets are where the true fans hang out, this is where you will find your niche if you turn over a few stones and look closely enough.
One of the easiest ways to decide a priority list is to to flick through the social feeds of your peers and see where others have had reviews, got playlist spots etc. Where are other people at your level (and just above) getting reviewed? That’s where you want to explore.
Watch out for people who have paid for reviews though. I went through the socials of an indie artist I deemed to be successful this morning looking for places to submit and 70% we’re paid spots - sorry but this isn’t a vanity project for me!
Finally the Nurture list is made up of people who may be interested but you know less about. Here it's about testing the water, send a well written (short) email and EPK. This could be a mass email and that’s ok. See who bites and take the time to figure out who you might want to bite in the future so you can start building a relationship and develop more priority contacts next time.
This approach has generally been successful for me - my bands first EP got tonnes of reviews, airplay on 250+ stations worldwide, and a decent conversion rate and we paid nothing for it. I’ve tested and tweaked it on several releases for me and others since and it works.
What can go wrong?
The pitfalls are pretty much the same for all 3:
Incorrect details / inability to find details
Idiots charging you for reviews or airplay
The balance of giving too much / too little / or just useless info
Finding details is hard. This is one of the main reasons people pay for PR / pluggers. However its mostly all out there so I think the decision becomes about your time and ability vs ROI to pay someone else to do it for you. Either way can work depending on the person.
What to write comes with practice. The most boring thing in my view is the over-biographical. “We went to school together and then Harry got married but then we supported semi famous band you don’t really know at our local venue where another big band once played...” *yawn*
Oh and leading with “As heard on BBC Introducing” is a big snooze too. This is really over used! BBC intro is supposed to help you get more fans, not more reviews or airplay from their competitors...
Of the 3 the most easily addressable is the paid for reviews. Just don’t do it. It’s never going to be worth it. I'm not saying don’t pay for pluggers or PR where you swap money for time (but do evaluate these very carefully first). What I am saying is don’t just pay someone on Fiverr or wherever to review your release. They’ll write a great review that no-one will ever see and you’ve gained nothing except a pay on the back - from yourself!
And SubmitHub is a no for me as many people know. Created by bloggers who want cash for their work (join the queue behind artists please) but are forced by the system into getting it from YOU. Don’t play that game! I think it is born out of good intention but it’s a broken model open to being scammed - and you who loses out there.
These are some of the lessons I’ve learned from doing this for a long time, both as a band member and manager, and also from being on the other side on the New Music Saturday podcast, as a gig promoter, and in the past as a reviewer for various publications. If you've got any tips to share please let us know!