Music critics and fans alike have started to bring up generation gaps when talking about the music industry’s uncertain future: “Do kids still buy things? Do they still like albums? Do they listen to music on hi-fi systems? Do kids even know what hi-fi stands for?”
These kinds of questions can be frustrating, because nobody has the answers. So when you think about the generation gap, think about the people on the other side (read: OLD PEOPLE), the people with the preconceived notions, the people who are used to certain things being a certain way.
You can use their expectations to your advantage.
Specifically, I am talking about music critics. Critics are very particular creatures, and they have standards that they tend to take seriously. If you do not treat those standards with respect, you all but guarantee that your music will not be given a fair listen. If you are counting on critics to listen to your music and give you exposure, praise, or even just feedback, here are five things you cannot screw up:
Critics are writers. They take the craft and conventions of written language very seriously. In all likelihood, they were drilled on it. Their editors, teachers and colleagues probably still mock their every grammatical misstep without mercy (They often work for, or are, the types of people who make sites like this one). So if your press release, which relates the story of your first trip to church in five years, refers to St. Mary’s and “it’s awesome power,” you’re dead. Toast. Finito. You are now sitting at the kids table, no longer worth taking seriously.
In some ways even less forgivable than an it’s/its error, spelling mistakes will announce to critics that you are either a) too careless to run spell-check, or b) too stupid to remember the differences between then and than, or affect and effect, or except and accept (and yes, that mistake has been made).
This doesn’t mean that poor spellers are doomed to music business failure. But if you have been alive long enough to be writing cover letters to music critics, then you have also been alive long enough to know that you are not a good speller, and that you should take the necessary steps to fix that. If you’re terrible at mixing your music, you would find someone who is, and get them to help you.
Critics are busy. Most get hundreds of e-mails per day. They need information that they can digest quickly. If you stuff all of your information – bio, description of music, album title, release date, upcoming tour dates – into one paragraph, then no critic is ever going to read it.
Even if the information in each sentence is conveyed efficiently, the mere sight of a giant block of text will make their eyes glaze over. Don’t believe me? Select all of the text in this article, then copy and paste it into a word processor with the spacing settings turned off. Does it look like it would be fun to read?
Pitching to the Wrong Outlet
Critics specialize. Though that might seem like a strange concept in today’s digital world, where everybody can become otaku about everything, critics used to really cultivate their knowledge about certain genres and certain scenes. And while they’d listen to lots of different kinds of music, they would normally only write within the bounds of their expertise.
In other words, your band’s post-hardcore masterpiece might get a spin from the guy who spent a decade writing about power-pop, but he’s probably not going to review it.
Being With the Wrong PR Firm
Perhaps the most important aspect of choosing business partners for your band is respect. Don’t hire a PR firm that secretly doesn’t like you. Don’t hire a publicist that you don’t have a lot of confidence in. And, perhaps most importantly, do not hire a PR firm that terrorizes the people on its mailing list. This may seem like an unusual thing to suggest, and an even more difficult thing to learn about.
But if you come across a firm that looks interesting to you, ask to read some of their press releases (some post those releases online), then contact the critics that wrote about their clients. Ask what the firm is like. Ask if they look forward to receiving releases from them.
Just don’t forget to check your spelling first.