Pitches from brand new bands and artists not tied to a public relations company are unarguably the ones that catch the most skepticism from journalists. Sometimes it only takes an unfamiliar name amid an avalanche of emails from recognizable PR reps for a writer to pass you over. If they've actually opened your message, then any sort of blunder could easily cost you.
Does that sound harsh? It's not, really. I can't speak for everyone, but generally, journalists aren't unnecessarily mean; it's just that there is more music than there are writers. There are expectations about the quality of music, of course, but also the presentation of your inquiry. Outlined here are five general types of pitches to avoid, and the mistakes commonly found within them. Keep them in mind when getting your pitch together, and you'll better the likelihood of receiving a response.
1. The pitch with too few details
This is the one that reads something like this: "Hey, I'm so-and-so, and here's a link to my new music. Check it out! Hope you enjoy." Wait, huh? Who are you? What style of music do you play? Where are you from? What am I in for here? The most effective pitches are in the form of a press release. Failing to include a bio, photo, links to music, or anything else besides an absurdly vague introduction will pretty much eliminate all credibility with journalists. And they'll be irked their time was wasted, too.
2. The pitch with too many details
We want to learn about your band, but we also need to make the most of our time. Conciseness is key. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Don't provide every minute detail about your recording. The studio and producer are worth mentioning, but only briefly unless there are special circumstances, like an exceptionally collaborative process with a notable professional.
- We don't need to hear everyone in the band's life story. A short and sweet line about how the group came together will suffice.
- A whole slew of links to music and videos is not a good thing. It's overwhelming. Send your latest and best, not your entire catalog.
Remember, however, that there's room for special cases, particularly in your bio details. It might be relevant to mention that, for example, your banjo player's grandfather was a local bluegrass hero. A good rule of thumb for deciding what information to include: If it significantly affected your music, it's probably appropriate.
3. The pitch bogged down by excuses
Whatever material you send should not require any apologetic pretext. If you need to explain that your demo is terribly rough, but you sound much better live, consider recording a new track instead. Don't send photos with a side note mentioning two of the players are no longer part of the band. Any kind of excuse about what is or is not included in your email just draws attention to what you're lacking, not what's great about you. Prepare your pitch the best you can, and you'll find it easier to write with confidence.
4. The pitch that undersells the band
Similar to making excuses, things like, "I know we're really new and haven't played many shows, but if you just give us a chance..." are not endearing. There is no need to atone for your newness. And if you don't seem secure in your pitch, why should a journalist take any stock in what you have to offer? Try thinking of your fledgling status as a selling point; you haven't been oversaturated in the press, and this journalist could be the one to bring your music to light. Do you lack recognition but are part of relatively unknown, yet thriving, niche scene? Writers are always looking to break new movements and trends. Mention yours if it's applicable. If you've got a strong social media following but little press, point to that.
5. The pitch that oversells the band
There's a fine line – but a massive difference – between confidence and cockiness. Don't shape a pitch that purports your band is the best there's ever been. If you don't have the credentials you want, like praise from major outlets or a headlining gig at your city's best venue, acting like you're obviously deserving of it all won't help you actually attain a thing.
Stay tuned for our next "Ask a Music Journalist" column, which will give you expert advice on how to get taken seriously by the press without a publicist.
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.