How to get your promotional e-mail deleted
If the world were fair, musicians would never have to worry about promoting their own work. Learning your instrument, writing good songs, putting up with your asshole bandmates: these things are hard enough. If we had justice, every worthy band would be well-compensated enough to hire PR help, musicians could all go back to practicing/partying/worshipping the goat, and band-to-press communication would be a smooth and boring process that doesn't merit comment.
Instead, the world is a shithole, and many bands have no choice but to reach out to the press themselves. Others insist on handling their own PR out of DIY ethics or a desire to control every step of the process. This circumstance poses more problems than you might think. Music writers receive a lot of mail — enough that it's virtually impossible to get through all of it. When you're under the deadline gun, self-preservation dictates that you sometimes reduce your workload by ignoring or deleting some coverage-request messages. Not all such messages are created equal, of course — some are efficient and professional, while others are scattered or elliptical to the point of uselessness. This means that writers develop very sensitive and persnickety deletion filters; fuck up a few times, and your message is liable to land in the trash before any streaming links get clicked. (That 'delete' button is very conveniently located.) If this process sounds callous and arbitrary, that's because it is. The music industry is a cold, cruel place.
It's actually pretty easy to put together a perfectly respectable coverage request on your own. The trouble is that since most musicians have never been involved in the press side of things, they don't know what's expected of them when they compose these message. As a result, many good upstart bands shoot themselves in the foot by reaching out to writers with aggressively non-good e-mails. How many diamonds in the rough have I missed because the e-mail they appeared in was either annoying or confusing as hell? Too many, I fear.
The promo-distribution service Haulix, which many metal labels employ, is attempting to alleviate this problem. Their industry-advice blog recently published a post in which various music writers list band-behavior pet peeves. Unsurprisingly, many of them involve press request missteps. I'd recommend reading it to any band who either wants or has to handle their own interactions with the music media.
Because I found the Haulix post engaging and because I'm a meanie, I've put together a fictionalized example of a DIY press request that I — and most of the other writers featured in the Haulix spot, I suspect — would delete the everloving shit out of. Like most metal blogger types, I've received countless e-mails in this vein:
We are a cosmic/vampire metal horde from Parts Unknown. Our first album came out last March 2013, will you feature it on you're site??? U can download it from our dropbox here, or please give us you're address so we can send u a physical copy. We also have a music video and r touring. We will follow up tmrw if we don't hear back. Thx!!
Now let's review why this e-mail is a clusterfuck:
—"Dear Sir/Madam": This salutation makes it clear that the message that follows is a form letter that's you're sending unaltered to every music blog submission address you can think of. You don't have to be intimately familiar with every writer you hit up for coverage, but like most humans, music critics are more inclined to give you the time of day if you can convince them that you have some idea of who they are and what they're about. (More on that in a sec.)
—"We are a cosmic/vampire metal horde from Parts Unknown": This description is funny, but I have no idea what the fuck it actually means. It's always a bummer to describe your own band in terms that imply that there are other bands you kinda sound like, but I assure you, there are definitely other bands that you kinda sound like. Most music writers are highly cognizant of their own tastes and know what kind of stuff they're interested in covering, so you'll save both their time and yours by cutting to the chase. (Also, unless your band has at least a hundred members, you are not a 'horde.')
—This e-mail commits one major and one minor sin of mission at this juncture. The major one is the lack of any significant biographical detail about the band in question. What is Astronaut Lestat's deal? When did they form? Where are they from? How did they settle on space + vampires? Are they big fans of Lifeforce? If you are in a band, you probably think of yourself and your bandmates as interesting people; tell the press why, but keep it succinct.
—The aforementioned minor sin of omission is the message's failure to pitch the music to a specific recipient. Again, you don't need to know everything about every music writer ever, but you'll get more traction if you can articulate why you think your band will mesh well with a given writer's taste. Most critics are goddamn aggressive about making their music preferences a matter of public record, so the requisite research is a snap. It doesn't take much more than something like: "I saw that you reviewed Space Queen of the Damned's last EP favorably, so I thought that we might be up your alley too." Not mandatory, but certainly helpful. It'll also help you avoid submitting your metal album for coverage by a dude who only writes about jazz.
—"Our first album came out last March 2013,": DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR ALBUM FOR COVERAGE MONTHS OR YEARS AFTER IT COMES OUT. I can't emphasize this strongly enough. You may have noticed that shitloads of new music comes out every week. This means that music critics are struggling just to keep up with this month's batch of new stuff. The chances of them ignoring that stuff to cover an album that's been floating around the internet for ages are slim, though I've done it on occasion. Find a way to circulate your music to the media before it comes out, not afterwards.
—"will you feature it on you're site???": Two problems here. The first is the mangled grammar. Music writers are nerds; they find grammatical errors irritating. Avoid them. The second is the vagueness of this request. Music sites run many kind of stock features: song/album debuts, reviews, interviews, track-by-track breakdowns, and so forth. Make it clear what you're asking the recipient to do.
—"U can download it from our dropbox here": Every contemporary music critic's hard drive is so full of downloaded music that it's on the verge of exploding. If I'm not familiar with a band already, I strongly prefer streamable promos to download-only ones; I routinely skip out on DL-only promos because I can't fit any more music on my hard drive until I set time aside for digital housekeeping. It's very easy to cheaply set up a private promotional stream using Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or Youtube; we appreciate the effort.
—"or please give us you're address so we can send u a physical copy.": Maybe I'm alone in this, but I have never, ever opted for a physical CD promo when I can go with the digital version. My apartment is even more overfull than my hard drive.
—"We also have a music video and r touring.": Okay, but you didn't include a link to the video or your upcoming tour dates. You also didn't include a link to your website, your social media accounts, or any other relevant info. It's in your interest to make this kind of stuff as immediately accessible as possible.
—"We will follow up tmrw if we don't hear back.": Guys, following up on unsolicited coverage requests really quickly is a bad idea. Following up multiple times in a short time frame is even worse. Persistence is important if you want to be in a successful band, but hassling the shit out of writers will just make them hate you.
By contrast, here's a sample coverage request that I would take seriously. I've left the details out; you could conceivably use this as a template for a real press communiqué:
Hey (writer or publication editor's name),
This is (your name) from (band name). We're a (real, recognizable style of music) band from (hometown). (Insert other relevant biographical details here.) We're getting in touch because we have (an album coming out/a music video/a tour coming up/whatever) on (date); since you've covered (relevant other band/subject matter) before, we thought you might be interested in setting up a (song stream/review/interview/live coverage/etc.) with us. You can stream our (album/video) at (link) or download it at (link). Our (Facebook/Twitter/Bandcamp/tour dates/etc.) are available below.
(If your band has received flattering coverage from other outlets:) Here's what some other folks said about us in the past:
Thanks for your time and we hope to hear back from you soon!
—(your name) & (band name)
(Relevant website/social media links; tour dates; etc. here.)
See? That wasn't so hard. (And seriously, I'm trying to be helpful here.) Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go return some e-mails.